Notion Ink Adam: First impressions

I finally received the Adam tablet today after 2 full months of waiting, after pre-ordering it in the first round.  I decided to buy the Pixel Qi screen option with Wifi, and passed up the 3G variant in favour of using tethering or personal wifi hotspots with 3G / EVDO modems.

I ended up paying a total of Rs.33,708.5 for the Adam, inclusive of Customs Duty and Octroi charges at Mumbai.  The break up is Rs.24,972.5 invoice price (USD 499.45 @ INR 50/USD), Rs.2,500 shipping cost (USD 50 @ Rs.50), Rs.4,615 customs duty and Rs.1,651 octroi (including the shipping company’s service charge and service tax).  Much higher than what I initially expected it to cost, but then given how it compares with the iPad, and its retail price in India, it is still a fair deal.

Now the user review:

First off, the delivery box was much smaller than what I expected it to be!  Of course, I had a mental image of the Adam to be a slightly larger device as well.  The first seal on the box, underneath all that tape, was slit through.  It might have been related to the Customs’ inspection.  Inside the shipping box, I found the non-cuboidal gift box of the Adam to be in mint condition, with both seals (on the sides) to be intact.

Inside the box, I found the famous matte screen on top, inside a clear plastic sleeve with instructions on how to apply it.  I have put it away as a another battle for another day.  Below this sleeve was the Adam in its protective cover, and a box with the charger unit.  I immediately checked the box was relieved to find that the charger was indeed there.  Underneath the Adam were the instruction and warranty booklets, and at the very bottom, the folding cardboard flap that will act as a stand.

Please note that the Adam is supposed to be kept towards the middle, half-detached flap’s side, while the two side flaps form the support.  Takes a few minutes to work out what goes where in all the excitement.  It works OK, but who needs it right now.

The Adam is a bit heavier than I expected it to be, and if you, like me wanted it to substitute the Kindle or the Nook, then you will be disappointed.  It won’t be very easy to hold up while lying in bed, especially with one hand, for any extended period of time.  The bezels are a bit less than an inch in width on the sides and the bottom, and wider on top, but despite the small size of the device, they don’t look too wide.  In terms of thickness, the device feels adequate.  Not slick, and not hefty.

In terms of holding the device, while holding it from top at the cylindrical housing for the batteries is more comfortable than holding it from one of the sides, I feel more comfortable keeping the bottom edge on my lap.  It may be that I am not yet used fully to it, and don’t want it to slip from my hands.  Not that the device is slippery, and the rubberised texture of the battery housing gives a better grip.

I do not want to drop-test the device, but it feels sturdy in terms of shear strength.  The glass also feels tough enough when you use the touchscreen.  However, the back does feel a bit wobbly in the middle, and as others have said it, this probably is because there is no centre ridge or spine in the chassis to support it from the centre.

It certainly did not feel flimsy though, which is not something I could say about the camera.  The first thing that I did with the camera was to swivel it.  Somehow, the axis of the swivel does not seem to be be parallel or concentric to the notional axis of the battery housing.  The camera seems to angle slightly around eccentrically or on an angled axis, or perhaps the swivel joint is not perfectly aligned.  I am not sure, but it does not seem to be exactly right.  This, and the lightweight construction make it feel to be of inferior build quality as compared to the rest of the tablet.  Further, when you bring the camera down to the front fully, it does ‘lock’ into place at the end, but goes up slightly from the lowest angle when it does so.  If you lay the Adam flat on its back, the camera continues to stare at the ceiling instead of your countenance, though not at the zenith.  If you turn it all the way towards the back, you will feel that the extra 5 degrees of swivel are actually provided there instead of the front, which surprises me.  I thought it was so that you could keep the Adam flat and still use the camera for video conferencing.

Now, the screen.  My expectations of the Pixel Qi had been tempered quite a bit over the past month, especially after reading reviews of its angles, colour, contrast, reflective mode etc.  Therefore, I did not find the screen to be all that bad hands-on.

To switch on the Adam, you have to pull the sprung power button towards the lower side and hold it for a couple of seconds.  The screen lights up, and the white boot up sequence starts after a few seconds.  The boot time is a bit longer than expected, but it is not too long.

Once I switched the tablet on, I noticed some of the blotchiness on a dark background that some people have mentioned.  However, it just looks like some very minor refraction creating chromatic aberrations, and not at all like uneven lighting or colour.  It just makes a dark background seem a bit dirty, that is all.  I did not notice any light leakage.  I did find one dead pixel though.  It is white on a dark screen.  I will try to see if I can remove it with corrective video tools once I get Flash up and running.  Viewing angles from top and bottom seem alright.  Viewed from the left in landscape mode, the angles weren’t very bad.  However, from the right side of the screen, you start to notice colour change at around 60 degrees from dead centre.  White text on dark background turns into yellow text on white background when the angle starts to become more extreme.

I found that the battery had nearly full charge, which is great.

Once booted, it presented me with the standard Android standby screen, and as the default setting is automatic brightness control, the screen appeared rather dull.  After unlocking, I was presented with the home panel.  The first thing I did was to lower it by tapping ONCE on the clock, and opening Settings from the app drawer.  I immediately changed the default system time and date, and then went on to change the brightness settings.  I have deselected the automatic brightness settings option, and set brightness to about 80-90%.  I was able to bring up the virtual keyboard selector easily by double-click / persistent touch on the text box area in the wifi settings option, as I had read enough reviews and tips.  I was easily able to authenticate to my WPA-2 home network, which uses passphrase security.  The Notion Ink keyboard does not take too long to get used to, but accuracy has to be learnt.  Choosing numbers by pressing Fn seems to work one click at a time.  I hope there is a way to choose Caps mode and Numerical / Symbolic mode persistently (stickily) instead of resorting to holding the respective modifiers down by one hand.

I also checked the reflective mode of the Pixel Qi while tinkering with the settings (and panels) and find it to be, well, mediocre.  In normal to bright room lighting, you can manage to read text and use general purpose panels, but in low lighting, it goes really dark.  I haven’t checked the transreflective (silverish) mode yet.  I think I will be able to read e-books without too much hindrance in bright light conditions, with a tinge of colour too, but I might need to fiddle with brightness settings for low light and night time reading.

With high brightness chosen, the screen looks good enough, though not the sharpest one.  The app drawer has white fonts, and reading the text under the icons is a bit difficult as a result, especially because I find the dot pitch to be a bit too coarse.  At normal tablet-holding distance, which is 3/4 arms length, you can easily see pixel separation, and start to wish for a higher dpi resolution for the transmissive mode.  Under reflective mode, the text becomes quite crisp.

Next, I set up an email account (gmail) in Mail’d, and it was pretty straightforward, except for the fact that automatic mode failed and I had to enter some details manually.  I chose to always use SSL for the incoming and outgoing gmail servers, while keeping the default server addresses intact.  Mail’d did take a considerable amount of time to synCHronise email, but I hope that the process will be faster thereafter.

I logged on to the standard mobile app for Facebook in Panel mode.  It works.  There is a Notification sub-app that seems to use the Facebook API, requiring you to log in and authorise it to access your data  separately once.  In the mobile mode, if look at photos in Facebook albums, you start to wish for a finer dpi screen.

I played around with panels for a while, and found them boring.  I played with the ribbon too, and it will take some time to get used to.  Of the four side buttons, the middle two are for bringing up the Panel carousel and full screen applications respectively.  The Panel button seemed to go unresponsive or at least sluggish after some time of use, and the Panel system crashed on me once, but it restarts automatically.

Speaking of buttons, as you would be aware, the top button is long-pressed to toggle between reflective and normal screen modes.  The bottom button is the ‘back’ key, and is notoriously inconvenient in that you accidentally press it when you’re in the middle of something.  It should have a vibrating feedback, so that you realise you pressed it, when the application you’re working on suddenly wants to exit.  You could get used to ‘holding it right’ so you don’t unknowingly press it, though.

I checked out a few of the applications.  Nimbuzz seems to work alright with my existing account, although I did not see a Twitter tab, or an options dialog where I could choose to hide offline contacts.  It did do something in the notification bar, after I left it by pressing the ‘back’ key, but I don’t know if it resides in memory or quits when you do so.  The green notification light was flashing and when touched, the notification bar had some Nimbuzz icons, but I have no idea what to do with them as I am completely new to Android.  Plus, my dinner was getting cold.

The browser seems OK, but flash needs to be updated. I did not try zooming in.  I did not have the issue of being unable to launch URLs from the URL bar.

My kids were happy to use Canvas, but it still felt a bit primitive to me, especially as it lacks a wide selection of tools.  Notion Ink could add spinners to choose RGB values in the colour selector option.  The screen feels a bit too small, especially to adult fingers.  However, I will leave finding productive uses of the application to my kids’ ingenuity.  Drawing around the edges did not seem to suffer any breaks due to lower sensitivity of the touchscreen, but more scientific analysis is required.  While drawing on the screen, there is a very slight lag in tracking the fingers, but I guess we all could live with that. Perhaps later updates could fix it.

I tried Quickoffice, but could not figure the navigation out.  Yet another battle for another day.  Had I received the Adam last week, I would have put it to much better use on Monday at a conference I attended, where at least one FII fund manager turned up with an iPad.  My assistant had to spend the entire day today deciphering a stack of my scribbles of the Minutes of Meetings and putting them in a machine readable format.  From the next conference onwards, I might be able to cut that phase out of the process.  Of course, I could always use my laptop, but it becomes too intrusive (and humdrum).   How I wish the Adam had a proper pen input and OCR capability! I could switch between note-taking, spreadsheets and presentations, and PDF documents at the flick of a finger.

The Adam does not come with many applications, and I did not try exploring my way around more of them, except for the camera.  The imaging application seems to be intuitive, but needs more options.  Also, the image seems a bit stretched when you use the application as a viewfinder.  When you click an image, it turns out fine at least in terms of proportion.  The camera, in its present form, is a bit of a let down, especially because the autofocus is always actively confused, and most of the images turn out to be out of focus.  I have not tested the video function yet  The gallery function is simple, scrolls well, and zooms with multi-finger touch easily, but there is a Notion Ink-induced quirkiness in the way the image pans a little when you zoom in.  I am yet to test the camera in video mode or for video calling or even in daylight, and hope to do it eventually.

In conclusion, I find the Adam to at least meet my expectations, and probably the events in the recent past may have helped temper my potential delight.  There are a lot of areas where it needs to improve, especially in the Panels and native applications section.  I am going to update it now, although I am not in a hurry to root it.  I will probably sideload FBreaderJ (I love the original Linux application) and possibly a game or two that my kids can play, but I am too tied up for the next two days to try anything drastic.

I will add some photos here later, and if things look up exceptionally well, perhaps some videos too.  Keep watching this space.

p.s.: While checking the battery usage meter, I found that mobile network service (or something like it) was taking up 74% of the utilisation, when in fact my model is non-3G.  There might be options to turn this off, for example, in Settings, under Networks (or whatever) you can turn off mobile data service etc. and then switch on Airplane mode, and then restart the wifi connection.

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About ND

carbon-based life form, prefers science, rationality and freedom
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26 Responses to Notion Ink Adam: First impressions

  1. Rama Maganti says:

    Good review Nishit. Very descriptive and insightful. Looking forward to the pictures.

  2. Atul Tiwari says:

    thanks nishit.
    my review is more or less same.
    my variant is LCD-wifi+3g.
    keep us updated.
    will post mine too after my exam.

  3. Amit Tambe says:

    Fantastic review Nishit. Brilliant stuff. I doubt I will be able to give an exhaustive review like you but will try giving my first impressions as well.

  4. Nishit, excellent and a professional review till date I found on the web about Adam. Thank you so much for the info specially about the customs and octroi you have paid its informative for Indian customers…

  5. alpsholic says:

    thanks for the review. 1$=50INR?? its 45.5 now. I am asking because I live in Swiss but have a master card. So I wish to buy using Internet Banking and pay in INR. If they charge in INR at this conversion rate, its 2500INR more than what we have to pay for a PQ + 3G model.

    • Nishit says:

      Hi Alpsholic,

      Thanks for writing to me from so far away!

      The exchange rates that are charged by credit card companies, payment gateways and banks to retail customers are higher than the prevailing, RBI-quoted mid-market rates. The latter apply only to corporate deals, and the minimum service charges that apply to transactions also affect the effective rate for small transactions drastically. In normal circumstances, there is a 3% mark-up to bulk rates for retail. Similarly, the buy and sell quote spread for the retail market is also much higher.

      In case of the first pre-order, Notion Ink had boasted that they were quoting a single price for the whole world. However, they did a very curious deal with CCavenue and their banks, where the conversion of the USD amount that we paid them was passing through some convoluted, back and forth translations, resulting into very high charges for them. It seems that they decided to charge Indian customers a double-sized spread to keep their earnings intact.

      However, this was soon noticed by us and we raised some hue and cry. Notion Ink realised their mistake, and undertook to refund any other local taxes that we might have to pay, if they were charged. They have also acted on this promise, and I will be getting a refund of my Octroi payment from Gati eventually.

      It seems that Notion Ink learnt from their past mistake, and are quoting the Rupee prices directly for the second phase pre-orders for Indian customers, rather than give them the illusion that they are paying the same price as a US or EU customer.

      I still feel that this deal is a bit odious, because apart from the higher exchange rate, the Indian customer is also paying a Customs duty, which is sometimes arbitrarily large, while our western counterparts don’t have to pay anything. However, if we look at it differently, because Customs Duty is a fact of life for India, if Notion Ink were selling the device to us locally, we would be paying them a margin on their landed cost inclusive of customs, and then VAT plus Octroi where applicable.

      So I am not complaining bitterly, but I do complain sometimes, and at other times, I try to swallow the bitterness.

  6. yaarji says:

    Thanks – this review helps

  7. Nice Post! Just a couple of questions!
    1) Can the ADAM be used as a phone?
    2) Does OCTROI apply to a city like Delhi?
    3) What % of the cost is paid towards customs?
    4) How did u pay the customs duty? Assuming that you were charged (499+50)*50 for the device cum shipping.

    Thanks in Advance.

    Naren

    • Nishit says:

      Dear Naren,

      Here are the replies:

      1) Can the ADAM be used as a phone?
      No. The 3G version does not have some essential phone functionality. However, you can use both 3G and non-3G versions for VOIP calling if you have a decent connection.
      2) Does OCTROI apply to a city like Delhi?
      No. The only two states that still apply this draconian tax are Jammu & Kashmir and Maharashtra.
      3) What % of the cost is paid towards customs?
      I have paid nearly 17% of the CIF value. However, it is being said that the Customs dept. has charged only a 12% duty on the iPad. Notion Ink is trying to ensure that future supplies to India are also charged a 12% duty.
      4) How did u pay the customs duty? Assuming that you were charged (499+50)*50 for the device cum shipping.
      Gati Air Express paid it on my behalf and charged the amount to me when the device was delivered. The bill that they gave me was hand-written, and the amount had been changed from Rs.4,431 to Rs.4,615 by cutting it. I did not receive a Customs challan, so I am not sure if the difference is Gati’s Clearing & Forwarding service charge plus service tax.

      HTH

      • Thanks for the prompt reply. I asked the first question because I was told that the Samsung Galaxy Tab can be used as a phone.

        Just to add to the previous comment, If ADAM were to be available in retail stores like CROMA, will the customs duty be added to the price at which CROMA sells it? In effect, will I be paying the same price if I buy it now, which is by pre-ordering, and if I buy it through a retailer after a few months ( when it is available).
        Would you suggest other potential buyers like me to wait till NI irons out various technical and logistic issues before placing the pre-order. For eg. wait till they release Honey Comb for the Adam.

        Thanks in Advance

      • Nishit says:

        When it is launched in retail, you will pay a margin to NI based on the cost inclusive of customs duty they had to pay, and then you’ll pay at least the retailer’s margin, plus revenue share to mall developer, and then VAT on top, not to speak of marketing overheads. Your savings may come from volume production and lower logistics cost.

  8. Madan Mohan says:

    Nishit, great review !!

    One question for you… I was actually planning to buy the NI Adam for my wife and kids… I don’t see myself having the time to use it for anything other than browsing. From all the reviews, seems this is too much of a techie device. Any thoughts? Think non-techies can use the adam??

    Thanks !!

    • Nishit says:

      @madan mohan

      I think it will be a great and versatile device for all. I am not a techie either, though I am a bit of a geek and tinkerer.

      You may prolly want to wait till the Honeycomb update is released, kinks ironed out and market etc. becomes available without your having to jump through any hoops. Except for a slight Notion Ink and Android related learning curve, it is quite easy.

      @naren, see the reply above. The Galaxy Tab is actually an oversized phone, and that is the only reason why it has market access. Google will open up the market to tablets after honeycomb, and tablet-optimised apps become available.

  9. stoneyr says:

    great detailed review of the Adam, i cant wait to have my own, have you tried video conferencing yet?

  10. joyfication says:

    damn good review. topics I wanted to hear .

  11. iskmeister says:

    can i use tata photon plus usb modem to access internet. if not, then pls help me how to make it possible in this android tablets.

    thanks dude.

    • Nishit says:

      As of now, a very few of the USB EVDO modems work with Android. Tata Photon Plus, Reliance Netconnect, MTS MBlaze etc. use various makes and models, and there are more sold internationally. There seems to be no authentic source of information about how to use them with Android.

      However, the tablet itself should be able to support these modems too, and sadly, such information is again not available, especially for the Adam. You might need a device with root access to figure out if the modem is detected and if it is recognized. Then you will need a set of tools for making the modem work, which would include drivers, dialing software, modeswitching libraries etc.

      I am afraid not much developer attention is focused on writing USB modem drivers for Android, primarily because it has so far existed as a phone OS, and secondarily because 3G / 4G SIM cards and personal hotspot devices are available.

  12. omnidesi says:

    Hi Nishit,

    Thanks for your honest review. Did you find out what the mystery feature is? Is it the radio as people have commented in different sites?

    Thanks again,
    Manas

    • Nishit says:

      It is supposed to be an FM radio receiver, and as told to me by Notion Ink Support, it ‘will be enabled from second version devices onwards’. Go figure.

  13. ashwindravid says:

    Hi Nishit,

    That was really good review. It cleared quite a few queries I had. Though, wanted to know is there a reason why you chose Pixel Qi over the LCD model? Asking coz I am going to place my pre order soon. I looking to buy the LCD Wifi+3g model. Thanks in advance.

    Regards,
    Ashwin

    • Nishit says:

      Hi Ashwin,

      I had chosen the Pixel Qi model thinking that it would double as a good e-book reading screen in reflective mode. There was no information available on the LCD and the limitations of Pixel Qi then, and I thought that the LCD would give rise to eye strain when looked at for prolonged periods because of the backlight.

      I have no use for the sunlight reading capability of the Adam, beyond the fact that I earlier had a driver for my car, and reading a glossy laptop screen during the commute to work was very difficult given all the sun we have. I now have a laptop with an antiglare screen, but it is too heavy to be used comfortably in this way, so the Adam was supposed to be a great substitute. However, I have fired my driver, and do all the driving myself.

      The Pixel Qi looks great under sunlight, when I take it out to give a demonstration to my friends. Its transreflective state (auto brightness) is easy on the eyes indoors, while reading e-books. However, the angles suck from all directions, especially on a dark background. Luckily, the angles are not bad enough to give eye strain in portrait mode, so I am thankful for small mercies. The reflective state is no good except under really bright indoor lighting conditions or in the sun.

      If you have used Nokia phones, you would know how the screen looks when the backlight goes off, before the LCD turns off. The Pixel Qi seems to be an improved version of that type of screen.

      The future versions of Pixel Qi might be better, but the current versions are not good enough unless you have a real need to be outdoors.

      Now consider the irony: I spent Rs.6,000 extra for the screen, and decided to save on Rs.2,500 by selecting the wifi only version. I am now paying the full price of that folly.

      • nithyanand says:

        I tried the Joikuspot app in Nokia. The free version, of course. Does your laptop connect to this adhoc WiFi?
        My Kindle refuses to do so.

      • Nishit says:

        I haven’t tried it with my laptop, but the Adam did work with it. My mobile worked with Connectify with WEP in ad hoc mode, so it seems to me on second thoughts that the Adam might not be working properly with WEP on ad hoc. I will try later today evening if it can work with Connectify in ad hoc open mode, but frankly, I do not see a regular usage situation for that set up.

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