The recently announced Grid 10 Tablet aims to redeem Fusion Garage after their very much failed JooJoo tablet. The Grid 10 (and its phone-buddy the Grid 4) arrived with much hype and hyperbole. Let's see if they live up.
The Grid 10 sports a 10.1-inch screen that packs in a resolution of 1366 by 768 pixels. On paper, that should make it the best tablet display out there. But the display is dim and the glass is highly reflective. The viewing angles aren't particularly great, either, so watching a movie with a couple of friends may not be the most enjoyable of experiences. Like many of its Android cousins, it adopts the 16:9 widescreen ratio, which means holding it in landscape is the only way it feels natural. The brushed aluminium body feels nice and sturdy, but it's 1.5 pounds, which is a tablet fatass at this point in the game. The power button is the only physical button on the Grid 10. I'm generally pro-button, but I didn't mind it so much in this case, as the gesture-sensitive bezels made up for it (more on that later).
The demo had only half of the RAM that the final version will have. This created mucho problems. Games would play well for a little while and then you would run out of memory and you would have to do a hard reset. A hard reset when you run out of memory? The final unit will have 512MB of memory, which isn't bad, but high-end Android tablets are packing 1GB of RAM.
The Grid 10 and the Grid 4 both run Fusion Garage's new operating system, Grid OS. You wouldn't know it by looking at it, but Grid OS has Android in its genes. It is built on top of the Android kernel — from 2.3, actually — but it's about as unrecognisable as John Travolta / Nic Cage in the movie Face Off. Fusion Garage CEO Chandra Rathakrishnan says that they only used those kernels as a jumping off point, and they'll continue to evolve the OS from there (i.e. they won't be waiting for future versions of Android in order to move forward).
The centrepiece of Grid OS is its desktop which is, not surprisingly, one big effing grid. It's bigger than big. Actually, it's infinitely expandable. It's unlike anything on any other tablet. All of your apps live on the grid, and you can add tiles for bookmarks and contacts as well, and then arrange them into (nameable) groups as you see fit. No widgets, though, which is a bummer. Groups (think: folders) are collapsable and expandable, and can be moved around. The problem with this is that your grid ends up looking like a big messy desktop with piles of stuff on it. All of the items are the same size. In other words, the apps you use all the time are no more prominent than the apps you almost never use. Even Chandra got lost on his desktop a few times while he was showing it to me. There's a map in the upper right corner that allows you to jump around the grid very quickly, but while you can see the shape of the groups you made, you can't see the names of the groups themselves.
Gestures are a big part of the OS, which I like a lot (borrowing some from the PlayBook's playbook). Regardless of what application you're in, two-finger swiping in from the left bezel brings up the Heartbeat application. This is where you see your notifications and upcoming calendar appointments, and also where you switch between open apps. The Heartbeat app also boasts some "intelligent" features, like if it's lunch time and you're in Midtown Manhattan, it will recommend some places to eat nearby (though we had trouble getting this feature to work during my demo). Two-finger swiping in from the right bezel is the equivalent of the back button, and in from the top bezel will take you back to the home grid.
Because Grid OS is build on top of Android, it will run Android applications, and it doesn't need an emulator to do it. Testing it out with a few Android games, it seemed to work pretty well, but it remains to be seen what'll work and what won't. Grid OS users won't have access to the Android Market—they'll be limited to Amazon's app store and other third party options. A problem, 'cause they're nowhere near as fleshed-out as the Android Market. APIs will soon be released to developers so they can start building apps directly for Grid OS, but honestly, who's going to write apps that run on a single tablet?
Other quick notes: the browser looked great, and when it was actually running smoothly, it was my favourite browsing experience on any mobile device yet. Flash played with no problem — except when it didn't. The video application is excellent. I could jump around the HD movie with no stuttering, and it would stay in sync with the Grid 4 phone. Bing (!) is deeply integrated into the OS and it has a lot of live, contextual search functions built-in throughout.
Powered by the same Grid OS, you navigate the phone's desktop in the same way. Potentially a problem, as the smaller screen real estate makes finding the apps/contacts/groups you want even more difficult than it already was on the much larger tablet. It syncs with your Grid 10 to keep your calendars, contacts, email and other stuff from turning into a jumbled mess. It will also keep your place in videos between the devices (as long as you have the video stored on both).
It's too soon to make any kind of a call on either of these devices, but whether they turn out to be good or bad, at least they're not boring.
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