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Can Notion Ink’s Adam elevate the tablet to a new generation?

Of all the tablets out there, the only one that really interests me is the Notion Ink Adam, largely because, on specs, it represents a better picture of where this form factor is going. This week, Notion’s website went up, and a countdown to ordering began. I doubt it is going to make it to Christmas for most of us, but to me, on paper, it is a better iPad alternative than anything currently out there. It could cause people to hold off buying anything else, even if it doesn’t sell, and you may want to look at it and decide whether you should wait or not.

Let’s talk about that today.

First-generation tablets

The iPad has, so far, easily set the bar with regard to first-generation tablets, with the Samsung Galaxy Tablet jumping to second place with a reported 600,000 sold. But both products are constrained by laptop display technology, which limits their usefulness. What I’m talking about are the TFT screens, which tend to glare out if used in bright direct light. In addition, the biggest power hog in this current generation is generally the screen, giving the class a double whammy of issues. E-Ink, which is what the Kindle and e-book readers use, sucks for Web browsing and has frame rates measured in single digits per second. This means E-Ink won’t work for anything that has to move, and doesn’t yet do color in a production product.

The one thing that is likely to be fixed before we call this product mature is that screen. The Notion Ink Adam, which uses a unique Pixel Qi screen, may be the first product that represents the next generation of tablets. And it has a number of other next-gen features, too.

Is Notion Ink’s Adam the first second-generation tablet?

As we’ve learned from the iPad, tablets are consumption devices, which means they need an unusually strong graphics engine. The Adam uses the Nvidia Tegra 250, which currently excels at this and should outperform most current-generation products.

The Adam also has a 3.2-megapixel swivel camera, which anticipates the second-generation iPad getting either a swivel, or two fixed cameras. On a device like this, a swivel camera should be better if you are video conferencing and want to switch views easily. Even if the second-generation iPad doesn’t go this route, I expect following versions will, as Sony, when it created a similar product a few years back, found swivel to be more user friendly.

MicroSD card support should be in most tablets, with the possible exception of the iPad (because Apple likes to upsell higher capacity products, which have higher margins). This is how users will increase capacity, and retailers will reduce the number of SKUs they have to shelve holding down inventory cost.

Because tablets are used for media consumption, and because they will likely be connected to TVs at least some of the time, an HDMI port would seem to be an obvious addition as people don’t like to carry docking stations or dongles.

The Notion Ink has all of these, or will have when and if it ships, and on top, the keystone hybrid indoor-outdoor Pixel Qui screen. The whole assembly argues for a second generation product.

3G or 4G? A crinkle in connectivity

What isn’t yet clear is whether second-generation tablets will be 3G or 4G offerings. These devices are data hungry, and will want as much bandwidth as they likely can get. Initially, the Adam is 3G only. However, my general advice with tablets and notebooks is to use them on Wi-Fi networks and pick up a 3G or 4G access point like the Sprint Overdrive mobile hotspot, so you can use one plan for the laptop and tablet. I don’t think this is a major issue, but for those who want this built in, it could be a problem.

A hardware heavyweight

About 50 percent of what makes the iPad great are the services that stand behind it, and I’m only talking about hardware with the Notion Ink Adam. What will make or break this product is what stands behind it, and we know very little about that yet. However, I do think this product will be closer to what the second- or third-generation tablets will look like, and you may want to hold off on the current generation if you find something compelling, and are willing to wait. In any case, it is always great to see companies that don’t just copy the leaders, but attempt to go out and create something different. That is how Apple has generally been successful itself, and it often amazes me how many firms attempt to copy Apple’s products poorly, rather than copying Apple’s creative approach to the problem.

For those of you in the States, here is hoping you have a wonderful holiday weekend and that whichever tablet you buy, you find it amazing.