Fusion Garage Grid10 review: first look
Fusion Garage is a company that doesn’t believe in doing things by halves. Not content with mounting the most overblown marketing campaign – “Who is TabCo?” – seen in recent years, it has now gone on the offensive, and slashed the price of its forthcoming Grid10 10in tablet to £250.
That price undercuts pretty much every Honeycomb tablet and iPad currently on the market, so we were keen to see how the tablet itself stacked up. When Fusion Garage CEO, Chandrasekar Rathakrishnan, came in for an interview he was keen to show it off too.
The Grid10 makes a pretty good first impression. It isn’t the sleekest tablet in the world – it’s considerably thicker than an iPad 2 or a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 at 14mm from font to back, but it is handsome enough and at 689g not too heavy. The rear panel is made from curved, brushed aluminium, and the edges and corners have a smart, chiseled look to them. These frame what looks to be a decent screen: a 10in unit with a 1,366 x 768 resolution – a few more pixels than most other tablets of its size can muster.
Under the sharp-suited exterior is a prettty standard feature set, though: a dual-core, 1GHz Nvidia Tegra 2 processor is backed by 512MB of RAM, 16GB of storage, Wi-Fi (the 3G version is launching at the same time), GPS and a single, front-facing 1.3-megapixel video call camera. Plus there’s a reasonable selection of ports: Micro USB for synchronisation, Micro HDMI and a microSD slot for memory expansion.
The GridOS desktop
If that doesn’t get your juices flowing, then the interface just might. The Grid10 sports Fusion Garage’s proprietary GridOS (based on the Android 2.2 Kernel), and it looks very different to your average tablet OS.
The key to this is the main home screen: instead of having multiple horizontally-scrolling desktops, GridOS has just one, giant multi-directional scrolling space, around which are scattered themed clusters of apps – games, media, Amazon and so on. The clusters are essentially groups of square icons arranged loosely in a grid-like structure, and each icon is shortcut to an app or settings screen. Check out the video below for a full demo of all the Grid 10’s features.
As you’d expect the desktop can be customised at will, the clusters can also be expanded and collapsed with a tap of the finger, while a thumbnail window at the top right of the screen gives you a quick overview, and can be tapped to reveal various options, such as changing the desktop wallpaper.
Meanwhile, running along the top of the screen is a thin toolbar hosting displaying volume controls, remaining battery life, connectivity status icons and a clock.
Gestures and navigation
With navigation, GridOS makes further departures from the tablet norm. Scrolling the desktop around is achieved simply enough – by dragging a single finger around – and so is manipulating web pages: pinch-to-zoom and single-finger panning is again the order of the day.
But, since there are no buttons nor any persistent on-screen controls for back or home, GridOS relies on a handful of special gestures for these core tasks. A two-fingered swipe from the right edge of the screen takes you back a stage; two fingers dragged from the top of the screen dumps you back in the home screen; and a two-fingered swipe from the left edge brings up the multi-tasking area of the OS, dubbed Heart Beat.
In the browser, meanwhile, menus and so on are launched with a quick swipe up from the bottom left corner of the screen. The browser is otherwise completely free of clutter. Interestingly, highlighting keywords in the text of a web page brings up a context menu allowing you to carry out various actions – a web search or, if the word is a film title, say, a link to buy the DVD.
Apps and the app store
The first thing to note is that the Grid10 will not ship with Android Market, and will never do so. It’s also missing all the standard Google apps you might expect on an Android-based tablet, and instead of Google search, features Microsoft’s Bing service.
That’s disappointing, but it isn’t all bad news. The Grid10 will run all Android apps natively, and instead of the Market, will come with Amazon’s app store pre-installed – the first device in the UK to do so. We’ll have to hold judgement on this until we can actually use it, but it should at the very least tie the whole experience of downloading apps, music and video together more successfully than Google’s offering currently does.
Fusion Garage also has its own app store, though if past experience of proprietary app stores is anything to go by, you won’t be visiting it very often.
Performance and verdict
Fusion Garage was keen to stress during the demonstration that the software isn’t quite final, and we can see why. For while the core desktop scrolling operations, and web page scrolling and zooming responded smoothly to the touch of our demonstrator, other aspects were laggy and slow.
The “motion picture class animations”, as Rathakrishnan was keen to refer to them (transition animations between screens to you and me), took an age to respond, lists of messages scrolled arthritically up and down and context menus to a moment or two to appear. Those two-fingered gestures seemed to misfire with worrying frequency too: during the demonstrations, Rathakrishnan had to repeat gestures that weren’t recognised on several different occasions.
The quality of the screen isn’t great. Head on it looked bright enough for viewing indoors, but it isn’t in the same class as the iPad 2 or Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. And horizontal viewing angles were dreadful: we spent large parts of the demonstration craning our necks around in an attempt to see what Rathakrishnan was demonstrating to us, and even then had trouble seeing what was going on.
And, while it may grow on us once we’ve had the opportunity to live with it for a while, we’re not convinced the GridOS is particularly intuitive. The big desktop may seem like a good idea, and it certainly looks pretty, but we can foresee it becoming rather confusing and unwieldy once it’s laden with a few more apps.
That said, Fusion Garage’s latest offering does have a certain charm to it and, with the market crying out for a tablet under £300 that actually works, it may have hit upon a recipe for success with the Grid10. Our opinion may change when we get our mitts on a fully-fledged review sample, but for now the outlook is reasonably bright.