updated 11:45 pm EST, Sun January 8, 2012
Lenovo avoids Google TV with K91 set
Lenovo as part of its wide-scale introductions brought out its first TV with an unusual approach to Android that we saw for ourselves. The K91 Smart TV is based on Android 4.0, not Google TV, and uses a completely new Sandwich UI that focuses on traditional TV, VOD with a viewing history, and Internet-aware apps.
The set also includes a unique set of controls. The traditionally-shaped remote hides a voice command system and a microphone along with capacitive touch. A motion sensor inside also lets gamers use Nintendo Wii-like gestures without having to get a separate remote. More dedicated gaming comes in the form of a gamepad, and a front five-megapixel camera provides face recognition; parents can keep their kids out of content by detecting when the younger ones are in front of the set, for example.
Both Android Market and a custom Lenovo Store make apps available to the set beyond its base features.
Lenovo's actual TV skews towards the high end with a 55-inch, 240Hz, passive-glasses 3D display using IPS (in-plane switching) to get better color accuracy and viewing angles. A Qualcomm Snapdragon APQ8060 dual-core chip is inside and, while not fast for smartphones, is much more powerful than what's in many Internet-capable TVs and allows for 3D gaming. Four USB ports, HDMI, and a microSDHC slot give it peripheral support more akin to a smartphone.
The K91 is available immediately in China and will be available worldwide later on. Prices weren't given out, although only China is getting a currently bundled VOD service.
Lenovo wasn't readily making control of the TV available when we tried it at a pre-CES event, but the extensive demo made it clear that Lenovo had made Android 4.0 their own: the interface was entirely TV-optimized and clearly meant to work using just the basic remote controls. Gaming won't necessarily challenge Nintendo, but it's clear that parents with young kids would likely have fun with the badminton game we saw as an example.
Image quality on the set is superb, at least in 2D. The primary colors are vivid, and we had no problems seeing what was on the screen at wide angles. Lenovo's visuals move along at a fairly brisk clip, although we'd have liked a faster processor to give better graphics. We can only imagine that some games will struggle at 1080p.
Is it a challenge to Google TV and a possible future Apple TV set? The Apple TV set is part speculation and part rumor, but Apple may have an edge if it can get a Siri-controlled TV; Lenovo couldn't try its system due to floor noise, but the K91 is unlikely to be that advanced. Lenovo's physical interface is simple enough, but it's still in the vein of conventional smart TVs, and we're worried that there won't be enough support either in Android Market or the Lenovo store for apps.
The real threat is to Google TV. Much like what Amazon did to tablets with the Kindle Fire, Lenovo is effectively forking off Android on its own path. If the K91 catches on, it may once again make Android developers support two platforms or drop one for the other. Lenovo has been thinking more about having many features out of the box, and it may catch customers who think Google TV is too plain.