Fusion Garage JooJoo review

We're not sure what's harder to believe: the fact that after months and months of the soap-opera-like drama that the JooJoo (formerly known as the CrunchPad) has finally landed in our hands, or that within just a few days there are now two capacitive touchscreen, browsing-heavy slate tablets on the market. Sure, it's probably not the best timing for a tablet start-up, but that doesn't diminish our interest in the 12-inch, Flash-playing JooJoo. The JooJoo is meant to be a browser-based tablet for surfing the web on your couch or while traveling, but with little previous hands-on time, we're still wondering how well it'll really work. And, obviously, whether or not it's a $499 experience on par or superior to Apple's iPad. Fear not, we'll tell you all you want to know in our magical review after the break.

Video walkthrough

Look and feel

The JooJoo is a beautifully crafted piece of hardware, and even if the iPad wasn't out there for comparisons, its minimalistic design would remind us of an aesthetically pleasing Apple product. The front of the device is nothing but LCD, and the slightly recessed power button on the left edge is the only physical button on the entire thing. We happen to think the lack of hardware controls might be one of Fusion Garage's biggest mistakes since there's no easy way of getting back to the menu or home screen, but we'll get to all that interface stuff soon enough.

The champagne-colored brushed aluminum backside of the tablet certainly gives everything a sophisticated look, and it also feels really nice in hand, if just a tad flimsy in the middle due to its expansiveness. But a "handheld" the 12.8 x 7.8-inch JooJoo is not -- at least not in comparison to the iPad or other e-readers, like the Kindle or Nook. The larger and heavier form factor makes it more of a sit up / lap device, rather than something you can use lying down and holding it up. Obviously the payoff is in the bigger screen, and we really shouldn't whine too much about a 2.4-pound, 0.7-inch thick device when it comes to portability, but one-handing this thing is pretty much out of the question.

A single USB port, a standard headphone jack, and a microphone jack live on the right edge. You can use the USB port to charge the device, but that's all it will do since the operating system is completely browser-based and doesn't allow for side loading music, video, or pictures. The camera on the top of the screen is apparently meant for video conferencing, but all our attempts to video chat through Meebo or Tokbox failed.

Screen and speakers

Obviously the JooJoo's heart and soul is its 1366 x 768, capacitive 12-inch display. We have no qualms about the responsiveness of the glass display – light taps and swipes were all we needed to make selections / scroll down pages as long as the software was keeping up (we had to restart the device a couple times to get things working again touch-wise) – but viewing angles are less than stellar. Unlike Apple's IPS display, colors fade quickly when the screen is tilted to a 120-degree angle (as demonstrated in our video walkthrough), and when we held it up while lying on our side it was hard to position it to get a great view of the entire screen. The horizontal viewing angles are wide enough for sharing the screen with a friend or two, though.

Getting the screen to rotate from vertical to horizontal can at times be a bit of a crapshoot – sometimes the accelerometer decides it'd like to pitch in and adjust just perfectly and other times it needs a bit of a shake to rotate (JooJoo thinks we might've gotten a lemon in this regard, and the problem certainly wasn't consistent). We're told the sensitivity will be tweaked in an upcoming software update, along with the speed of rotation. Luckily the ambient light sensor is much more accountable, dimming the screen when not in use and raising the lights in dimly lit situations, but unfortunately it's positioned right where you might be likely to rest a thumb when holding the tablet in a landscape orientation, causing plenty of unintentional dimming. The two speakers on the back of the tablet sound like typical netbooks speakers – they're loud enough for personal listening, but won't fill a room.

Software: Browser and more browser

The user interface on the JooJoo can best be described as a Monet – very attractive from afar, but a total mess up close. Very much like Dell's version of Ubuntu, the Linux browser-based OS is centered around rectangular shortcuts like Twitter and Hulu which are divided into different categories, including News, Social, and Entertainment. When selected they simply just launch the respective site in the browser. The homepage shortcuts are certainly helpful if you are looking to go to one of the preloaded sites, but there's no simple browser shortcut if you just want to put in your own URL. Instead you're stuck opening one of the shortcuts and changing the address. Counterintuitive, to say the least. And that's all there really is to the entire OS – there aren't any onboard applications for viewing pictures or music -- the only other screen is just a settings section for adjusting the WiFi or brightness. From anywhere on the device you can swipe down at the top of the screen to bring up a navigation bar, which includes browser controls, in addition to quick utility items like bookmark, volume, onscreen keyboard, and WiFi.

The web viewing experience on the device is what you'd expect; pages look very nice on the wide display and we surely didn't take for granted the ability to watch a video or play Farmville right in the browser (more on that Flash experience later). Our biggest problem with the basic viewing is the 16:9 screen ratio, which renders regular sites with extra room on each side in landscape, but crops in on the sides of sites when held vertically. We appreciate that JooJoo is trying to provide a straight pixel-accurate representation of web sites, but they could've picked a better screen ratio to do it. A smaller foible is a mere fact of Linux: type isn't rendered as cleanly as on a Mac or Windows machine, and not all fonts are supported.

A purely web-based device needs to have excellent navigation features, and the JooJoo... doesn't have those. As we were telling a friend, there's so much wrong with it that it we're just not sure where to begin. It's hard to put a finger on our biggest complaint, but the fact that the navigation bar atop the browser isn't locked in place seems to be our largest frustration. Instead, every time you want to move backwards, forwards, or input a new URL you have to swipe a finger downward to bring it up. We'd be okay with that little trick if it happened to be more responsive and the software didn't mistakenly think we were trying to make selections on the page when trying to swipe downwards to make it appear. At times our swipes worked perfectly, but if the JooJoo is preoccupied or feeling grumpy, the gesture goes unheeded, or a mistaken tap or second tap takes us back or to the home screen, since so much is packed into such a small area. Since it's so core to just about everything you'd want to do on the device, it's a real shame that it doesn't Just Work.

Speaking of swiping downwards, two-finger scrolling happens to be very smooth, but one finger scrolling isn't supported. That happens to be annoying when holding the device with one hand since you can't just use a thumb, or with two hands (for weaklings like us) because you have to drop one hand to do scrolling, or use a janky dual thumb method. Pinch to zoom isn't a feature either, so trying to enlarge text or small web buttons to make selections are a no go.

There are two onscreen keyboard options: one for inputting short text and another, wider one that appears when the screen is flipped horizontally for longer typing. Both can be dragged to different places on the screen and are decently sized, but trying to type a long email or instant message is annoying, especially with the lack of predicative text or automatic capitalization. Oh, and hopefully you are okay with not using an apostrophe – while it has the key when selected it ends up inputting an open quote (another little item with a promised software update). Even more inexplicable was the fact that sometimes the keyboard didn't register key presses at all, or only on the third or fourth try. A hard reset got things humming again, but we'd rather not live in fear of losing the ability to use the keyboard.

The truth is we could go on and on about software flaws. Like how when in vertical mode the bookmark dialog doesn't display correctly, or how when you log into sites like Facebook or Twitter it doesn't keep you logged in when the browser closes. Though you really don't know irritation until you try closing web pages. Similar to Palm's webOS, all your windows are open in a sidescrolling "tabs" video, where you are supposed to be able to swipe upwards to close a page. However, for some reason this only works when it wants to, another known bug that might have something to do with Flash, but made us want to throw the unit across the room. We'd like to say we were the only ones that became completely bothered by the software, but every person we handed the tablet over to became peeved within five minutes and began asking us how to do simple things like go back to the home screen.

Performance, Flash video and battery life

Software issues aside, the JooJoo actually happens to be quite speedy thanks to its 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270 processor, 1GB of RAM and 4GB solid state drive. It only takes about 7 seconds to boot and toggling between the menus is snappy. WiFi speeds were also quite fast with it taking 11 seconds to load Engadget and 8 seconds to bring up

But what about Flash? This is supposed to be the big differentiator, right? The iPad killer! In an interesting move, Fusion Garage coupled the Atom processor with NVIDIA's Ion graphics to aid in playing full screen Flash video (or for doing... something). Unfortunately, the software just isn't there yet. Currently the device is running Flash 10.1 beta 1, and won't have hardware-accelerated Flash video for a good while now (the timing is partly reliant on Adobe support, and is labelled as a "work in progress" by JooJoo). That means some regular-sized YouTube and Hulu works, as decoded by the CPU, but full screen Hulu is jittery, and a 720p YouTube clip is like watching a slideshow. In one of the biggest moves of irony, JooJoo has actually implemented a hack for YouTube where you can view a video in Flash or in "JooJoo" mode which is a straight playback of the MPEG video file every YouTube video harbors. What does this remind us of? HTML 5, albeit with a less elegant implementation. This of course only works on YouTube right now, though JooJoo says it plans on supporting other sites in the future. Watch the video below for yourselves to see all this Flash tragedy play out.

The worst part about the Atom / Ion combo is that it results in those original issues we had when we reviewed all those Ion netbooks. First, it causes the entire tablet to get quite warm (especially when playing Flash video) and then it murders its battery life. The JooJoo's integrated three-cell battery repeatedly lasted 2.5 hours (just as we predicted!) during our moderate use, which included surfing the Web and playing short videos. JooJoo claims you can get 5 hours if you avoid Flash entirely, but that sort of defeats the purpose, right? In the end we don't understand why they didn't just go with an ARM processor like NVIDIA's Tegra or a more current Intel Atom N450 processor paired with Broadcom's Crystal HD solution. Both options would have enabled HD video playback and resulted in some more juice. We will take this moment to non-tactfully remind you that the iPad lasts over 10 hours on a charge.


There are just so many things we wish Fusion Garage did differently with the JooJoo. Even putting aside the fact that Apple's $499 iPad brings more to the table than just web browsing, the JooJoo is less portable, has a worse (if larger) screen, is unintuitive to use, and ships with half-baked software. We commend the start-up on its nice piece of hardware design, but until the software is given some much-needed love and the price is seriously reevaluated we simply cannot recommend this tablet. To add insult to injury, Apple's entry level iPad provides a much more seamless and feature-packed experience, and there are plenty of $199-ish ARM-based tablets just around the corner. We told you it was terrible timing. The one shining light we can see is that Fusion Garage has actually managed to finish and build this thing, which is a lot more than can be said for the dozens of ARM / Tegra / Fairy dust-powered, Android / Linux / CE-based tablet prototypes we've seen in the wild.

The future

Most reviews don't warrant a post-mortem, but with JooJoo there is just one sliver of hope: we're promised an aggressive near-weekly update schedule with the device. Sure, it would be much better if the device had actually shipped with ready-to-go software (we'd peg it at about an alpha level currently), but we'll be keeping an eye out for how Fusion Garage improves this over time. For instance, the experience will be radically altered by hardware-accelerated Flash (even many of the sluggish UI elements seem to be Flash-based) if it ever arrives, and there are a lot of design decisions that wouldn't be so hard to tweak, like an expanded, permanent address bar. But updates are a promise, not a feature, and it's a small comfort for the few early adopters out there.

Additional reporting and testing by Joshua Topolsky.