With its diminutive size and familiar style the Lenovo A10 is instantly recognisable as a netbook, the class of mini-laptop that briefly sold in huge numbers a few years ago before being killed almost overnight by the tablet.
With the A10 Lenovo has reckoned on their still being a market for compact devices with physical keyboards, but it has hedged its bets by equipping the device with a touch screen. The result is a kind of hybrid device that aims to offer the best of both worlds.
The A10 is small and lightweight. It’s built almost entirely from plastic but does not feel overly cheap and is solidly built where it most matters. The lid does not flex and the hinge feels very robust.
The form factor is classic netbook, with everything shrunken down from full laptop size. So, the screen is 10.1 inches and there’s a full keyboard (complete with rows for number and function keys), that is virtually the size of a normal one.
The keyboard section has small rubberised feet in the corners, which hints at the design’s secret trick: stand mode. The hinge can be opened to 300 degrees, and you can rest the keyboard face down (those feet protecting it from damage) so the screen is facing toward you.
It’s great for watching videos, or if you want to run a secondary app on it while working at your desk computer. But it isn’t hand-holdable so it never achieves full tablet status. Using touch-based apps on an upright display is every bit as awkward as you would expect.
The specs are middling. There’s a good selection of ports including a couple of USB ports plus a microSD slot. The stereo speakers are loud and of decent quality. And the battery life surpasses any laptop you’d find at an equivalent price.
Less good are the Rockchip processor, 1GB of RAM and 1366×768 pixel display, which combine to give the tablet a low end feel. It’s never fast, although in reality this form factor lends itself more to spreadsheets and email than the more heavyweight tasks that you might perform on a traditional tablet. The screen also has disappointingly limited viewing angles and lacks vibrancy in either brightness or colours.
The A10 runs a lightly skinned version of Android 4.2.2. It functions for the most part like Android does on a tablet, although the navigation bar at the bottom of the screen has been replaced with a more PC-like status bar.
We were surprised to see that the screen rotates into portrait orientation when you tilt the device onto its side; it is hard to see when you would use that, however.
As with all devices with touchscreens and keyboards you navigate the interface through a combination of both. The keyboard includes dedicated keys for standard Android functions like Home, Back and Settings, and you can swipe through screens by swiping the trackpad while holding down the right click button. For the most part touching the screen was simpler than all these workarounds.
The full suite of Google apps is installed, along with the Play store, and you get a copies of (the already free) Kingsoft Office and File Manager to add some laptop style functionality, but very little else. You’d struggle to find a real laptop with so little bloat.
There is a front camera for video chat, and it is okay for that even with its low resolution and slightly soft appearance. The speakers are located on the bottom of the chassis, and depending where you are using the device can easily become muffled. The quality is not outstanding anyway.
On the whole we’d say that the Lenovo A10 is a reasonable success. Unlike larger PC or laptop-style devices we have seen in the past where Android ended up as the biggest limitation, the A10’s strengths come from the fact that it keeps its ambitions in check.
This is a netbook, designed to do the things you do on a netbook, and the choice of OS in this instance is almost irrelevant. Which is not to say we’d recommend this ahead of a proper Android tablet, or a proper laptop, or probably even a Chromebook.
But if you need a cheap and affordable computer with a keyboard, then the A10 is at least worth a look.