SAMSUNG

Notion Ink Adam Android Tablet Review

April 18, 2011 - Written By Tal Schechter

This review has been a long time in coming. You may have heard that shipments for the Notion Ink Adam were delayed a bit. I ordered during the first day, buy my order was delayed three times. When it finally shipped, it got from China to the US in three business days.

I had received an email from Notion Ink that I should do a software update immediately upon receiving the device. I thought I would try it out first and see what needed to be fixed. The answer was everything. It was quite painful to use. Super laggy, with force-closes everywhere. Sometimes touches on the screen would not register. I made my way slowly to the settings screen, and selected the software update. When it was finished downloading, it installed everything automatically and restarted.

Things were better, but still not at release status. I was embarrassed for Notion Ink that amidst all of the delays, their software was still really buggy.

In the box

The box itself is funky and sleek. It comes with a cardboard fold-out stand that you can use if you don’t want to hold the device/purchase a stand.

It comes with a full size screen protector (matte, not glossy), a universal charging adapter, and a US power-brick charger, along with the usual paper documentation (it is probably not worthwhile to read the quick-start guide as it is terrible.

I absolutely recommend using the screen protector.  As you can see from the photos, it is terribly glossy without.  With the screen protector on, it is much more manageable.

Software

The UI is actually really cool and revolutionary. Too bad it does not work well. It is called Eden, it is based on a combination of Android 2.2 and 2.3 and is a panel system. On the home screen, you have three panels called “leaves.” Each of these is like a mini-version of an app. For example, the leaf for Sniffer, the file browser app, just shows some basic information about your device like how much space is left, whether there is a USB device connected, etc. The leaf for the calculator app is a simple calculator, but the full app is full scientific calculator. Most of the apps that are included on the Adam have these two modes. The home screen does not have a portrait version.

There is an app drawer launcher on the left-hand side of the screen (in landscape). Pressing it sends out a one row drawer. In other words, you have to scroll and scroll and scroll to get to the app you want. For ten apps, this is not much of an issue, but for 100 it is ridiculous.

The default browser is probably the buggiest part. In the out-of-the-box release, there were a number of bugs that made it pretty much unusable. The updated version dealt with most of these.

The default apps that it comes with are nice, but leave a lot to be desired. There is a Canvas app (a painting program), Sniffer (an OK file browser), the Browser, Facebook (it’s basically just a link to the website), Mail’d (an email program based on the code of K-9. I would go so far as to say it is awesome), and probably a few more that I can’t remember right now.

The Adam does not come with the Android Market out of the box, so installing apps was a little tedious. I took the apk of Titanium Backup from my phone, and transferred it to the Adam. I then used Dropbox to sync all my apps. It worked fairly well. To access the apps though, you have to use the ridiculous one-row app drawer.

As I mentioned, the software is really buggy. Some things just don’t work how they should.

Hardware

I admit that I wanted the device because of the hardware. I pre-ordered it before there were any reviews because I knew that hackers could make that hardware great.

To begin, mine has a PixelQi screen. You can order a regular LCD if you would rather. PixelQi is a new screen technology, and this is the first mass market device that has it available. The whole point of PixelQi is that it works well in bright light. With a regular LCD, the screen gets washed out when in bright light. Not so with PixelQi. It can either act like a normal LCD or it can go into an e-ink type mode where the backlight is entirely off. This allows you to read the screen in any light condition. If you want, you could also watch movies with the backlight off, but it sort of feels like watching black-and-white.

It has two full-size USB ports. You can connect your external hard-drive or your keyboard or even a mouse, and it has support for them.

It has HDMI-out. You can play Angry Birds or watch a movie on your bigger-screen HDTV.

It has a 10 inch 1024×600 16:9 display. I know that it does not have the pixel density of a qHD or Retina display, but it works well for me.

Swivel camera at 3.2 MP. Rather than having a front camera and a rear camera, this tablet has a swivel camera. It is positioned in a bit of an odd place such that self-portraits and video calling takes practice, but you don’t have to move the device in weird ways to take pictures/video in front of you. It is perfect for being in class and recording a lecture, as you can keep it with the screen facing up while you capture video.

Cool shape. It is not your basic slab. Instead, it has a sort of handle on the top (in landscape). Imagine an iPad or XOOM with a roll of quarters taped to one side. It gives a good handle when reading an ebook (or otherwise working in portrait), and it gives a slight angle when you put it down on a table.

Finally, and perhaps most important, the internals are amazing! It has a NVidia Tegra 2 dual-core 1GHz chipset and 1 GB RAM.

Hacking

If the device itself is awesome, but the software supplied sucks, how do you fix it? You hack it of course!

One of the great things about this device is that it seems impossible to brick.  One of Notion Inks updates ended up bricking some Adams, but then they sent out a way to flash the device to fix it.

The first hack that was available was the addition of root, the Android Market, and fix to allow for ad-hoc networking. There have been several roms put out so far, including a port of a rom from the Viewsonic G-Tab There is not yet Android 3.0 Honeycomb, but there is a bounty set up to incentivize developers.

Soon, CyanogenMod will be ported for the Adam, as will Ubuntu.

The rom I currently use (and the best in my opinion at the moment) is called Beast. It is a stock Android experience, that runs most of my apps with no problem. It also has Android Market access, and I can even use the web-version at market.android.com.

Summary

This is a great DIY sort of device. I totally love it.  It does not currently come with a good end-user experience, but if you are willing to hack it, it becomes a great and pretty cheap tablet. It is unclear if Notion Ink is actually going to have normal sales or whether they will go to retailers, but at the moment they are only doing staggered pre-orders. The cost of an Adam is

LCD screen,WiFi — $375

LCD screen, WiFi, 3G — $425

Pixel Qi Screen, WiFi -$499

Pixel Qi Screen, WiFi, 3G — $549

with $50 flat-rate shipping to anywhere in the world.