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Lenovo Smart Tabs Review: Hands-on

Can Lenovo's Smart Tabs rival Amazon's own Fire tablets and charging dock combo, or are these tablets just not smart enough? We went hands-on at CES 2019 to find out

Should I Buy The Lenovo Smart Tabs?
The Smart Tabs are ultimately fairly budget tablets - especially when you consider the included cost of the dock. Lightweight specs and a simple feature set make sure these would never stand out if it weren’t for the included dock.

The problem is simply that Lenovo didn’t get here first. Amazon did with its Fire tablets, and with the added bonus that you can buy extra Show Mode Docks for different rooms - versatility that Lenovo simply doesn’t offer - though Lenovo's has the bonus of a built-in speaker and support for YouTube.

Price When Reviewed
  • From $199
As Google and Amazon began to introduce smart displays to the market, pretty much the first question anyone asked was: why not just use a tablet? It seems that Lenovo at least has taken the criticism to heart, using CES 2019 to unveil its two new Smart Tabs: Android tablets that boast Alexa support and are sold together with a speaker dock.

Designed to offer the simplicity of the Echo Show or Google Home Hub - or Lenovo’s own Smart Display - while pairing it with the convenience and portability of a tablet, this seems like an obvious win, though it faces obvious competition in Amazon’s Fire tablets, which come with the option of a charging dock that accomplishes the same thing.

Price & Availability
The first thing to be aware of is that there are two models of the Smart Tab: the M10 and the P10, with differing designs and prices to match. Both are due out in the US on 25 January, with UK price release date yet to be confirmed.

The M10 is the base model, and costs $199 for a model with 2GB RAM and 16GB storage, jumping to $249 for the 3GB/32GB version.

The P10 is a more premium model across the board, with a glass back, faster specs, fingerprint sensor, bigger battery, better camera… you get the idea. That starts at $299 for a 3GB/32GB model, capping out at $349 for 4GB/64GB.

The most perplexing part of the whole package is that as of now Lenovo has no plans to sell the dock separately - which means you can’t drop a few docks around your home and use the same device docked in the kitchen for recipes, then in your bedroom for YouTube.
By comparison, you can buy a Fire HD 10 tablet together with a dock for around £200/$200 with 32GB storage - or £230/$230 for 64GB - so Lenovo’s pricing is lagging behind somewhat. That's complicated by the fact that the Fire HD 10 is was last updated in 2017, so it's an older model, and the Amazon dock doesn't include a speaker, unlike Lenovo's.

On the other hand, Amazon also lets you buy the dock on its own for £50/$55. You can also spend less by opting for the smaller 8in model, an option Lenovo doesn’t offer.

Design & Build: Is It A Tablet, Is It A Smart Display?
The easiest way to think of the Smart Tabs is that it’s actually a bundle of two products: a 10-inch Android tablet together with a charging dock and speaker.

The tablets themselves are fairly unremarkable from a design perspective: they’re pretty typical black Android tablets, with 10in LCD screens, USB-C, and a headphone jack. There are bezels - not too thick, not too thin - and both front and rear cameras, along with a MicroSD slot to expand your storage.

The obvious visual difference is that the M10 has a metal rear while the pricier P10 has a glass back - a little bit flashier, but equally slightly more vulnerable to damage. The P10 is also a bit lighter - 440g vs 480g - despite having a larger battery, so the glass is clearly helping to keep the weight down.

The P10 also boasts four front-facing speakers, while the M10 only has two, but these are unlikely to matter too much, as any time you want to watch video or listen to audio you’ll probably be doing it through the dock.

That at least is identical no matter which model you buy. This squat dock has a speaker that wraps all the way around, so you can position it however you’d like from an audio perspective - though since the screen can only face one way, that’s really going to dictate things.

There are a few simple buttons - Bluetooth, volume, and a mic mute - and a little plastic stand at the back to keep it stable with the tablet in, but otherwise the dock is, much like the tablet, simple and functional. It’s not going to win any design awards, but it’s a clean, modern design that should fit into most homes.

Specs & Features: Smart-ish
So what do you get from the dock? The tablet attaches using simple pogo pins, which charge it while it’s in the dock, but all the actual data transfer is handled via Bluetooth 4.2.

Slot it in and the device recognises that it’s connected and switches into Show Mode - the same software mode that allows Amazon Fire tablets to double as Echo Show devices too. This gives you a simplified view that lets you access Alexa services like recipes, the weather, or Prime Video, without fighting through the whole of Android.

While docked, this is essentially an Echo Show then, devoting the screen to all things Alexa. And yes, it’s Alexa, not Google Assistant - despite the fact that this runs Android, and that Lenovo partnered with Google on its previous Smart Display.

There are some advantages to the setup here for though. The big one is YouTube - Amazon and Google’s ongoing feud has seen Echo devices locked out of the video platform, but you can still access the regular YouTube app here. You can’t use Alexa voice commands to play videos for you, but at least you can watch videos as you would on any other tablet - though we’re not sure yet if there’s a way to do so while the device is docked.

Since the dock also packs a speaker, sound quality is solid too. Bass is naturally limited, but it's fairly punchy, and loud enough for filling a kitchen while you cook - though naturally if you have a bigger home speaker system around you might prefer to run the sound through that.

So this is a pretty good smart display for the most part, but it’s a bit more average as a tablet. RAM ranging from 2 to 4GB is low - though not entirely unreasonably for the price - while the 1.8GHz Snapdragon 450 processor is fine, but not fast. It’s even shipping with Android O, rather than the more recent P.

Battery life will vary greatly between the models, as the M10 packs a 4,850mAh capacity while the P10 jumps to 7,000mAh. Lenovo suggests 15-20 hours of battery for each, but we’re a little sceptical - though if you plan to mostly use the device docked, this will be far less of a concern anyway.

Cameras vary too. Both devices feature front and rear cameras, but they’re 2MP/5MP on the cheaper model, and 5MP/8MP on the premium model. If you’re planning on using it for video calls, that’s another good reason to jump up to the P10, which should produce much crisper footage.

Verdict
These are ultimately fairly budget tablets - especially when you consider the included cost of the dock. Lightweight specs and a simple feature set make sure these tablets would never stand out if it weren’t for the included dock.

The problem is simply that Lenovo didn’t get here first. Amazon did with its Fire tablets, and with the added bonus that you can buy extra Show Mode Docks for different rooms - versatility that Lenovo simply doesn’t offer - not to mention the option of saving money by opting for an 8in model.

The reasons to opt for the Lenovo edition are if you know you want full access to Android and YouTube - rather than Amazon’s stripped back FireOS - or if you know you'll make use of the dock's built-in speaker, rather than simply connecting it up to another sound system anyway. If those are worth paying a little extra for the hardware and limiting yourself to one dock, then go ahead. If not, stick to a Fire tablet - or just a plain old smart display.

Specs
  • Android 8
  • 10.1-inch FHD (1920 x 1200) LCD touch display
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 450 processor
  • 2/3/4GB RAM
  • 16/32/64GB storage
  • 1 x USB-C 3.1
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Fingerprint reader (P10 only)
  • 8MP (P10) or 5MP (M10) rear camera
  • 5MP (P10) or 2MP (M10) front camera
  • Four (P10) or two (M10) speakers with Dolby Atmos
  • Bluetooth 4.2
  • 7,000mAh (P10) or 4,850mAh (M10) battery
  • 242 x 167 x 7mm (P10) or 242 x 167 x 8.1mm (M10)
  • 440g (P10) or 480g (M10)
  • Smart dock: Dual 3W speakers
  • Smart dock: 3 x far-field microphone
  • Smart dock: 50 x 283.6 x 65.5mm
  • Smart dock: 520g


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