Want to make something cool but don’t have a few million quid lying around to plug into developing the thing? Crowd-funding is the way forward these days. And that’s exactly what keeps the Jolla Tablet afloat.
In January it launched on Indiegogo, meeting its funding goal within hours. Probably helped by the pretty breezy US$219 (~S$300) price. Now we’re more than US$2 million in, we thought we’d check it out ourselves to see what all the fuss is about.
An Android tablet sans Android
What sets the Jolla Tablet apart from all the other reams of non-Apple tablets is that it doesn’t run Android. It can run Android apps, but it uses something called Sailfish OS instead of the go-to green guy.
Why bother separating from the pack? Well Sailfish OS looks and feels completely different to use, and costs a fair bit less than the big names.
At one point it looked as if the Jolla Sailfish phone might become a real contender against the big boys but, as the cynics predicted, it has instead worked its way into a comfy little niche as an indie darling.
The pet project effect
Setting the software aside for a minute, how does the hardware itself look and feel? Well at first we thought it looked like your typical slim-and-cheap plastic tablet.
The seams on the back and slightly severe edges tell you it’s not the sort of design that has worked through millions in R&D and squished its way through many levels of business bureaucracy. However, get the Jolla Tablet in-hand and things improve - it’s metal rather than plastic, and it feels pretty well put-together too.
Sharp lines, sharp screen
It’s the finishing touches that haven’t been troubled over too much. Take the microSD card slot: it’s just a naked hole on the Jolla Tablet’s side. We looked at a prototype, so this may change. But we have a suspicion it won’t.
Still, the Jolla Tablet is very thin, pretty light and the rolled edges on two of its sides make for comfortable holding when watching movies.
The Jolla Tablet screen is pretty great too. It’s eerily similar to the screen of the iPad Mini 3 — 7.85 inches across with a resolution of 1536 x 2048. Sharpness, viewing angles, colour: all are good, as comes with the territory among higher-quality IPS screens such as this one.
Powered by sails
So, how does Sailfish OS differ from Android, and should you be remotely interested? Well, it’s a deliberately skinny and simple OS. This is one onion that doesn't have hundreds of layers to peel away.
The lead home screen shows you the apps currently ‘running’, a bit like the multi-tasking menu that’s relegated to the background in Android. You then swipe from the edge of the screen to get to the other home screens, or from the bottom to get to the apps menu, which looks pretty similar to that of Android 4.4.
Swiping from the left once takes you to a screen where you can see the likes of your latest notifications, and turn a few core features on and off - things like Wi-Fi. It’s like a giant notifications screen, and is pretty much your first stop if you need a reminder about what’s going on in your life.
Flick to the left again and you’ll see a page that’s a bit of a work-in-progress: a screen that partners can skin to hawk their wares. So while the Jolla Tablet seems like a benevolent little indie project at present, Jolla is also keen to flog them en masse to a larger company, subsidising hardware costs with a few choice brain-rotting ads.
Intel Atom in the house
While we didn’t get to check out the most demanding Android (or Sailfish: it has its own apps too) games in town on the Jolla Tablet, it does seem to run pretty well. There was no obvious lag, and Jolla told us that even though all the software optimisations aren’t in place yet, you can expect to see 60fps in the UI.
The Jolla Tablet uses a quad-core Intel Atom CPU, a chipset from the 3700 family. It sounds powerful enough but we’ve seen Atoms underperform with gaming, relative to how much tech goodness they seem to pack. So we’ll wait before crowning the Jolla as a low-cost gaming demon.
Still, the specs sound right. It has 2GB of RAM, and the baseline model has 32GB, with the 64GB version coming at just a US$30 (~S$40) premium. That’s a nicely inverse-Apple move.
So, should you?
The Jolla Tablet isn’t suddenly going to become everyone’s top budget tablet choice. There are just too many cheapy Androids out there for it to really stir things up.
However, if you can’t stand the idea of owning another boring Android but definitely need a tablet, this is one to consider. Jolla is currently busily working on getting the first devices to its Indiegogo patrons, but it’s not too late to snag your own on that site. The 32GB version costs US$219 (~S$300), while the 64GB is US$249 (~S$340). Make sure you factor in VAT and shipping, though, as these figures don’t.