byJoanna Stern||January 5th 2011 at 5:33pmJanuary 5th 2011 5:33 pm
You see that up there? Oh yes, that's the long-awaited Notion Ink Adam, and it's in our hands! Indeed, we got some very intimate time with the 10-inch PixelQi Android tablet this morning, and we have to say despite the doubts we've had, we're incredibly impressed with what this India-based start-up has achieved. With that, we suggest you hit the break for our in-depth impressions of what will soon be one of the most unique Android tablets on the market. %Gallery-112732%
Hardware. We're no strangers to the Adam's hardware design -- don't forget it was at last year's CES that we first saw the 10-inch tablet -- but even a year later, the build is very solid despite it being primarily made of plastics. We're of the mind that every tablet out there should have its rubberized, curved top edge -- it makes it very easy to hold in portrait or landscape mode. The slab isn't the slimmest tablet we've seen (although it has a nice array of ports, including a full HDMI and USB), but at 1.5 pounds it felt lighter in hand than the iPad. Actually, of all the 10-inch tablets we've seen, this one seems to be the easiest to hold up and read on.
Screen. Of course, what makes that reading experience so nice is its 1024 x 600-resolution, transreflective PixelQi display. The LCD backlight can be turned on and off by tapping the top button on the display, and as you can see in the video below, it makes for an incredibly crisp reading experience in the sun. With the backlight on, the matte display was decently bright, but colors did appear washed out, at least in comparison to the iPad or Galaxy Tab. That could also have something to do with the display coating -- it seems sprayed on and its just smoother than most. Still, we are pretty much elated to see a PixelQi screen in a real product and we think it will really change the use case scenarios for these types of products. Oh, and the viewing angles were also quite good as Notion Ink is using PixelQi's wider viewing displays.
Eden UI. This is the one we've all been waiting for -- the Adam's software interface. As we've seen in the demo videos, Notion Ink has done massive amounts of work on top of Android and has created a panel centric UI. Basically, you can add panels for certain applications by opening the application drawer and dragging an icon down. If there isn't a panel for that app, it'll let you know. There are three panels per screen, but you can scroll across to see more or open a cover-flow like view by tapping twice on the home button. It's all a pretty nice layout, but it's also a bit confusing. It took us awhile to get the hang of how to close panels and then back out of an application, and different single and double taps on the four buttons on the left bezel do different things. We assume that after sometime with it, it would all become second nature, but a few of us Engadget editors were perplexed by some of the features.
Apps. We didn't get to spend too much with Notion Ink's core apps, i.e. mail or calender, but we did get to know the browser well. All the browser controls -- back, fowards, tabs, etc. -- live on the left edge of the screen. You can manage tabs by holding down a circular button on that rail, and then slide over a list of sites. Like we said, there's a lot of cool stuff here, but we imagine it will be hard for some to figure out just how to take advantage of it all. That said, the software was farther along than we imagined -- nothing crashed or took forever to open. Third party applications, however, happen to be Notion Ink's major issue at the moment; the device will not support the Market, but it plans to launch its own Genesis store soon after launch.
Performance. A lot of that smooth performance of the UI has to do with the tablet's dual core Tegra 2 CPU. Notion Ink has done a lot to take advantage of NVIDIA's graphics and it definitely shows. The performance was quite peppy and scrolling in the browser was very smooth. Playing a Flash video on nytimes.com was quick to load but did cause a bit of those usual formatting and lag issues. Still it was much better than the Samsung Galaxy Tab at handling that video.
We'll admit, we're pleasantly shocked at how much Notion Ink was able to do with its Adam tablet. While the Eden UI does seem confusing to us and the software isn't completely finished in our minds, it's an incredibly different take on Android for tablets, which is exactly what we've needed in the past year. With Honeycomb coming up soon, there's no telling what Google itself will put out to take advantage of the extra screen space, but at the moment the Adam is one of the most impressive tablets we've seen.