Enso's zenPad is vaporware, get refunds while they last (update)

Did you order a Enso zenPad? If so, you'll be happy to hear that the company has decided on a concrete release date; its website is now ticking down the days, hours, minutes and seconds until May 8th, when Enso claims they'll finally ship the rebranded Smit MID. Problem is, if you ordered your zenPad on March 22nd -- the day we wrote about it -- you will have waited 47 days by the time the device ships, exactly two days too many to get a PayPal refund. But more importantly, manufacturer Smit has now disavowed any knowledge of a deal, and Enso itself has admitted that the zenPad as such does not currently exist. We've done quite a bit of digging and even spoke with an Enso founder to get the whole story. Enough promises have now been broken and lies told that if we were you, we'd request refunds ASAP, but if you still want to hang on for a chance at a $155 Android tablet, you can hear the whole tale right after the break.

Update: We just spoke to Enso CEO Alberto Armandi, who says that the company has now secured the necessary funding to make good on orders, and promises that he will ship us a zenPad for review within two weeks. We'll revisit this story then. Meanwhile, read how we got to this juncture after the break.

The facts:

  • In June 2008, Alberto Armandi, Maurizio Colarossi and Olivier Lalonde formed an internet advertising startup named, and attempted to raise $250,000 through micro funding, claiming the company would generate $5 billion in revenue by 2010 and run neck and neck with Google AdWords in 2012. Yeah, we know.

  • On or about February 2, 2010, an Alberto Armandi found videos of the Smit MID-560 tablet around the internet, and wrote comments like the below on each:

    Hey, i am doing trading business in china and just ordered a lot of 500 pieces of the Smit 560. The thing is real and i can show off real pictures. I will get a sample in about 15 days. Is anybody interested in a reseller opportunity?

    Accompanying each comment, he provided a link to a series of eBay auctions, each for a lot of 50 tablets. These eBay auctions have since been deleted.

  • On March 8th, Alberto (under the handle enso-now) attempted to get feedback on the website at Y Combinator. He told commentors that he did not yet have a device, but was instead "waiting to meet with the factory to buy the prototype." Two comments later, he wrote: "i am not pre-selling anything, the device is currently produced and i can ship you 500 hundreds of pieces to you in a week."

  • On March 8th, Maurizio's twitter account pointed to the website. (On March 4th, it pointed to another of Alberto's get-rich-quick ideas,

  • On March 10th, Alberto defended Enso's reputation amidst scam allegations, again at Y Combinator.

  • On March 12th, eBay seller "enso-now*com" got neutral feedback on an auction for an individual tablet, under the name "GOOGLE ANDROID TABLET IPAD IPHONE STYLE WIFI GPS 3G." On March 22nd, it got negative feedback for the same item, with the buyer claiming that he hadn't received it after a 45 day wait, and had to get his refund through PayPal. These auctions and the eBay seller account have since been deleted.

  • Until around March 30th, customers ordering the zenPad through the Enso website had to send money directly to a co-founder's PayPal account, "OLALONDE."

  • Originally, Enso's about page promised devices would be processed and shipped within 7 working days. Then, customers on the official Facebook page wrote that Enso had replied to their worried emails saying that the company was overwhelmed by orders and the device would start shipping April 10. As of this week, the company's website was updated to read:

    Due to our huge and sudden success, our facilities have a hard time to keep up with demand and shipping delays are longer than usual. Be advised that the current average wait time for shipping is 15-23 days.

    As mentioned earlier, Enso now says it cannot ship the device until May 8th.

  • As of April 5th, customers claimed they were unable to log into their accounts at Enso's website, and noticed that Enso's logo was similar to that of other companies called Enso. (Since "enso" is Japanese for a circle in calligraphy, anger at the latter is probably misinformed.) Customer Jerry O'Hara got in touch with Enso, who told him that sales records were being "saved in a database" and that customers would be informed when the devices started to ship.

  • We emailed Enso on April 6th. We received no reply.

  • On or around April 7th, got in touch with manufacturer Shenzhen State Micro Technology (SMIT), who confirmed that Enso had purchased a single sample tablet, but had not placed an order:

    This is Forrest from SMIT, how are you? I'm in charge of the overseas sales for the MIS products. Regarding your question below, for Enso They did purchase a MID-560 sample from us two weeks ago. They Have not Placed mass production order to us.

    Forrest also told Multimediawereld that the current MID-560 does not support several features, including 3G connectivity, that Enso claims their zenPad does, and questioned if the zenPad was in fact the same device.

  • On April 8th, Enso posted their first two official blog entries, backdating one to appear as if it was posted March 31st. They claim that the startup is a "victim of its own sudden success" and has already sold thousands of zenPads, but that the sudden influx of money caused eBay and PayPal to freeze its accounts, preventing them from manufacturing and shipping the tablets. Enso also claims that they are currently unable to refund customers who purchased before March 30th because the company had a limited PayPal account at that time.

We just spoke with Olivier Lalonde, who confirmed that the company does not and never did have more than 25 units, the majority of which he says have already been shipped out to customers. He wouldn't disclose how many units have been sold or how much money the company has accumulated, but told us that less than 15% of their customers have opted for a refund, and that Enso has already begun paying them back. "Most of them are okay with the shipping delay, they just wanted to know that they would receive the device," he told us. When asked about the company's practice of selling merchandise they did not have, Olivier said, "Honestly, we didn't expect so many orders in such a short span of time," and recommended that any worried customers apply for a refund, and re-purchase later on when the company had proven itself.

Even with the deck stacked against them, it's still quite possible Enso is wholly legit, and plans to issue both tablets and refunds in short order. They're certainly polite, when they get around to answering our calls. But honestly, with a company as shady (or unprepared) as this, it's just not worth the risk. PayPal director of communications Anuj Nayar told us that if you want a refund, the online payment processor gives you no more than 45 days from the order date to file a dispute, and you might as well do so: "If a buyer is worried, they can open a claim, and and then just close it if things work out."

We'd close with a JooJoo joke here, but hey, it actually shipped. Although that might have actually made matters worse.

[Thanks, Brecht]