Sunday, September 28, 2014

Notion Ink Cain : best affordable 2-in-1 Windows device

Background

Back in 2010, I was so excited to hear about an Indian company called Notion Ink, planning to design and develop a tablet in India, that I emailed their founder and current CEO Rohan Shravan expressing my desire to somehow contribute to this whole process. At that time I was not in India, and pondered about my ability to actually contribute with my minimal experience in hardware design. Notion Ink at that time was in Hyderabad. I didn't end up contributing anything, except exchanging a few mail with Rohan. Later Notion Ink moved to Bangalore, and released Adam and then its successor Adam II. They were interesting, but none of them gained wide acceptance. One of the problems Notion Ink faced was distribution. And then second problem I strongly felt was that there was a complete lack of 'awareness advertising' of their beautifully designed a superiorly useful products. Another factor was an external problem: the Android (the OS on which Adam I and II are based) tablets were getting extremely cheap. With the full control of Android development resting with Google, whatever software customizations that Notion Ink made probably ended up no where and were never 'main-stream'. The software 'philosophy' that one has is only as much useful as the number of people using it. If no one actually used any of the "cool" software features - it is destined to be doomed - and hence is the requirement of 'awareness advertising', something Notion Ink still lacks to this date.


Notion Ink Cain

So when I heard the news of Notion Ink releasing Cain - a Windows based 2-in-1 exclusively on Snapdeal (see: http://www.snapdeal.com/product/notion-ink-cain-2in1-touchscreen/1556812847), I was pleasantly surprised. Not only because the tablet was no longer a custom Android ROM but was a full fledged PC with the ability to run 'standard Windows application', which are humongous in number. Another subtle reason for which I was happy for Notion Ink was that it was for the first time selling the device on a major e-commerce platform in India. Earlier Adam sales were mostly restricted to buying from the Notion Ink portal itself - or for a brief period on another ecommerce site. Notion Ink is for the first time getting some real advertising.

Without further ado, let us delve in to the device itself.


The device

Notion Ink Cain (http://notionink.com/) comes powered by Intel Bay Trail processor (Z3735 @ 1.83 GHz), which is a quad core processor. Bay Trail is a successor to Atom processor and is based on new Core design, and addresses most of the shortcomings of its predecessor. The processor also has GPU core (clocked at 646MHz), which is powerful enough to drive HD movies without shutter. Bay Trail processors are designed to be power efficient and are expressly designed for mobile computing devices, that sets it apart from desktop class Intel processors.

The Cain has 2GB of RAM, which is unfortunately soldered and is non-upgradable, 32GB of internal storage (approx. 24GB useable on initial boot) and host of ports (USB 3.0, Mini HDMI, Micro SD card slot, Micro USB - that also acts as a standby charging port). The device also comes with slot for attaching a 3G ultrastick (for 3G data connectivity).

The screen is 10.1" diagonally with a resolution of  1280 x 800, and features capacitive touch with 10 touch points.

There is nothing remarkable about all the specs, to see detailed specs visit http://notionink.com, what makes the difference is however the superior design and build quality of the device. More over Notion Ink is so confident about the quality of their hardware, that they claim to provide full device replacement in case of any defect over the warranty period of the device.

On the software side the device comes with Windows 8.1 preinstalled. There are a lot of naysayers on the interweb about the Windows 8 operating system, but I absolutely like it and is my daily OS on my home desktop. The device also comes with a 1 year subscription to Office 365 + 1TB of OneDrive cloud storage. While 1 year subscription to Office 365 is a definite plus, I am not sure if I would like to pay 3K+ INR annual subscription fee for a software that I only occasionally use. I would rather use free alternatives like LibreOffice when the subscription expires. Also I am not sure whether the 1TB storage on OneDrive is tied to Office 365 subscription.

Here are some quick shots of the device:



Absurdly quick unboxing! To match the 5 sec boot time of Notion Ink Cain ;-)

The mint letter. I love this personal touch from the team at Notion Ink.


What is in the Cain package? The one that I unboxed had the unit, keyboard flip cover, charger, Offce 365, a 500GB external hard drive, and a lovely letter with mint from Notion Ink.

Cain's screen is a little glossy, but that doesn't hinder normal use. Color reproduction and viewing angles are decent, if not stellar.

Cain is a well designed portable computing device.




The tablet works well, but it is a little heavier to my taste to replace my Kindle as a reader when I am in bed.

Though well designed, in a laptop mode the Cain can not really be placed on your lap. It is just not as stable. Even on desk if you have the habit of moving around your laptop, the case stand comes apart - a solution use a clip!

You can install a lot of Windows applications on the device, even on the external USB 3.0 drive. Here I have installed the absolutely 'Made In India' molecular modelling software by VLife Sciences - VLifeMDS (see: http://www.vlifesciences.com/) - on the Notion Ink Cain. Great combination right ?

The provided wireless mouse is useful in desktop mode, however I just tend to touch the screen to get things done faster.


App story

There is a huge ecosystem of apps on Windows. I haven't tried a lot of apps, but the ones that I have tried work great. Apart from the standard apps, there are also modern apps that can be installed from the Windows Store. Have only tried two at the moment: Kindle app and the Freshpaint app. The Kindle app from Amazon is well made for Windows 8 and works great for reading books. I however, find the weight of the device slightly on the higher side (although it is very light weight at 630 grams) for a book reading device. The Freshpaint is a great painting app from Microsoft, if you love painting and making sketches.

I am not really interested in games, so I have not tried one till now, but plan to do so later.


Keyboard, Touch response

The keyboard and the magnetic snapping reminds me of the Microsoft Surface. I find the keyboard to be quite good for light to moderate typing. However when I started using the keyboard for some coding purpose I found that the keypad bends slightly near the centre. This seems normal, but gives a strange feeling of not having a even stable surface to type. The integrated touch pad, is ok, but I feel it should have been a little larger. The touch pad keys could also have been a little flatter.

Screen touch response on the device is pretty good and is at par with any top notch tablet you can buy currently. That said, many desktop applications may not be touch optimized, so you will have to fall back to the good old mouse to stay productive.


Reaction from others

Over the course of the review the device was shown to a number of people. All absolutely loved the device. The sweetest reaction came from an owner of computer shop: "This is absolutely fantastic device. I would easily pay 25 K for a Designed in India device, around 20K is too good!"


Conclusions

Overall, I feel that Notion Ink has a winner here. With collaboration from Intel and Microsoft, and Notion Inks own design talents put into the device, you get a solidly build device of high quality plastic, hardened aluminium and soft velvet keyboard cover. All the ports are placed evenly and are always accessible - which is a very positive point for an ultraportable. The exclusive availability and prominent placement on Snapdeal solves the last puzzle for Notion Ink - the advertising and selling - of a beautifully crafted useful product.

Highly recommended 'Designed in India' device. Hope Notion Ink can also put a 'Made in India' tag for their future devices.


Notes

1. The unit actually belongs to my colleague Amit Bedi. I was waiting for this line to be written using the Cain itself ;-)

2. Just tested Skype call on Notion Ink - works great - including with the back and front camera.
 

16 comments:

  1. Does this also mean :

    1.This device will also run Blu-Ray (1080p) movies downloaded from Torrent websites ?

    2.Is it strong enough to run Sony Vegas studio ?

    3.) Batter life ?

    4.)Any word on Future updates ? From Rohan ? If the next update is not free for Windows can we install Windows 9 using bootabe USB ?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Pranav,

      1. Yes it does run 1080p videos, just ran video for reference: http://www.dvdloc8.com/clip.php?movieid=13599&clipid=4 Here is the video of same running on my Cain (from a pen drive!),
      http://youtu.be/9gyYrFtVaCY Sorry for my phone's shaky video and camera focus resets.
      2. I haven't installed this particular version, but Cain does qualify on the hardware requirements: http://www.sonycreativesoftware.com/moviestudiope/techspec Your experience on an i7 desktop with NVidia graphic card would not matched on Cain :)
      3. 7+- hours of web surfing based on how much flash content is there + wifi strength.
      4. All updates (non paid) would be automatic. On Windows 9, there is something interesting: http://bgr.com/2014/09/28/windows-9-upgrade-free-download/ we are awaiting official information! :)
      5. You can always write directly to me at rohanshravan@notionink.com!

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  2. Some answers:

    1. 1080p plays fine not sure about downloaded videos though

    3. I have yet to test battery life. Initial impression is that it gives about 10 hours on normal use.

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  3. Replies
    1. yes, but haven't tested it for Skype calls ..

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    2. Hi Ganesh,

      Try the microphone, you'd love the recoding quality!

      Regards

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  4. Hi Rohan,

    Question for you ... I am a photog who is looking for a portable device to travel with on which i can do some editing .. A windows tab which runs a full verison of Photoshop / Lightroom would be perfect for me. Have you guys done any testing with PS / LR ? Is the performance acceptable .. Just for your reference i currently use a Win7 i5 machine with 4 Gigs of RAM

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. Correct! We have customers who have tested PS and reported very smooth operations. It may not be as fast as i5 4GB RAM, but it won't disappoint you!

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  5. hi rohan.. some problems with device.. when i closes it and wraps it in flip cover the display is turning on and battery going down very fast... i locked down the device also but same problem its not turning on when it is single .. but the problem was when i wrapped it in cover.. what to do... and its not detecting mobile devices via bluetooth.... please solve my problems asap...

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  6. can we use 3g using usb modem or only through 3g ultrastick

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You can use 3G dongle. Have tested with Tata photon data card, works fine.

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  7. does it support 128 gb sd card?
    and can apps and softwares be installed on sd card?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I haven't tried one. But according to specs the max support is of 64GB.
      I have also not tried to install apps on sd card, although I think you should be able to install standard desktop apps on the card.

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  8. Hi Ganesh, I am planning to buy this but my only doubt is whether I can use it to do any development like running Visual Studio for .net etc.

    Thanks in advance

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Satya, My experience is that it is only good for casual programming. I don't find the keyboard comfortable for long sessions of programming. Further IDEs like Visual Studio are heavy on resources and bog down the system if you are trying to do anything serious.

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