Joojoo tablet hands-on (video)

Marked more by its story than its design, the Joojoo tablet is somewhat of a mythical (and controversial) beast. So when we got a phone call to see it for ourselves with Fusion Garage CEO Chandra Rathakrishnan, we jumped at the opportunity. Turns out it's quite a capable little device, and chief among its feats so far seems to be smooth 1080p YouTube playback. Seriously, we were quite impressed with just how crisp and lag-free it was, at least for the Avatar trailer we tested. Throw in a Webkit-based browser with Silverlight and Flash support (why hello there, Hulu), and yeah, we're pretty pumped. Read on for more impressions.

The device itself is thin and lightweight. It's not much of a stretch to label the design of it "oversized iPhone," and of course with it we're reminded that an all-glass front panel tends to attract enough fingerprints to satisfy any aspiring gumshoe. The 12.1-inch display boasts 1366 x 768 resolution, and in the time we had last night, the viewing angles are very forgiving. Ports are minimal -- one USB 2.0 input, one power input, and some audio / headset jacks. External keyboard, mice, and headset are supported via USB and Bluetooth.

The home screen is a series of large shortcuts and a side bar for settings,search, and the ever-vigilant timekeeper. The background changed colors about every minute, and Rathakrishnan explained that you could instead just have it set to one color -- that green tint is not something set in stone, no worries. Getting back to the screen is a simple matter of pinching when you're in a browser window -- and be sure to keep that in mind, pinching does not in this case zoom out. Pinching from homescreen takes you to a series of open tabs you can skim through before you make a final pick.

On hand was also the near-final packaging. It seems almost ridiculously long, about thrice the length of the tablet itself, but we do give points for the clever design. Inside is also the power brick, but that's it for included supplies -- even the documentation is to be written on a translucent sticker for the display cover.

Our two major concerns with Joojoo right now are ones Rathakrishnan promises will be fixed before launch. First one is home screen notifications, which we were unable to see -- having a screen of shortcuts is nice and all, but if Apple has taught us anything, the least we can want is some form of numerical indication that our favorite social networking site has new messages for us. We're told it can be implemented by developers using the API. The other one is a biggie, and it's something very noticeable in the videos: touch sensitivity is pretty bad. Using the virtual keyboard proved to be far too painful, and we're pretty sure it wasn't multitouch-friendly. Worth noting is a built-in webcam for video conferencing but at the moment no Skype support since there isn't a more Webkit-friendly client.

Rathakrishnan was kind enough to answer a few questions about the Arrington-shaped elephant in the room. He remains adamant that the TechCrunch founder and company did not contribute any code to the project, and that their involvement was virtually nonexistent. What he wouldn't talk about, unfortunately, was what's actually powering the machine -- that'll be announced in "due course," but we do know it has a dedicated GPU and, based on what we saw, it does its job very well. Storage isn't expandable, but at the same time there isn't much here that you'll be able to save locally anyhow.

At $500 and a with web-focused design, the Joojoo's biggest rival seems to be mid-range netbooks like the Asus Eee PC 1201N, and until we can see the specs inside, giving up a physical keyboard is a bit of a challenge here. Cautiously optimistic is the best way we can put it for now, but we are itching to get some more time with it. The first shipments should be going out eight to ten weeks after the initial December 11th pre-orders, and international territories sometime early next year.

Update: Gizmodo says they saw the bootup sequence, which revealed a 1.6GHz Atom, but we still don't know what kind of chipset and GPU is in there -- the smart money is on NVIDIA Ion, but we've yet to see a shipping Ion machine run HD Flash as well as the Joojoo.