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.