As far as 7in tablets go, £100 to £120 is definitely now the new entry level. At under £120 you can just about get away with sub-standard screens, slow processors and dubious battery life – and even there it’s starting to get tricky. Unfortunately, nobody appears to have told Lenovo.
At £150, the IdeaTab A3000 Wi-Fi is caught between bargain-basement tablets like the Acer Iconia B1 and Archos 80 Titanium, and mid-range models like the Amazon Kindle Fire HD and Google Nexus 7. It’s also more expensive than the Tesco Hudl (review coming soon) and the value-packed Asus MeMO Pad HD7. The problem is that it doesn’t offer anything much more than the ultra-cheapies, while offering less in some important areas than the new mid-rangers.
First things first: I quite like the way the A3000 looks and feels. Available in black or white, the worst thing you could say is that it looks a lot like most other 7in tablets. At just under 350 grams it’s a fair bit heavier than the new Google Nexus 7, but not enough to give you any arm ache, and it does feel pretty solid. The rounded design is comfortable to hold, there’s very little flex anywhere in the screen or chassis and the textured back makes for a comfortable grip.
Initial impressions are that the A3000 seems to be lacking any upgrade potential. There’s a microUSB slot (with USB hosting) and a headphone socket at the top of the tablet. Meanwhile, there’s a power button and a volume control on the right-hand side. Slots, however, seem to be in short supply.
Yet if you gently pry away the flexible rear panel, smartphone style, you’ll find a microSD card slot and not one but two Sim card slots on the 3G-ready model. At £169 this is one of the cheapest 3G models available – that’s impressive when you bear in mind that a 3G Nexus 7 will cost you nearer £300, and even the Asus Fonepad will set you back £180. The Wi-Fi-only version of the A3000 costs £149, as we’ve already mentioned.
Screen and sound
You’ll spot the A3000’s biggest problem as soon as you switch it on. Just like its even more disappointing stablemate, the IdeaTab A1000, it has a 1024 x 600 resolution screen. It’s an IPS display this time around, with reasonable viewing angles and a brightness level you can live with, but the colours are still a bit drab and the screen still looks grainy, particularly when we’re getting used to 1280 x 800 resolution efforts at this price point.
The display is adequate for watching streaming movies and TV programmes, but you really notice the loss of definition when you’re reading digital magazines or eBooks, viewing photos or simply browsing the web. It’s hard to read small text, and images just don’t look as crisp as they should. Going low-res was a poor decision on Lenovo’s part.
Tablet speakers are generally so poor that it seems cruel to chide Lenovo for the rather pitiful efforts found here. Still, we won’t let that stop us. The sound is thin, muffled and slightly distorted with the volume turned up, and curiously the A3000 lacks the audio enhancements of the budget A1000. Still, plug some headphones in and films and music will sound perfectly fine.
Lenovo rarely lets an Android tablet go through without some UI enhancements, and on the A3000 there are some pre-installed widgets for weather, calendar and a notebook, plus some odd folder widgets to organise your media, social apps and utilities. The A3000 has its own email and calendar apps pre-installed, and also a wealth of other apps, including two file managers, Kingsoft Office, a Backup and Recovery utility and the Film On Family live TV app. Whether you consider these additions useful or bloatware will depend on your point of view, but there’s not a lot here that really adds much value. Our test sample came running Android 4.2.2, which is still a lot more common on budget tablets than Android 4.3.
Where the A1000 struggled slightly with a dual-core 1.2GHz MediaTek MT8317 processor, the A3000 has a 1.2GHz quad-core MT8389, though still 1GB of RAM. The Geekbench 3 multicore score of 1,075 is comparable to what we’d expect from a Tegra 3 tablet like the old Nexus 7, so it’s adequate for most purposes. The overall experience when browsing the web, switching from app to app, or watching HD video is pretty smooth, providing you don’t have too many apps open at the same time.
It’s a little faster than the MeMOPad HD7 in 3D, too, reaching 2.8 frames per second off-screen and 6.6 frames per second on-screen in GFXBench 2.7’s T-Rex HD benchmark. In other words, you’ll get away with playing many current 3D games. Basically, this tablet is an adequate all-rounder – and that’ll do given the price.
The A3000 has a 0.3-megapixel front-facing camera and a 5-megapixel camera on the rear. Neither is great and the front-facer only just borders on acceptable for video chatting, with fairly wretched performance in anything less than perfect light. However, images from the rear-facing camera coped better indoors and out of bright light than I expected, though the images were a little soft. What’s more, Lenovo’s own camera app is surprisingly rich in options, with different modes, face recognition and built-in HDR.
Sadly battery life is another area where the A3000 doesn’t score that well. Even Lenovo only rates it for seven hours of Wi-Fi web browsing on a single charge, and we’d put it closer to six if you’re planning on more strenuous activities like streaming HD video or playing games. With the Asus MeMO Pad HD7 hitting ten hours or more, this just isn’t competitive enough.
The IdeaTab A3000 isn’t a disaster like the cheaper A1000, but it’s an average 7in tablet let down by poor battery life and a low resolution screen. Six months ago that wouldn’t have mattered so much, but now it’s being undercut by equally well-made tablets with a longer battery life and better screens. The 3G model is more tempting than the vanilla Wi-Fi effort, but neither stands up to the competition from Asus or Amazon. If you have £150 to spend on a new tablet, we’d suggest looking elsewhere.
Manufacturer and Model
Lenovo IdeaTab A3000
1.2GHz MediaTek MTK8389
7in, 1024 x 600 resolution
3500mAh Lithium Polymer
Size and weight
120 x 194 x 11.1mm, 345g