Joo Joo: Hardware Good, Software Bad

It’s tablet week on the internet, and now it’s time for the Joo Joo to take centre stage again (after the iPad and HP’s upcoming Slate). Engadget received its review unit last week, and yesterday, they published their review of the device. In what will surely not come as a total surprise to anyone, their conclusion is that while the hardware is decent and slick, the software is not.

According to Engadget’s Paul Miller, Fusion Garage has the hardware aspect nailed down pretty well. “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,” he writes, “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.”

Miller does note that while the aluminium back cover looks “sophisticated”, it’s slightly “flimsy” in the middle due to its size. Another problem is the lack of a home button or something similar, forcing you to use the UI to switch back to the home screen – and the UI, well, is where things start to break down.

The multitouch display is responsive (the vertical viewing angle is crap, though), but sometimes, the software wouldn’t keep up – restarts were needed to get things going again. The accelerometer had similar problems – but whether the software of the hardware was at fault there remains to be seen. The ambient light sensor works just fine, but its location is unfortunate (it’s frequently covered by the thumb).

Making a beautiful piece of hardware is not as difficult as making a good piece of software. Phone makers can most certainly attest to that, I’d say. Sadly, the Joo Joo is no exception, and this summary article here on OSNews is simply too short to list all the problems the Engadget team noted with the Joo Joo’s software, which they deem to be alpha quality. “The user interface on the JooJoo can best be described as a Monet – very attractive from afar, but a total mess up close,” they conclude. Major brownie points for employing a Monet reference, by the way.

So, what about the big selling point, support for Adobe’s Flash? Timing is key here. Flash 10.1 isn’t ready yet, so hardware acceleration isn’t there yet – in other words, choppy video and massive battery life reduction because all the work is done by the processor. Hardware accelerated Flash will come to the Joo Joo, but it all depends on Adobe.

Engadget’s conclusion, therefore, is clear and direct. “There are just so many things we wish Fusion Garage did differently with the JooJoo,” Miller writes, “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.”

I’d have to echo Engadget’s musings about what could’ve been – why on earth didn’t Fusion Garage use ARM instead of Intel’s Atom? It boggles the mind why a tablet aimed purely at the web would not use one of the ten gazillion available ARM platforms instead of the power-hungry and fan-churning Intel Atom.

On that same note – why didn’t Fusion Garage work with, say, the Ubuntu team to work on the software? Why devote all that manpower to develop a software stack that is, at this point, utterly broken? Sure, weekly software updates are promised, but wouldn’t they have been able to deliver a more complete software stack by employing Ubuntu?

Despite all the problems, though, I have to commend them for their gusto. They have managed to deliver a very decent piece of hardware without that many delays and empty promises, and while the software is severely broken – it’s just software, and software can be fixed. At the very least, you can throw another Linux distribution on there.

For a start-up, that’s not bad. Still, the internet has become a lot less forgiving than it used to be (these days, the internet is more about brutally murdering new companies than about cheering them on and supporting them – imagine a Be, Inc. in today’s world), and I have my doubts whether or not Fusion Garage will be able to sell enough of these to stay afloat and improve the product or produce version 2.0. We’ll see.


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