Hands-on with the Notion Ink Adam tablet

It’s been a year since an unknown company from India called Notion Ink introduced the first Android tablet to feature a Pixel Qi display and NVIDIA Tegra 2 processor. Over the past year the company has been busy developing software, tweaking the hardware design, and doing everything else it takes to turn a hand-carved wooden prototype into an actual product that’s ready to ship. And the Adam tablet is finally ready to ship, with the company saying that the first units should go out to customers the week of January 11th.

This evening I got a chance to catch up with Notion Ink and take a look at the final unit. While the tablet will be available with or without the low power, sunlight readable Pixel Qi display, the demo unit I saw had the Pixel Qi transflective display. Interestingly, while the company had originally said that the screen would add a bit of thickness to the tablet, it turns out that the tablet has the same dimensions whether you get the Pixel Qi screen or not.

The display actually has a glossy finish, but Notion Ink provides a matte screen cover which gives the tablet a nice non-glare look.

Aside from the Pixel Qi display, there are a few other things that really set the Adam apart from other Android tablets. First, it has a single camera that swivels 180 degrees, allowing you to use it as a front or rear facing camera. It’s a much more innovative solution than the twin cameras found on many other tablets.

Second, the tablet has USB host capabilities, allowing you to plugin USB flash drives, a keyboard, mouse, or other peripheral.

But probably the most unusual thing about the Adam tablet is its software.

Long before Google announced its Honeycomb version of Android which will be optimized for tablets, Notion Ink figured out that Android 2.x was an imperfect experience on 10 inch touchscreen tablets.

The company has developed an overlay for Android called Eden, which replaces the typical home screen widgets, shortcuts, and status bar with a series of panels, or “leafs.” Each leaf can be a separate application, and you can switch between apps by scrolling left or right — or you can bring up a 3D app switcher to cycle through running applications.

Most of these apps can also be run in full screen mode, providing additional features where available. For instances, an email Leaf might just show a message list, while the full screen app could show message titles on the left and details on the right. Notion Ink has launched a developer program to build a base of apps that users will be able to download and install from the company’s Genesis app store.

The tablet will not ship with access to Google’s Android Market. But it will be able to run third party apps if you sideload them. There’s also nothing preventing you from installing a third party app store like SlideMe or Amazon’s upcoming Android app store. But apps that aren’t developed specifically for the platform won’t work in Leaf mode. When you try to open them from Notion Ink’s custom app launcher, you’ll get a message saying you can open it in full screen mode.

As we’ve seen with other large screen tablets, many apps written for Android 2.x simply weren’t designed to run on devices with 1024 x 600 pixel displays, so it makes sense for Notion Ink to push its own development platform. Now that Google is getting ready to officially support tablets though, I have to wonder if this small company from India that generated so much buzz last year is going to be able to continue to attract developers when big name companies including Motorola, Toshiba, LG, and Asus are expected to launch Honeycomb tablets.

That said, like the Adam’s Eden UI, Google Android Honeycomb will support application that run in dual-pane modes, which Notion Ink says could make it very easy for the company to transition from Android 2.x to Android 3.0 and take advantage of optimizations coming from Google. Right now the Adam tablet runs Android 2.2, but the company is already working to update the software to Android 2.3.

Unfortunately I won’t have a review unit for a while — Notion Ink is sending out everything it has to paying customers first. But you can check out my hands-on video with the tablet below.

  • Jonathan

    Video unavailable? :(

    • http://liliputing.com/ Brad Linder

      Sorry, looks like it’s not finished processing. Hopefully it will be
      ready soon.

  • http://www.smick.net ms4130

    Thank you for this article. You are one of the only writers to mention sideloading apps, which is just a fancy way of saying, loading apps outside of a market. Kinda like old fogies do on Windows and Mac, by opening executables or packages.

  • http://www.google.com/profiles/115034228070630099020 Atul Tiwari

    Simply Great

  • http://risbac.myopenid.com/ François

    Thanks for the feedback Brad. Could you give us some comments on the quality of the screen? The contrast doesn’t look that great, but for a non-glare display, that could make sense. And how about the viewing angles? Some tablets have very good display when you are right in front, but the viewing angles are not that wide. Did you check on the Adam? Thanks !

  • Johnboatcat

    You are not going to be invited to the next Apple party if you keep writing these truly informative and concise articles! Consider yourself warned!

    • Bernor999

      LOL

      But there is nothing more rewarding and valuable than an independent mind. Great article.

  • Jordan

    What is the on-screen typing experience like on the Adam?

  • http://twitter.com/Yat1n Yatindra Talwalkar

    Very nice Brad! great read and video.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_KTRT6ODQ6GJJAWUKQB5YK2LS7Q Dev

    Great write-up Brad. Looking forward to seeing how Notion Ink presses forward in the tech sector. They are breathing life, passion and innovation back into a field that is so easy to get trapped in redundancy and mediocrity. Kudos to you Brad!

  • Monkeyking

    Thank you Brad for your always clear and honest opinion. The Adam sounds impressive.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_5S77IPENB4DOTQOOJNAXGPGBFY siyanatullah

    hey nice article man great going

  • JFC

    I love this device. I’m about ready to ditch my ipad for it Except for no access to Android Market. That’s a major turn off as it will mean that only developers working with Notion ink will have content for it. Apple can pull that off but I think this device will become obsoletely very quickly.

    • Simsthlm

      You don’t need to worry about that. Applanet will work which has the exact same apps that Market has but everything is free… I never use Android Market on my other android devices.

  • Shooter

    Even though I will have one arrive in the mail, I do think they have missed the party by about 6 months.
    I wish Notion Ink well, why can’t other tablet manufacturers add a usb host? what are they scared of?

  • Barry Jam

    Did I hear correct the switching off the back light only saves 1.5 to 2.5 per cent battery savings?

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_FC66IMWIA7D6IOSBSWYDCVO6DY Joe Renzo

      I am perplexed as to why companies will not include a USB port in their products. I bought a 42″ Panasonic G20 Viera 1-1/2 yr ago and it’s suppose to have all the bells and whistles but not a single simple USB?! Now how am I suppose to conveniently connect the TV wirelessly to stream video and surf the internet on my TV? Some companies just make stupid decisions.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_FC66IMWIA7D6IOSBSWYDCVO6DY Joe Renzo

    I would have preferred the Adam to be all black because that white just makes all those ports obvious and eliminates the clean lines around it. It’s an aesthetic design sense. FYI, the Adam was suppose to come out with Titanium Black color which won the color poll choice quite handily (with Titanium Grey a close second). The 3rd to 6th –where the Black & White placed—were not even close. Looks like they didn’t listen to their fans after all. What was the point of that poll? Nonetheless, the Adam is a great tablet. I just thought that it will dominate CES only to find out that the XOOM may give it tough competition.

  • Rajanlakule

    can we use notion ink as mobile phone. any application for it in market

  • Guest

    LOL, WHERE IS IT TO BUY IN THE USA??? REALLY NICE UNIT,
    BUT NO HONEYCOMB, WHY BOTHER?
    THIS IS A GHOST TABLET WE WILL MOST NOT LIKELY SEE
    IN THE TABLET MARKET.
    A SHAME, BUT IF YOU CANNOT MASS PRODUCE AND MARKETED IT, THAN
    FORGET IT!!!

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