The fine folks at Fusion Garage landed in New York today continuing their whirlwind publicity tour starring the newly minted JooJoo tablet. Setting aside my misgivings about the name, I found myself getting the gadget-acquiring itch in my short time with the device. It looks good, feels good, and is a lot of fun to play with. It’s somewhat like what I imagined the Apple tablet would be hardware-wise. I’m not as excited about the software concept, though.
The 13.3-inch device holds a glossy 12.1-inch capacitive screen that displays bright, crisp colors when surfing web pages or watching HD video. It only weighs 2.4 lbs (just shy of a netbook’s weight) and is thinner than a MacBook Air. This sounds impressive, but remember that the JooJoo has no keyboard, just a screen. Also like the MacBook Air, it also only has one USB port.
Weight-wise, the JooJoo strikes a balance between feeling sturdy and well-built and keeping a svelte profile. Still, while holding it with one hand and navigating the web with the other, I could tell that my wrist would complain after a relatively short usage time. Of course, with the built-in accelerometer, I wouldn’t be stuck holding it just one way. We saw a few stand prototypes for the device to keep it stable and upright while watching videos or surfing the web.
The screen is beautiful, but has the same problem most glossy displays have: poor viewing angles. We didn’t get a chance to test this extensively, I just noticed some color distortion while watching a video clip at a downward angle. One thing I really love is the size. There is plenty of screen real-estate for viewing Web pages as they’re meant to be seen.
Touch is intuitive and works about the same as on the iPhone/iPod Touch except there isn’t pinch and zoom. Fusion Garage’s CEO Chandra Rathakrishnan reasoned that since users will be able to view web sites at full size they won’t need to zoom in, which makes sense.
The device we saw was a pre-production unit, so the few quirks I noticed while working with the touchscreen should be ironed out soon. I had some difficulty hitting smaller elements like links or tiny icons in Facebook. It was also difficult for me because I have fingernails and the screen only responds to capacitive touch (that’s a major issue and worth another blog post). Touch worked just fine on larger elements, as you’ll see in the video below. I was even able to play a credible game of Bejeweled Blitz on Facebook.
The JooJoo is definitely fun to play with. It’s the functionality angle that I’m still dubious about. One of my major criticisms is the lack of ports and expansion options. Simplicity is great and I wouldn’t want to crowd the edge with too many ports, but no memory card or simcard slots? No multi I/O port for docking stations? This is a missed opportunity. Chandra said that mice and keyboards would be supported via the USB port, but I can see things getting far too complicated and overwrought with adding hubs to add more ports to add useful peripherals. A docking option would make that a bit easier.
Then again, it wouldn’t do to get too complex with the JooJoo as it’s an Internet-focused device. As with Chrome OS, the operating system here — developed in-house by Fusion Garage — is essentially a browser. The home screen includes shortcuts to websites grouped by categories — communication, entertainment, news portals, etc. Also like Chrome OS, Chandra plans for JooJoo owners to have access to content and applications offline. Via JooJoo APIs, developers will have the opportunity to extend the usefulness of the tablet beyond wireless borders.
This is all in the (near) future, which brings me to another major criticism: This tablet costs $499 — not a bad price for a large capacitive touchscreen device with excellent graphics and what seems to be a speedy processor. Still, it is a lot of money to lay down for a gadget that has good but admittedly limited functionality now and might get more robust in the future. If developers don’t jump at the chance to enhance the JooJoo’s functionality and if content, distribution, and other partners aren’t as thick on the ground as Fusion Garage leads us to believe, where will that leave people who pre-order it tomorrow?
$499 is a lot to spend on potential. Even if the potential is great… and it is.
We’ll get to see finalized devices later this month and take an in-depth look at what a person can get done with a JooJoo. What tasks should we attempt beyond consuming media and updating Twitter?