You may not have heard about it amid all the iPad hype, but another take on the tablet has also started to reach consumers' hands: the JooJoo.
Before I held a demo model of the JooJoo in my hands in December, I didn't understand tablets or why someone would want one. The JooJoo made me realize that a tablet could complement -- not replace -- a laptop and a smart phone and be a far better gadget for watching digital video or reading e-books.
I was eager to play with the final version of the JooJoo because it sprang from a different philosophy than the iPad, even though both are touch-screen devices.
Like its sister device, the iPhone, the iPad is focused on task-specific applications. Although it has a Web browser that's comparable to what you might have on a PC, iPad and iPhone owners often use other programs in its place. So they might use the Facebook application instead of going to the Facebook Web site. And YouTube videos are typically viewed in the iPad's YouTube program, rather than at YouTube.com.
In contrast, the JooJoo, created by startup company Fusion Garage, is built entirely around a Web browser. Any applications you might want to use on it have to be Web apps.
In theory, that's not a bad idea, because you can do plenty of things on the Web these days. You can get e-mail through Hotmail or Yahoo. You can create a spreadsheet or write a letter in Zoho or Google Docs. You can play games on Facebook or Pogo, watch movies on YouTube or Hulu, and listen to music on Pandora or Lala.
The JooJoo's browser, unlike the iPad's, supports both Adobe's Flash technology and Java, a popular programming language on the Web, allowing the device to access many more Web-based applications and features than Apple's gadget. You can watch movies from Hulu on the JooJoo, for example, which you can't do on the iPad.
However, the JooJoo's focus on the Web has its downsides. Unlike with the iPad, the JooJoo doesn't allow you to store data locally. So without an Internet connection, you can't listen to music, read a book or watch a video.
But the bigger problem with the JooJoo is that, unlike the iPad, it feels like an unpolished, first-generation device. The power button, for example, is a thin sliver on the side that can be difficult to press. Worse, often the only immediate indication you get that you've pressed the button is a faint JooJoo logo that can be easy to overlook. I found myself pressing the button repeatedly, not knowing whether the device was on or not.
The JooJoo is thicker and heavier than the iPad, making it less comfortable to hold. And its Intel-based chip gives the device a shorter battery life than the iPad and makes the JooJoo feel sluggish by comparison.
The gadget's home screen comes preloaded with a collection of icons representing popular Web pages and Web apps, including Twitter, Picasa and Netflix. Unfortunately, you can't edit the list or reorganize it, even if your favorite sites aren't included. You also can't choose one of your own photographs to use as your home-screen wallpaper; instead you have to pick one from one of the eight Fusion Garage has provided.
Another shortcoming is that the JooJoo doesn't let you zoom into a Web page. You might think that with the JooJoo's 13-inch screen you wouldn't need to zoom into a page, but Web links are typically designed to be clicked by the tip of a mouse pointer, not a fingertip. Unable to zoom on the link I wanted to click, I often found myself clicking the wrong thing and having to go back.
When you click on the browser's address bar or on a box on a Web form, you get a keyboard that takes up only about half of the screen. You can click a button to get a larger keyboard that's easier to type on, but there's no way to set that as the default, meaning each time you want to use it, you have to click the "zoom in" button.
Also, I found the JooJoo to be buggy. Several times when the device said it had multiple Web pages open, I tried to access those pages but saw only a blank screen. To clear the device's memory of those phantom pages, I had to restart it.
Planned updates to the JooJoo in the coming weeks and months are supposed to address many of these problems. The first will be aimed at some of the bugs, and future ones will allow JooJoo users to edit the home page icons, change the default keyboard and play movies or music stored on an external USB drive.
Those updates should make the JooJoo a more capable and fun device. But for now the JooJoo, which has the same $500 price tag as the entry-level iPad, is not even in the same league.
Explore further: Electronic gadget for shaking hands over the Internet