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CES: Failed Tablets That Weren't: Success Despite Predictions of Doom, Part I

Beginning a mini-series on tablet devices that were expected to fail, yet are somehow defying the odds.

CES 2011

CES 2011 is just around the corner, and this series of articles deals with tablets that should have a strong showing.

Several days ago I was all set to write a scathing rebuke of Notion Ink and their Adam Android tablet. There was very good reason for doing so. There was--and still is--no firm shipping date. Communication from the company showed a lack of transparency. Tech specs regularly changed. The pre-order process smelled scammy, and required that people pay a substantial amount of money for a piece of hardware that had no live pictures of the production device, and no video of it in action.

Before I dropped the hammer on writing that article, Notion Ink surprised everyone and released several videos of the device actually being used. Here is the first video, showing the Adam's Eden interface running with several applications open at the same time. This proves that there is an actual product that will be shipping in the next 3 months; Notion Ink, in fact, has sold out of their upcoming inventory.

The performance of the Adam in the video is less than impressive. It's fairly obvious that for a dual core Tegra2 device it's awfully sluggish. This could be due to the Android operating system not being optimized for a tablet format, or it could be due to the Eden interface not being optimized. The Viewsonic G Tablet has the Tap and Tap UI, which has proven to be slow and clunky.

My recommendation? Go into the Android Market, install Launcher Pro and Home Switcher for Froyo, and switch to a launcher interface that is fast and configurable. The Toshiba Folio 100, which is a dual core, Tegra2-based device, turned out to be a total flop. Their custom launcher tutned out to be the nail in the coffin.

This seems to be a common issue with all smartphones that have an added UI bolted on top of the existing Android operating system. Let this be a lesson to smartphone and tablet manufacturers: don't add a UI layer to your devices unless you are sure they don't bottleneck the performance of the device.

I will reserve judgement on the Adam until I can work with it under my own rather demanding conditions. But if this is the final product of the Eden UI, they might want to consider the option of turning the interface off and let people use the plain Android Launcher. My Samsung Galaxy Tab doesn't have these performance issues; if it did, it would be a deal-breaker for using it as a laptop replacement.

My Samsung tablet is now the only computer device I carry with me when I travel. In fact, my previous article was written entirely on the Samsung Galaxy Tab, and posted to the blog with only one minor adjustment that required a full browser to finish: apparently the topic categories in the blog software do not properly appear in a scrollable window. I was able to get around this by using VNC to remote control my Ubuntu server and use the Chrome browser there. I even have an Apple wireless keyboard and a Microsoft Bluetooth Notebook Mouse 5000 paired with it, requiring no drivers to get them to work.

I give Notion Ink credit for managing to generate as much interest in their device as has been for the Samsung Galaxy Tab. No mean feat, considering that they are a small startup in India without a great deal of marketing and business infrastructure behind them. It's obvious that this is a company driven by engineers and technology enthusiasts. Will that be enough to help them succeed? We'll find out in a few months when they start shipping.