At a time when Android and iOS are dominating the tablet landscape, it takes a bit of moxie to introduce a completely new user interface. Trying to put the debacle that was the JooJoo behind it, Fusion Garage has released the Grid10 tablet. It features a novel grid-based interface and it integrates social networking in clever ways. At $299, this 10-inch slate is attractive price-wise, also, but has Fusion Garage reached too far?
As its name suggests, the Grid10 has a 10-inch display surrounded by a 1-inch bezel. All in all, it's an attractive tablet. The front face--a 10-inch screen surrounded by a 1-inch glossy bezel--looks sleek and minimalistic. The matte black plastic back is curved, similar to the Acer Iconia A500 tablet, making the Grid10 seem thinner than it is. The Grid10 Logo in chrome is a nice touch.
Measuring 10.8 x 6.8 x 0.4 inches, the Grid 10 has similar proportions to the ExoPC, and it's one of the larger tablets to come through our labs. Only the ExoPC (11.6 x 7.6 x 0.6 inches, 2.2 pounds) is larger. Still, the Grid10's design makes its 1.5-pound weight feel lighter than it is.
Unlike other Tegra 2 tablets, there is a paucity of ports on the Grid10: The left side has a headphone jack, a proprietary charging port, and a microSD card slot, and the right side has a power button. There's no HDMI port, but Fusion Garage sells an adapter that connects to its proprietary port.
Physical volume controls would have been nice on this slate. Fusion Garage should at least make the volume icon a little larger--we had to press it a few times to get the controls to appear.
Display and Audio
The 10.1-inch, 1366 x 768 display on the Grid10 is ideal for watching HD movies, most of which now have a wide-screen aspect ratio. While the screen was a bit of a fingerprint magnet, viewing angles were wide enough for a few people to cluster around the device. When watching the trailer for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, we enjoyed rich and deep blacks and fiery reds.
Audio is definitely not one of the Grid10's strong suits; the speakers were barely audible and quite tinny. Also, their placement--on the lower left and right sides--causes them to be covered up by your hands when you're holding the tablet in landscape mode.
Fusion Garage crafted its own custom user interface for the Grid10. The UI is based, as you might guess, on a grid pattern. While the Grid10 runs on top of an Android kernel, there's no trace of Google's operating system here.
Fusion Garage deserves credit for trying to craft something that stands out from Android and iOS, but ultimately, it's not as intuitive as either. The section in the reviewer's guide on using the grid runs 24 pages alone.
Forget passwords. You can lock the Grid10 with your signature, which is potentially far more secure than just numbers and letters alone. Plus, it's a lot more fun. After entering our signature three times, we were able to scribble our name on the lock screen to access the device.
The entire home screen of the Grid 10 is made up of squares; a number of these squares are populated with icons, and clustered into groups based on purpose. For example, the Music cluster has icons for Last.FM, Pandora, Live365, and Rolling Stone. At the center of each cluster is another icon, which lets you condense all the icons in that group.
Initially, the home screen measures 19 x 30 squares, but can expand infinitely. That's a lot of squares to keep track of, which is why the Grid10 has a small map in the upper right-hand corner, showing where the clusters of icons are located. Even so, we spent a lot of time scrolling around the home screen, trying to remember where things were. You shouldn't need a map to navigate your tablet.
Along the top left of the home screen are persistent icons for the time, wireless connectivity, and notifications. The top right has the volume controls and shows you how much battery life is left.
When transitioning between screens or windows, the Grid10 includes some smart-looking animations. For example, when you're retuning to the home screen from the browser, it dissolves away as a series of squares. It's very cool, but the length of the animation feels long compared to the simple (and fast) wipes on other tablets.
The Grid10 has its own custom navigation gestures, too. Swiping with two fingers from the top of the display returns you to the home screen. A two-finger swipe from the right lets you go Back; two fingers from the left opens the Heartbeat, which is like a dashboard (more on that below).
While easy to learn, we didn't find the gestures easy to execute. Take, for example, the Back gesture. It required us to take our right hand completely off the tablet and turn our wrist 90 degrees. We tried using our thumb and forefinger, too, but the tablet would often misinterpret our gesture as a pinch. Far simpler (and intuitive) would have been a simple thumb swipe.
Also frustrating was the inability to press and hold on an icon and move it to another section of the home screen. In order to move icons or clusters around, you must first click on the arrow below the map, then select Edit Grid.That's two extra steps compared to iOS.
Swiping from the left brings up the Heartbeat, a window that's sort of like the Grid10's command center. At the top are a row of icons showing active applications. Below are notifications--e-mail, tweets, and downloads, for instance--and below that are calendar notifications. To the right, under Ongoing, are suggestions from the tablet about events, websites, and apps based on your browsing history. It's a neat idea in theory, but the details need to be worked out. When we clicked on "Find Events Near You," it opened up the browser to Eventful's home page, but didn't show anything near us.
If you're outside the Heartbeat, the left side of the screen will pulse a bluish turquoise, letting you know that something's happened, such as a new message or completed download.
The Grid10's keyboard is plenty spacious, both in landscape and portrait mode, and we like that there's haptic feedback as well. However, in landscape mode, the Grid10 is so wide that it's difficult to press keys in the middle without stretching your thumbs. We recommend downloading the Thumb Keyboard from the Amazon Market.
Messaging and Contacts
Since the Grid10 isn't an approved Android device, you can't get the official Gmail app, but Fusion Garage's universal inbox lets you combine your Gmail account with Facebook, Twitter, Skype, and several other accounts in one location. It was nice being able to glance at all of our messages in one place, but we'd like it even more if there were a way to view them on the home screen, like Windows Phone 7 Live Tiles.
Contacts are arranged alphabetically in a grid pattern; the tablet pulls in their profile photos when it can, another nice touch. When you add contacts from multiple accounts, the device also attempts to merge contacts, which is great for avoiding duplicates. When viewing an individual contact, we also like that it shows not only their information, but a photo (if available) as well as any recent messages.
However, in order to get all your messages and contacts from these various accounts to combine, you have to create a Fusion Garage account, too. Another annoyance: Even after we'd entered our account info for Facebook, Twitter, etc., we had to re-enter that same info when accessing those sites or standalone apps.
At the top middle of the screen is a small globe icon. Tap it, and you get the GridOS Global Search, which searches both the Grid10 and the Internet for the term you enter, and breaks it down into three columns. For example, when we searched for "Michael," the first column listed all our imported contacts with that name, the second column listed web pages covering everything from Michael the archangel to Michael Jackson, and the third column listed everything from trailer for the movie Michael to a map showing every business with Michael in the title. Like many other aspects of the GridOS, it's just too much information all at once.
When we first launched the Grid10, we liked that the home screen was already populated with icons for Facebook, Twitter, Pandora, Yelp, and at least half a dozen others. Imagine our dismay, then, when we discovered that the icons were not for apps, but were shortcuts to web pages. When we did finally download the Twitter app, for example, the Grid10 had an icon for the web site and the app. Redundant.
The Android Market isn't available on the Grid10, but there's a link to download the Amazon AppStore. Once we created an Amazon account, it was easy to download and install apps. As mentioned previously, we wish the Grid10 could automatically place apps in the appropriate cluster.
Under Movies is a link to Hulu, but apparently, they've caught on already: We couldn't play anything from that site.
Fusion Garage redesigned the web browser from the ground up, and like the rest of the interface, has its good and bad points. While the browser looks clean, you need to swipe diagonally from one of the two lower corners to bring up the controls. Instead of tabs, in the lower left corner is a small wheel that you can rotate to select any of your open windows (you can have up to eight open). This is a neat little feature that saves some space at the top of the screen.
On the lower right, you're presented with other options, such as zooming, history, creating another tab, and Settings.
While browsing, pressing and holding on just about anything brings up a semi-circular menu with a number of options, depending on what you selected. For example, when we selected "iPhone," we were presented with options to buy Kindle books, look up the term in Bing or Wikipedia, and see what Buzz the word was getting on the Internet. Buzz was kind of neat--it's divided into three categories: Positive Tweets, Mixed Tweets, and Negative Tweets.
Selecting Buy Kindle Book splits the browser into two windows. The left window opens to the Kindle store, where it shows you every book with the selected term in the title.
Powered by an Nvidia Tegra 2 processor with 512MB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage, the Grid10 performed well on our synthetic tests. In An3DBench, it scored 7,535, about 600 points higher than the category average. Its Linpack score of 34 was a hair above average (33.1), and its Benchmark CPU score of 2,503.7 was about 200 points below average.
In everyday use, the Grid10 was speedy, which is all the more impressive given the elaborate animations that are used to transition from screen to screen. The only place where we had trouble was playing 720p YouTube videos. At full screen, the Muppets trailer was so choppy as to look almost like a slideshow. Dropping the resolution to 480p fixed this problem.
In lieu of Google Maps and Google search, the Grid10 uses Bing for its searches. When we performed a search for pizza, it brought up a list of all the nearby places where we could get a slice. Selecting a restaurant brought up another menu where we could check for Yelp reviews, get directions, or search for it in Bing. Selecting Yelp opened the page in the browser. However, when we switched back to the map, the search had reset, which was annoying.
The Grid10 lacks a rear-facing camera, but that's fine by us; nothing looks more ridiculous than someone trying to film using a 10-inch tablet. The front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera on the Grid10 delivered crisp, if slightly muted, colors both in photos and videos. Unfortunately, the only video chat software we could find was Tango.
The multimedia apps on the Grid10--Music, Photos, and Videos--look much nicer than their standard Android counterparts. Album art for music and videos are arranged on a grid (natch). Music can be sorted alphabetically according to album, song, or artist, and you can create your own playlist.
The Video controls are fairly unique. Instead of a slider bar lurking at the bottom, the tracking bar is curved in a semicircle around Play and Forward and Back controls. To the right is a volume slider that's also on an arc. It certainly looks cool, but the controls might be easier to use if they were located farther to each edge, and within easier reach of our thumbs.
Fusion Garage estimates that the Grid10's 5800 mAh battery should last about 7 hours. On the LAPTOP Battery Test (web surfing via Wi-Fi), the tablet lasted almost exactly one hour less: 5:56, which is also about one hour less than the tablet average.
Fusion Garage will sell two different configurations of the Grid10. Both will have 16GB of internal storage and Wi-Fi, but the version with 3G will cost $399, and the Wi-Fi-only version will cost $299.
It would have been very easy for Fusion Garage to simply slap Honeycomb onto the Grid10 and leave it at that, so we applaud the company for taking a huge leap in creating its own user interface. And to be sure, there are a lot of great innovations, such as the smart browser controls and contextual menus. The Heartbeat is another stand-out feature.
However, the learning curve will be too steep for many. We'd like to see Fusion Garage streamline the interface with future updates so you don't need a map on the home screen. From a hardware standpoint alone, $299 for a 10-inch tablet is a bargain. Just know, though, that the Grid 10 will require some patience.