I finally have my joojoo. After an agonizing 87 days and re-learning the lesson that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, it is in my hands.

I’m enjoying my joojoo – that’s not to say there aren’t serious issues or that I recommend it to all my friends – but it is most of what I was hoping for. With that tepid introduction, here’s my overly lengthy brain dump of my experience, thoughts and other flotsam and jetsam.

Packaging Win

I can’t say enough good things about the packaging. It comes in a simple white box with the name wrapped around the side. The inner sleeve comes out to reveal a simple message about the joojoo. The sleeve has a magnetic flap which opens to reveal the device pampered in a custom molded shock absorbing material. Its one of the best unboxing experiences you can have.

Initial Power Up Major Fail

I plugged it in and turned it on. In about 8 seconds it was up and ready to go, looking gorgeous.

I touched the screen on the “settings” icon – nothing happened. I tried to swipe to scroll the icons – they just jittered briefly. I started to panic, I must have a bad capacitive screen or a horribly calibrated one, and no way to adjust it. I rebooted to no avail.

After a while of messing with it I found I could sometimes get it to recognize some things, and there did seem to be some sort of pattern, but it was clearly more than just being off a bit with a bad calibration. I also found it wouldn’t rotate when I turned it to portrait mode. Suddenly I had a realization – the display was stuck in landscape mode and the capacitive input was stuck in portrait mode!

Not wanting to wait weeks for a repaired unit I had to explore all avenues before contacting tech support. My best bet was to figure out how to upgrade it to the latest software and pray that it would fix all my problems.

I took a piece of paper and made an overlay map of where I needed to touch the screen. I mapped out how to touch the WiFi, turn it on, select my WiFi, select the WPA box, mapped out each keyboard key I needed for the password (including switching in and out of CAPS and into the numbers screen), and then pressing “Connect”. One false move (clicking anywhere that wasn’t on the dialog box or on the keyboard) and I had to start the process over. It took about 20 minutes to get connected.

With a bit more pain I was able to download and install the latest software update, and after a couple of reboots it was rotating with a correct capacitive touch mapping and I was ready to go. Whew.

Hardware

It is light enough to hold in one hand for a while in either orientation and it feels well balanced. It is comfortable to hold with two hands for an extended period and read, browse, or watch videos.

The front edges are slightly sharper than I would like, but this is a minor complaint. The screen and bezel are covered with a single pane of glass, approximately 14 3/4″ diagonally (minus rounded corners). I thought I would find the bezel to be too big around the 12″ display – it is just over 1″ on the sides and just under 1″ on the top bottom – but it turns out to be perfect, enough space for my thumbs to grip on the sizes, and a nice black border around the screen which lets me ignore my surroundings.

The “joojoo” name/logo lights up in the bezel. It is a nice subtle one that doesn’t compete for your attention. When you rotate, the now incorrectly oriented logo fades out and a different correctly oriented logo lights up. This is a very slick nice touch.

It has an internal fan, which is one of the few places where a specially designed consumer electronics devices like the iPad have a notable advantage over the general purpose hardware of the joojoo. Fortunately it is quiet and doesn’t exhaust much heat out the top vent. The one design issue is that the intake is at the bottom, where as the bottom vent intake is usually resting on my lap or gut.

The ports on the right include a microphone in, headphones out, and power in, and on the left is a USB port and the power button (there is only one physical button on the tablet). These are fine but they are placed exactly in the middle of the sides where my hands tend to rest. I’d prefer if these ports were up higher, especially the on/off switch which can be touched by accident. This recommendation may be difficult since their tapered design is only wide enough for the ports in the middle.

The USB port is too close to the power button. It is easy to hit the button when trying to plug/unplug a mouse, keyboard or USB drive. Also there should be 2 USB ports as mouse+keyboard=2. The USB port also has a fancy door that blends in well with the aluminum back, feels more rugged than I would expect, and it works great. The problem with the door is that I want to keep a very small USB drive in the joojoo for offline content playback. This is another case where a flat side would work better than the tapered edge, even though I  really like the tapered feel. I wish the joojoo had an SD card slot as this would eliminate the problem of the hanging USB drive and eliminate my issue with the USB door.

Although there is a SIM card holder within the joojoo you can’t get to it without opening the back. The SIM card is said to be supported in a future OEM model to be sold by carriers. This is fine, I only want WiFi personally, especially since Android 2.2 supports WiFi tethering.

The power button takes a considerable amount of pressure to register and it doesn’t provide any tactile feedback. Future versions should use a different button.

There are two speakers on the back and two slits to allow the sound to escape the aluminum back panel. They don’t give you the greatest sound experience but they are surprisingly loud and work better at providing stereo sound than I would have thought.

The back is a custom molded piece of aluminum that tapers on all four sides and comes to a soft curve at the corners. About 3/4″x8″ along the top is plastic, butt to the casual user the materials look identical to the aluminum with the same color, texture, and sheen. According to some internal photos I’ve seen this is where the antennas are which makes sense as radio waves don’t like to travel through aluminum as well as plastic. The back has 10 screws, two heat vents, and two speaker holes, but all of these are on the curved taper so it feels very solid, and if it happened to be placed in a shallow liquid spill it probably would survive unscathed.

The unit doesn’t flex much, but when flexed there are two visible pressure points in the upper left quadrant of the screen. This shouldn’t happen.

The camera is embedded in the bezel on the left near the top. This is excellent positioning as it works well for both landscape and portrait modes, and is far away from my thumb. My one complaint is that it points straight out instead of angled towards the user. When sitting about 18″ away from the screen the camera is looking to the left of my head and slightly high. It should be angled to a point in space about 18″ from the center of the screen.

Battery life is the other place where a consumer electronics device beats the general purpose computing device. I’m getting about 4.5 hours. This isn’t too big a deal since I’m mostly using it around the house. It will be a bigger deal on the long plane rides.

The power brick is small and looks great. I plugged in my joojoo and began playing with it while it was fed power from the wall and it slowly charged. After about two hours it was mostly charged and I happen to pick up the power converter – it was shockingly hot. Perhaps a beefier unit would be in order?

Starting, Stopping, Suspending, and Rotating

The niceties of bootup and and shutdown are fine. Booting is so fast that any image would be redundant, living up to its 9 seconds claim with a healthy margin. Boot up also connects to the WiFi surprisingly quickly compared to other devices.

It gives a friendly “shutting down” message when turning off. The only odd point is you see a blinking cursor for a few moments at the end of shutdown and during suspend.

When suspended there is no indication that it is suspended. I would prefer the power button to glow softly, the “joojoo” bezel to fade in and out, or some other simple visual clue that you didn’t shut it off.

From a hardware perspective, rotation is done just right – it isn’t too sensitive and it doesn’t ignore you. That said I want a software rotation lock setting. When I’m walking around it sometimes switches to portrait mode when I want to keep it in landscape, or potentially vice versa.

When you rotate it flickers to a non-rendered version of your page for a moment then repaints in the alternate orientation. This is not a user friendly experience and needs to be corrected with either a visual rotation that shows the page rotating (which might be a pain to write), or it can be done in a quick-and-dirty way with a fade out, a gif of a rotating screen, and then fade in of the pre-rendered new orientation screen.

A New Operating System UI

The joojoo’s UI layer on top of Ubuntu has some novel interface constructs. Some work great, some could be great with a bit more refinement, and some need to go.

To start with, it is beautiful. The backgrounds are gorgeous, the icons look great, and the translucent panels are elegant.

Control is driven off a main bar at the top that auto-hides. It is accessible with a downward swipe anywhere on the screen, any time. It is simple to access and simple to use. It acts as a system tray with clock and WiFi status, it acts as a task bar with access to other windows in a coverflow style, and acts as an address bar. I would recommend some tweaks to the main bar and the addition of a few buttons, such as a soft power off / suspend icon and a “close browser window” icon, but my quibbles are minor. This is a great UI master control.

The main bar says “joojoo” in the upper left which brings up the home screen. It is actually rendered as an HTML page, and in fact if you go to http://localhost/ it will bring you to this home screen. It has categorized icons for links to well known sites, access to the system settings, a history page, and a bookmarks page.

The home screen shows promise but the current implementation has issues. It sometimes gets stuck and won’t scroll properly or let you select a history item or a bookmark. The scrolling acceleration is too wild. The history and bookmark pages are too sensitive to left-right motions that close the panes. Bookmarks and their tags, which are otherwise very nice (I like the tag model), can’t be edited, re-ordered, re-sorted (e.g., by date added vs. by date last visited vs. by name), or categorized. Likewise history cannot be dumped, either selectively or as a whole. The joojoo is responsive when scrolling on web pages, but not so much when scrolling through icons on this home screen. Once these issues are fixed it will be very nice centerpiece. It is critical that they work on this home page as it represents the biggest bang for the buck in terms of user experience.

Settings

The “Settings” sub-menu on the home screen includes WiFi, Time, Update, Brightness, Wallpaper, and Personal. This is a good start but each has problems and needs some updates.

WiFi lets you turn it on and off, select an access point from the discovered list, and a dialog box to enter the security password and see the MAC address of the access point. It is missing the ability to set up a non-broadcasting SSID, although you can work around this by selecting another one and then manually typing over with your SSID. It also works with WPA but not with the older WEP, which is still plentiful.

Time gives you a great looking date/time picker, but why doesn’t it give you a time server? The clock seems to be slow, drifting about a minute a day.

Updates are automatically discovered, but the Update button allows you to manually kick off looking for an update. This is fine, I have no issues with their implementation.

Likewise the Brightness does what is says – it allows you to turn on/off the ambient sensor, and when off you can set the brightness level. No issues here.

The wallpaper is amazing. At some point they need to let the user select their own set of horizontal/vertical images, but with the quality of the defaults this isn’t pressing.

The Personal button lets you clear the cache. I’ve not been able to determine exactly what is being cleared since it doesn’t retain session information all that well at the moment anyway. I’d like to see this expanded to clear history, or clear history ranges or individual history elements. If they get big enough they may need to offer more control such as a cookie manager or password manager, but that isn’t pressing either.

There are a few items that are missing. Bluetooth is completely missing here, even though the device clearly has Bluetooth within. Also I really want a rotation lock which probably belongs here as a Rotation button.

The Keyboard

Soft keyboard technology has come such a long way, but unfortunately the joojoo has started at ground zero.

There are a couple of positive highlights worth mentioning. It is easy to type on. There are two sizes, and I find I use them both depending on the situation. You can move it around the screen so it doesn’t get in your way. Also it is translucent so you can see your page or your long post as you continue to type. Finally it does has a nicely customized keyboard for when you are typing in a URL that moves the most important URL keys to the main alpha screen.

A few of the problems include: 1) no shift key,  2) no auto-capitalization, 3) missing important characters from the alpha keyboard such as an apostrophe, 4) No separate backspace and delete keys, 5) No auto-correct, 6) the “delete” key is the only one with repeat (probably a good thing) but there is no repeat delay and no acceleration. I’ll stop here.

Perhaps the biggest problem is there is no cut-and-paste. In my opinion they should not make cut-and-paste an overarching UI element but instead make it part of the keyboard. There would be a “select” tool on the keyboard that would hide the keyboard while you highlighted some text on screen. The keyboard would then re-appear with highlighted buttons for “copy”, “cut” (if you are in an entry field), and “paste” (also dependent on being in an entry field). Copy/paste is essential when writing anything from email to blog posts. It is also critical for copying web page addresses into emails, and even copying bookmarks.

Browser Navigation

Opening a window is either from a built-in icon on the main screen, a bookmark (an offshoot of the main screen), or by typing in a URL. This works fine. When you are done with a site and want to browse to another bookmark, you close your current browser and then select your bookmark which opens a new browser. This is contrary to the way most people currently work where a single tab is used and reused. It just takes some getting used to.

Also there is no default “home” page when you bring up a new window. You are either selecting a bookmark or you are entering a URL from scratch. I find this to be fine but from reading online this clearly disturbs some people.

The browser windows are accessed from an icon in the menu bar and presented in cover flow style. You can thumb through the windows and touch the one you want. This part works great. Closing a window is a bit of a pain, you need to bring up the main menu, go to the cover flow mode, and then swipe up on the browser you wish to close. This feels unnatural to me, there should be a menu bar “close browser” “X” icon.

Scrolling in the browser uses two fingers. This feels unnatural for the first 30 seconds but then becomes second nature. Single swipes are used to interact with content on the page and to call up the main menu. In a confusing move, they use single finger scrolling on the home screen but the home screen doesn’t recognize two finger scrolling at all. It should allow both single and double on the home screen.

Scrolling acceleration is OK but can be a problem with very long pages. My recommendation would be to multiply the acceleration if the user scrolls fast and then scrolls fast again while the screen is still decelerating from the first scrolling.

There is no zoom capability. This is a problem when trying to snipe a link within a sea of other small links. Capacitive screens are great but my fingers are apparently fat and not that accurate.

The Browser Itself

Its a decent browser and I have no major complaints. It reports itself as joojoo 1.0 and as a webkit browser. I’ve seen a few odd rendering issues, such as the wiki menu bar being positioned incorrectly on joojoobe.com, but on the whole it is fine.

There are no plugins other than those provided, such as Flash. This means there is no ability to suppress adds, run GreaseMonkey scripts, or play content in odd formats. It also means no Netflix since they use Microsoft Silverlight instead of Adobe Flash.

There are some standard browser pieces which are missing, like increasing the font size and viewing the underlying HTML. The font size selection is a big one and I think will eventually need to be added. The code viewing won’t be a big deal if they allow for cut and paste since online tools can be used to view the HTML. Other things like debugging don’t belong on a consumption device anyway.

There are no downloads. This is appropriate but can be awkward at times. PDF files in particular are typically downloaded, but on the joojoo you need to go to Google Docs and open it up there. They should either give us cut-and-paste to make this easier, give us a file type manager where we can redirect content to pre-selected pages (e.g., PDF goes to Google Docs), or hardwire a few MIME types to rendering sites.

There is no spell checker in the input boxes. I find this to be a real pain since I can’t spell to save my life. If spell checking were enabled it would pose new complications since spelling correction typically requires a right click capability. An alternate solution would be needed but I don’t want to see them junk up the UI with oddball gestures. Perhaps spell correction could be driven by keyboard buttons, like cut-and-paste?

At the moment login credentials are not being saved when you shut down the joojoo. This has been promised to be fixed, but it has also been a while since this major issue was first reported.

Flash and the joojoo Player

Flash runs. That’s about all the good I can say about flash. It is slow (doesn’t take advantage of hardware acceleration) and it is clunky with a touch screen. Touch and a mouse are sufficiently different that Flash is just not the best way to interact.

Flash video is choppy even at low resolutions, and unwatchable at HD levels. Until hardware acceleration is working the only way to watch video is via the joojoo player.

The joojoo player is a native h.264 application that takes advantage of the NVIDIA ION chipset. The joojoo runs fairly cool when playing video, and it looks great.

Unfortunately the joojoo player has issues. It buffers for a long time, without any indication of how far along it is. The on-screen controls are not clear, where there is a second unlabeled slider. The play cannot be rewound or moved ahead, even though the slider does let you reposition. When it runs out of buffer it all but locks out the UI while re-buffering, and then will play 1/10 of a second of buffer at a time. The player needs some serious work, especially if it is going to be used for offline content.

When playing video I’ve found the joojoo’s cache can’t keep up with the playing, even when I’m standing right next to the WiFi access point and playing content that my other computers can get without any delay. I don’t know if I have a WiFi issue in the joojoo or if the decoding is taking away from the caching process, but this is an issue I intend to explore more.

The ability to play offline content was promised before the first unit shipped, and has been reiterated several times since as a feature of an upcoming software release. Given the state of the joojoo player I’m worried that either it will take quite a bit more time or when it comes it won’t work well. This is the feature that when announced got me off the fence and ordering a joojoo. This is probably the most important feature hole for me.

Other Tools and Apps

With the exception of the joojoo player there are no other fat client apps. The joojoo has been criticized for this but I think it is best this way. As the web becomes more HTML5 centric and off-line content becomes part of the landscape, local mobile apps will go away. I think the joojoo has it right, they are just 2-3 years ahead of their time.

There are also no desktop widgets nor any notifications. This is a big deal for those who want to know when they get gMail or an IM. The iGoogle personalized portal page works fairly well as a web solution, where at least the IM client can be configured to play an audible alert. This is a stop gap measure, but it works for now. Especially if Fusion Garage would identify and communicate a few alternatives when this kind of criticism comes up they could defer the issue for a while. Eventually a more visual alert system will be needed.

Conclusions

I’m happy enough with my joojoo. It will be great for the work I will be doing in Vermont in 2 weeks and despite the communications issues and delays I still have faith that the software will continue to improve. My guess is that the other 720p devices (the ExoPC, WeTab, Asus EP121) each have a similar set of issues at the moment and they are all working out the kinks. With the competing tablets being pushed back to September or all the way to 2011, the joojoo is the only game in town for a while. Fusion Garage is just the only one letting you get your hands dirty.