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Can Lenovo beat Apple, Samsung in the tablet race?

It was about 2am when I got back to the hotel. As I eyed the bed and planned my descent onto its inviting-looking folds, the jarring ring of my phone shattered all such plans, Rajiv Makhni writes.

brunch Updated: Nov 24, 2013 14:30 IST
Rajiv Makhni

It was about 2am when I got back to the hotel. As I eyed the bed and planned my descent onto its inviting-looking folds, the jarring ring of my phone shattered all such plans. It was the people from Lenovo who were on India time and also seemed to be in a state of extreme excitement. They wanted to talk to me about a revolution, a reinvention, an all-new tablet that was reimagined from the ground up. It had been a long day for me in Germany, I had worked for almost 16 hours on the trot, I had seen new devices and technology till it was pouring out of my ears, yet I was more than happy to listen to this for one and one reason only: according to me, no device on earth has ever been a bigger disappointment in terms of innovation and out-of-the-box thinking – than a tablet!

Stuck in sticky mud
Yes, the tablet is one of the hottest categories ever and it’s also true that after a smartphone, a tablet is the next most coveted thing. But if you look at both the evolution as well as trajectory of the tablet since it’s become a mainstream consumer device, you’ll see a gadget that has had the least amount of changes and wow factors added to it. While tablets have been around forever, the first real tablet to get it all right and become a commercial success was Apple’s iPad in April 2010. That’s almost three-and-a-half years ago and in technology time, that’s equivalent to a lifetime. Yet, from that time till now, there have been five generations of iPads from Apple. Now close your eyes and visualise the first iPad and then quickly shift your visual to the latest iPad Air. Aren’t you shocked that your visual didn’t change much at all? It’s even worse with other companies that have played mostly a copycat game with small design changes and one different but ho-hum feature. Barring maybe the stylus add-on in the Samsung Note tablets, very few differentiators have been seen. Every company is happy to put in small upgrades in hardware, make the devices slightly thinner, introduce one new colour and keep releasing them as the ‘next generation’ of tablets. And we, the consumers, have played along with this by buying these insipid tablets in millions.

Leading the pack Apple’s iPad was the first real tablet to get everything just right

Painful Slates

While a tablet is one of the most practical devices to carry around, the weakness of this device has been apparent from the very start. It’s not that easy to hold for long periods of time, leading to pressure on the wrist and shoulder, it’s impossible to prop it up to watch a movie unless you buy an ugly fat case for it, typing on it is still the stuff that nightmares are made of, battery life while better than laptops is still quite sucky for a device that is supposed to be with you all day, most tablets run out of storage capacity quickly as we load movies, games, music, apps, and most importantly, the form factor itself is prone to a lot of weakness as the big screen gets scratched easily. Thus when Lenovo comes in and says that their all-new Yoga tablets are a revolution that takes care of all these pain points, that’s a BIG claim.

Lenovo Yoga Pad 8 and 10
Lenovo starts off strong with a form factor that is different and aesthetically pleasing. It’s supremely thin, very light and made of premium materials. The thin slab-like ergonomic shape ends up on the left side in the shape of a cylinder. This cylinder plays a big role in the reimagination of what a tablet can do. It houses a cool-looking power up button and a headphone jack, it makes the tablet easy to hold, has a very smart hinge at the back and also houses a phenomenal battery.

Let’s start with the hinge, a well-executed piece of industrial design. At various angles and lock positions, this hinge can be used to prop up the device to watch a movie, browse the Net, use for a Skype call or give a presentation. At a second angle, it can be used to type on the keyboard and by holding the hinge between fingers, the grip onto the tablet is excellent and makes for a perfect position to read an eBook or use the device while on the move. I even swung my arms violently and the tablet didn’t feel like it would slip out even once. The weight and shape of this cylinder makes the tablet fall into an excellent position in your hand.

Finally there Lenovo’s tablets have great battery life

More Innovation
The shape of the cylinder also allows the tablet to house a battery of a shape, size and capacity that is equivalent to a laptop battery. Thus the 9000 mAH power generator inside gives the tablet an excellent battery life of more than 15 hours. There is also an ergonomic keyboard that works as a cover, screen protector as well as your typing aide. Add to that the microSD slot, a quad-core processor, good front and back cameras, excellent front-firing speakers and you’ve got a quite a tablet in hand. Unfortunately, it’s not all good news.

Fuzzy Logic
The Yoga tablet has one huge Achilles heel and one that stares you in the face right away – its screen. In a world dominated by super high resolution screen tablets that are moving even further upwards from just full-HD, Lenovo took a truly poor decision in going with a 1280x720 resolution display on this. It may have been done for price considerations but whatever the reason, it’s taken a product that was about to achieve true greatness and pulled it down several notches. A tablet is all about the screen as you literally interact with it for all things all day. When you sit down in your R&D labs and go back to the drawing board to reinvent the entire tablet genre – you do not slap on a screen from the previous generation of tablets.

The tablet category truly needed serious reinvention. Look at how smartphones have evolved in the last years and compare that to tablets and you suddenly realise what laggards they are. It was time someone took this market by its neck and tried to change it completely. Lenovo has started well on its quest; I truly hope some others will follow.

Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3

From HT Brunch, November 24

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