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Lenovo IdeaPad A1 announced at IFA 2011; priced just $199, release date in September

Lenovo IdeaPad A1 announced at IFA 2011, priced just $199, release date in SeptemberLaptop-maker Lenovo is branching out and flexing its mobile muscles. The company will soon introduce a mid-sized—but low-cost—Android tablet in the U.S. Coming later in September: The IdeaPad Tablet A1, the first 7-inch tablet priced at $200 or less (our bet is that it will be $199.99, but technically that’s still under $200). For that price, you”ll have to sacrifice on-board storage, but not functionality—and you’ll get some innovation, too, since it’s the first tablet with a full GPS that can be used without a data connection.

Lenovo’s touting that the A1 sports an uncommon internal magnesium alloy roll cage structure that allows it to survive accidental drops (even ones where it falls on an edge), but in my short time with a pre-production unit, I couldn’t help but focus on the .4-inch / .88 pound slab’s plasticy external build. On the plus side, it does come in a rainbow of colors (blue, black, white, pink) and in general, the easily grippable 7-inch form factor continues to be my pick for reading and fast thumb typing. As for the display, the A1 is promised to have a 1024 x 600-resolution IPS LCD panel. However, the few models I was able to check out certainly didn’t have high quality screens, and poor horizontal viewing angles were one of the first things I noticed. Let’s hope we can chalk that up to pre-production materials.

The new IdeaPad Tablet A1 isn’t especially slim—it measures 0.47 inch thick, which puts it at the half-inch thickness of Acer”s A100 and the original Samsung Galaxy Tab 7-inch model. Lenovo’s A1 weighs 0.88 pound, compared with 0.92 pound for the A100, and the original Galaxy Tab’s 0.85 pound. Lenovo busts out the color options for the IdeaPad Tablet A1, with four separate offerings: white, black, pink, or light blue. The company talked up its magnesium alloy “roll cage” case design that protects the internal components with bumpers.

One of the most interesting feature is the Offline GPS capability. If you have ever tried using a smartphone’s GPS without having a data pan, you may have found that it usually doesn’t work. This is very annoying when you are traveling to a foreign country as you probably don’t have a data plan (or want to commit financial suicide by roaming data).

The second particularity of the A1 tablet is the Lenovo Social Touch interface. It displays a stream of (unified) text communication that includes Email and most top social networks. There’s even a preview window that lets you take a good look at messages without having to leave Social Touch. The idea seems good, but this is something that would require real-world testing before I can provide an educated opinion.

It’s obviously too early to tell if the 8GB A1 will be worth your $200 (there will be a 16GB version for $249 as well), but the good news is that Lenovo has a bit of time to work out the kinks and you have more time to decide, since it won’t actually hit the market until mid or late September.

Lenovo IdeaPad A1 tablet hands-on:

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