Fusion Garage says there's nothing else like GridOS, which powers the company's new Grid 10 tablet and Grid 4 smartphone. Is that a good thing? Based on Android but completely different than anything we've seen, GridOS sports a slick and very fluid interface, contextual intelligence, and the ability to pick up right where you left off when viewing the same content on the tablet and phone.
We just went hands on with both products and have mixed feelings about these ambitious products. Check out our initial impressions, the full gallery, and videos of the Grid 10 (starting at $499) and Grid 4 ($399 unlocked) in action.
Interface: The software is what will make or break Fusion Garage's new tablet and phone, and it certainly stands out from the crowd. It all starts with a grid-based home screen that clusters apps into groups. But before you get there you sign in with your signature, a neat and secure way to unlock the device. From there you'll see clusters of apps organized by categories like App, Music, News, and Faves. You can easily collapse clusters and move apps out of clusters to create new ones.
However, to us it's not a good sign that there's a mini map in the upper right corner to help you find what you're looking for. The little dots don't really mean anything, so it will really be up to users to remember where they put their stuff on this virtual table. Fusion Garage says the UI is natural, but we'll wait and see to spend more time with the tablet.
Gestures: On the plus side, the gestures in GridOS are intuitive. Swiping from the right side of the screen goes back, swiping down from the top brings you back to the home screen, and swiping from the left launches a dashboard called Heartbeat. This is where you can see notfications, switch bewtween apps, and look at upcoming appointments.
Predictive Intelligence: The GridOS is pretty smart in that it will make recommendations based on the time of day. For example, it will make recommendations for breakfast near your location. Another good example of predictive intelligence is "buzz" feedback from Twitter for words that you search, so you can see what people are saying on a particular topic.
Browsing: The GridOS also features a "Chromeless" web browser, which means you get a clean full-screen view of pages. You use the bottom left corner to page through open tabs, and the bottom right corner to add new tabs, as well as access bookmarks and other settings. GridOS also has predictive intelligence. For example, when you select a word in the browser like "Inception" a wheel appears that lets you do everything from a Bing search to play or shop for the video.
Media: On the media front, Fusion Garage is touting "Seamless State" functionality that enables users to start playing a video or song on the Grid 10 tablet, then pick up where they left off on the Grid 4 phone. You'll be able to purchase premium videos from Amazon, as well as sync non-DRM iTunes 10 to the tablet and phone via Grid Desktop software on your PC.
Productivity and Messaging: As far as productivity goes, Grid Frames promises iWork-like funcitionality for free, and GridOS also includes its own messaging application. This app aggregates email and social networking messages from Twitter and Facebook. Too bad GridOS won't support Exchange at launch.
Apps: Where will apps come from? At launch you'll be able to download all sorts of goodies from the Amazon App Store, and Fusion Garage says it will be rolling out its own Grid Shop later in the fall. You won't be able to access the Android Market.
Grid 10 Tablet
Weighing 1.5 pounds (not 1.4 pounds as we mistakenly say in the video), the Grid 10 tablet isn't the lightest slate around but features a solid and sleek design with tapered edges. We like the matte finish on the back of this $499 slate, which resists fingerprints, but the 10-inch screen is heavy on the glare. Still, the 1366 x 768 display looked plenty vibrant when playing Tron, and it responded to our taps and gestures instantly.
The Grid 10 is powered by a Tegra 2 processor and 512MB of RAM, a front-facing 1.3 MP camera for video chats, 2 speakers, and both a micro SIM card slot (the 3G version will cost $599) and docking port that will handle charging, HDMI out, and USB connectivity. This slate also has GPS built in and 16GB of memory. Expect 7 to 8 hours of battery life.
Grid 4 Phone
The Grid 4 phone mirrors a lot of the same interface elements that reside on the Grid 10 tablet, but you can tell that Fusion Garage spent optimizing the UI for the small screen. This is especially true of the Heartbeat dashboard. The handset features a 4-inch display with 800 x 480 resolution, a dual-core Snapdragon processor, and an all-aluminum back. The Grid 4 is sleek and light (at just 4.8 ounces) and includes a 5-MP camera, 720p video recording, and 0.3-MP front-facing camera. We're a little worried about the small-capacity 1300 mAh battery, and we're bummed that the phone doesn't do 4G data--its HSDPA only--but the $399 price is pretty reasonable for an unlocked device.
Overall, GridOS shows promise. The interface is smooth and attractive, and Fusion Garage has done a lot of work here to make its software more intelligent and social than Android. On the other hand, the homescreen UI will require a learning curve, and the $499 pricing for the tablet may not be aggressive enough to woo shoppers away from the iPad 2 and Galaxy Tab 10.1. The phone could be a tougher sell than the tablet because it lacks 4G and because Fusion Garage hasn't yet lined up any carriers.
We look forward to spending more time with the Grid10 and Grid4 to get a better feel for what the software can really do.