Lenovo’s three new tablets try to tackle the iPad

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Lenovo today introduced a trio of new tablet computers, two running Google’s Android 3.1 operating system and the third powered by Microsoft Windows 7. The Wi-Fi tablets, which leverage the ThinkPad and IdeaPad brands, range in price from $479 to $589 depending on model, storage capacity and an optional pen for one. The company will also offer a $99 keyboard portfolio case for at least one of the new tablets. Both Android tablets are comparably equipped, running on Nvidia’s Tegra 2 processor and are the first Honeycomb devices to be certified for Netflix playback.

Here’s a brief summary of the devices:

IdeaPad K1 (starting at $499 for 32 GB model; orders begin today; U.S. availability in August)

  • 1 GHz dual-core CPU
  • 10.1-inch IPS display; 1280×800 resolution
  • Up to 1 GB of memory, 16/32/64 GB of storage capacity
  • 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi; Bluetooth
  • MicroSD card slot; micro-HDMI port
  • 5 megapixel rear camera; 2 megapixel front camera
  • 10.4″ x 7.44″ x 0.52″; weight of 1.63 pounds
  • Estimated 10 hours of battery life
ThinkPad Tablet ($479 for 16 GB model; $589 for 32 GB with digitizer pen, orders begin August 2)
  • 1 GHz dual-core CPU
  • 10.1-inch IPS display; 1280×800 resolution
  • Up to 1 GB of memory, 16/32/64 GB of storage capacity
  • 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi; Bluetooth
  • Full sized SD memory card slot; micro-HDMI port
  • 5 megapixel rear camera; 2 megapixel front camera
  • 10.4″ x 7.44″ x 0.52″; weight of 1.65 pounds
  • Estimated 8 hours of battery life
  • An optional 3G model will be available shortly after launch
ThinkPad Tablet P1 (pricing not announced; availability in Q4)
  • 1.5GHz Intel processor
  • Microsoft Windows 7
  • 10.1-inch display; 1280×800 resolution
  • Up to 2 GB of memory; 32/64 GB of storage capacity
  • 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi; Bluetooth
  • USB port; microSD card reader; docking port
  • 2 megapixel webcam
  • 10.9″ x 7.24″ x 0.57″; weight of 1.75 pounds
  • Estimated 6 hours of battery life
 

Compared to most of the currently available tablets running Honeycomb, there’s little here to differentiate Lenovo’s offering. The ThinkPad model does have a digitizer from N-Trig, allowing for pen use and includes Notes Mobile software; I suspect that’s what adds slightly to the weight and decreases the battery life from the K1 model. Lenovo’s product team told me on a conference call last week that the Netflix certification is a big deal, and yes it is nice, but other large Android tablets are sure to gain the same certification soon.

Adobe Flash 10.3 support is there too, but that’s not selling tablets. Other software tweaks include a “Social Touch” app for easy social networking status viewing and Lenovo’s own take on a program launcher. In other words, minor tweaks aside, Lenovo is mixing the same recipe as other Android tablet vendors, just with slightly different software ingredients. Lenovo is however, including more than 40 apps from various top-tier partners such as Amazon, Electronic Arts, Rovio and DataViz.

The problem that Lenovo, and most other tablet vendors face is the iPad juggernaut that shows no signs of slowing. As my colleague Erica noted after today’s Apple investor call, the company has earned $6 billion from the iPad in the last quarter by selling 9.25 million iPads. I don’t have sales numbers or company reports to validate my thought here, but I’m willing to bet that adding up sales of all Android tablets combined this year and it wouldn’t match what the iPad brought to Apple in the last three months. Put another way: even as Apple continues to grow its PC business, mobile devices are already accounting for more of Apple’s earnings. In the meantime, Lenovo is readying consumer tablets in an already crowded market that appears stalled before it really even got started.

Developers know this and haven’t made the move to create compelling tablet-optimized apps for Honeycomb yet. And consumers are using tablets for more than just the web and email. When spending $500 or more on a tablet, they want a wide variety of third-party apps to choose from. No matter how nice the hardware looks, Lenovo’s Android tablets, like those from other manufacturers, can’t offer that yet. On the other hand, the P1 tablet with Windows does offer a range of available software, but most of it isn’t built for a mobile experience; the same challenge Windows tablets have always faced.

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