The JooJoo Web tablet has sure caused a stir with all of its issues with TechCrunch, but is the device good enough to overcome all this drama? I spent a little time talking with Fusion Garage CEO Chandra Rathakrishnan today going over the JooJoo and feel like it's an impressive product that may be hindered by its price. Hit the jump for deeper impressions and a demo video.The industrial design of the JooJoo is flat out beautiful. It sports a 12.1-inch capacitive touch screen and it's thinner than a MacBook Air. It's a very elegant, Apple-like design that instantly draws attention. It feels sturdy in the hand but not too big to be distracting.
As for the specs, Rathakrishnan was mum about most of the horsepower because he doesn't want potential customers to get caught up in a speeds and reads decision. This device is made to simply surf the Web and access online media, and the company is confident it has the horsepower to do that reliably and well. During the 9-second bootup, I saw some indications that it's sporting an Intel Atom chip, which makes a lot of sense.
He did say there's 4 GB of memory primarily for caching purposes, and there's also Bluetooth, 802.11n Wi-Fi, one USB port, a headphone jack, built-in camera, microphone, and speakers. The Linux operating system boots directly into a Webkit-based browser that can support Flash, Ajax, Silverlight, and a variety of other standard Web technologies. There are a few gestures for quickly hopping back to the icon-laden home screen or flipping between tabs, and the final version will have more gesture inputs. There's an on-screen keyboard that seemed to need a lot of work. The sensitivity and responsiveness just weren't ready for prime time when I saw it. Rathakrishnan told me this was a pre-production unit and the company is working hard on the screen's sensitivity and responsiveness though.
It's built only for an always-connected environment which has positives and negatives. A lot of my interactions and media are in the cloud, but I've always liked having local capabilities. For example, the device is capable of playing high-definition streaming video but I wasn't able to see this because the hotel's Wi-Fi was crappy. Rathakrishnan said the usage cases for this will be in environments with a more stable connection, but without Wi-Fi this is a gorgeous 12-inch brick. I would have liked to see some more offline media capabilities as well as the ability to run apps like Skype.
The company is looking to address these issues however, and it will be offering some APIs so Web developers can gain access to things like the JooJoo's accelerometer, as well as provide notification for sites like Twitter. There's also an expansion slot that will be utilized on future versions for a 3G connection that will give it nearly ubiquitous connection.
Of course, the flap with TechCrunch (and the pending litigation) may make some people wary of dealing Fusion Garage. I've heard both sides of the story and am inclined to believe that nothing illegal really transpired. You all know that in business, particularly with startups or new products, there are a lot of unsavory things that happen. The difference this time is that we've had a window into the sausage making. Fusion Garage again said it owns all the intellectual property and has nothing to hide.
Beyond that drama, I told Rathakrishnan that the $500 price tag will likely make it too expensive to be a mass-market device. He responded that the initial $200-$300 pricing targets were unrealistic for a device with this size of capacitive screen, and that consumers will find it to be an excellent secondary computing device. I have no doubt many will be impressed with the experience, but the mass market is really cost-conscious at the moment and you could almost get two netbooks for this price. Sure, a netbook won't be as elegant, well-designed or have as big of a screen, but it will offer a similar browsing experience and more functionality. It's a really cool product but may wind up in the hands of only a few early adopters. Pre-orders start Dec. 11 from Fusion Garage's Web site, and the JooJoo is expected to ship in 8-10 weeks.