Fusion Garage Grid 10 tablet, hands-on

Fusion Garage is back for its second attempt at making a rogue tablet to challenge Apple and Google. CNET's Donald Bell offers his hands-on first impressions.

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Just when I thought the tablet market was settling into a Honeycomb malaise, a rogue tablet has jumped into the mix. The Grid 10 from Fusion Garage (yes, that Fusion Garage ) was unveiled today as a 10-inch tablet alternative to Apple's and Google's offerings, due to ship on September 15.

Sure, at $499 for a 16GB model the pricing suffers from the same delusions that afflicted HP's TouchPad and RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook, but at least Fusion Garage is in good company. Like HP and RIM, Fusion Garage is banking on a post-iOS, post-Android gag reflex to drive consumers into its arms.

To entice them, Fusion Garage has created a unique operating system on top of the Android Linux kernel that behaves very differently from the tablet user interfaces we've seen so far--perhaps to a fault. The lock screen opens with a custom signature, the home screen is accessed with a two-finger wipe from above the bezel (similar to the PlayBook's bezel gestures), and apps are arranged on a main screen that behaves like a sprawling map. Honestly, it's a little disorienting, but that effect may disappear after we have more time to play with the device.

Under the hood, you're looking at another Nvidia Tegra 2 dual-core 1.2GHz processor with 512MB of RAM. Integrated storage is limited to 16GB, but can be expanded using microSD cards. The screen resolution is a whopping 1,366x768 pixels, which is ideal for HD content, though I noticed some off viewing angles that could spoil the party. The rest is fairly standard at this point, including Bluetooth 2.1, accelerometer, gyroscope, GPS, 802.11 Wi-Fi b/g/n, and a front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera. There's no camera on the back, but that's a decision I'm happy to defend.

The tablet's core features, e-mail and Web browsing, are seemingly fully baked. The browser supports Adobe Flash, although automatic playback is disabled by default, forcing users to individually launch any Flash content that may be on a given Web page. It's my understanding that this decision was made to conserve battery life and streamline Web loading speeds. The e-mail app uses a paned view, similar to an iPad or Honeycomb tablet, but with a few bells and whistles, such as scrollable galleries of photo attachments. It's pretty, though we've yet to see how robust the account compatibility is.

Because the Grid 10 is built on the Android kernel, it is technically compatible with Android apps. To get them on the device, Fusion Garage includes the Amazon Appstore, along with its own (less populated) app store. We witnessed a few downloaded games demonstrated, but it remains to be seen how the 16:9 screen ratio performs with general app content.

Am I optimistic that the Grid 10 will be the nimble, cool iPad alternative we've been waiting for? Not entirely. If a company as large as HP can't make a $499 price tag stick on its tablet, I have a hard time believing it will work for Fusion Garage. Still, I'm happy to see there are still some surprises out there for tablet shoppers and I hope the Grid 10 is evidence that there is room for innovative, boutique manufacturers in this space.

 

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