First impressions of the Sharp IS01

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Android tablets are becoming a dime a dozen these days, so the Sharp IS01 is a much-needed and highly refreshing addition to the market. The 1GHz Snapdragon-powered Android clamshell was never intended for use outside of Japan, where it has 3G and phone capabilities, but it works great on WiFi and the sub-$250 price from Conics makes it a compelling choice, especially considering its unique (for an Android device) size and form factor.

I got my IS01 today and since it's unlikely that I'll be able to do a full review (baby and other sites keep me busy), I thought I'd share my first impressions, as well as the unboxing and some size comparisons now.

If you have any specific questions about the device, let me know in the comments; I'll put together a Q&A in the next week or so to answer all of them.

In the meantime . . .

Unboxing

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Included with the IS01 are a microUSB cable for charging and connecting to a computer, user guide and other paperwork in Japanese, 4GB microSD card (the device has 3.4GB of internal storage), and a microUSB adapter for use with an optional AC power plug.

Hardware

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The device is compact and light, with a pebbled plastic casing (I don't know if the white and sky blue versions have a different finish) and covered microUSB and headset ports. The unit does not have a standard 3.5mm headphone jack, but the speakers are pretty good and located above the keyboard so the sound is always unobstructed.

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At the top of the device (in the middle of the lid) is an LED indicator. The system settings indicate that it can be used for notifications, but so far I've only seen it glowing orange when I was charging the battery.

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I've only had the IS01 for a few hours and most of that time was used to take pictures and write this post, so I can't comment yet on how the 1400mAh battery performs. It's said to be able to power the device for up to 4 hours of video playback, but we'll see.

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The screen can be positioned in just about any angle, but it "clicks" into two specific positions as shown above. The top one is ideal for desktop use, while the bottom angle is suited for handheld use and thumb typing.

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The 5-inch capacitive touchscreen supports multitouch and is responsive/accurate, but the hardware keyboard, trackball, and buttons make it possible to use the device without touching the screen. Keyboard shortcuts can be assigned to launch apps and perform other tasks, the trackball is used for navigation and scrolling (it can also be pressed down to select items), and the standard Android home, menu, and back buttons all function as expected. There are also on-screen home, menu, back, and search buttons.

The keyboard provides a decent thumb-typing experience, with flat keys that press down evenly. There's very little space between them, though, so it's easy to press two keys at once, which of course results in an error. I haven't typed much on the IS01 yet, but I assume that practice will increase accuracy.

Size Comparisons

Here's the IS01 with the HTC EVO 4G, iPhone 4, Dell Streak, Sharp NetWalker, and Viliv S5.

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Software

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If you're looking for a major shortcoming of the IS01, it's this: it ships with Android 1.6 (Donut). With no confirmation of an update to a newer version and what appears to be a very, very small community of users (and therefore devs) who could whip up a custom ROM, it's very possible that the IS01 will be stuck with 1.6 forever.

Donut isn't an abomination of an OS or anything, but compared to Eclair and Froyo, it's obviously not anyone's first choice for many reasons but mostly because it's slow. There is a very noticeable lag when opening/closing apps, though scrolling and swiping between screens is somewhat smooth and reasonably fast.

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On the upside, the IS01 ships with a custom skin/UI that has some nice features like a thumbnail multitasking view (accessible by long pressing the Home button or tapping the icon in the right corner), a skinned notifications area that allows you to delete notifications individually or all at once, and a tappable status bar that displays various information that leads to its respective setting when tapped. There are some unique settings as well, like a text font option and some other stuff not usually found on Android phones.

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The default launcher can be replaced with another home launcher (I'm using ADW.Launcher), but doing so causes the back, menu, home, and search buttons strip (on the right in landscape, on the bottom in portrait) to become a permanent fixture on the home screen. Coupled with the large taskbar at the top (also permanent), this takes up a lot of screen space! Using a third-party launcher also seems to negatively affect performance, particulary when trying to do simple things like go back to the home screen.

And speaking of the screen, although the device is marketed as boasting a 960 x 480 resolution, the only place it seems to be in effect is in the browser and the stock home launcher. I'm going to try to fiddle with the LCD density to see if I can fit more onto the screen, but until then, there's very little evidence of the higher resolution.

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Wrap-Up

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There are definitely some odd quirks about the Sharp IS01, and the possibility of it being stuck with Android 1.6 could be an automatic dealbreaker to some, but so far I think the value-for-the-money is quite high. Considering that I haven't even set it up exactly to my liking yet, the device has definitely made a positive first impression on me.

Any questions? Leave them in the comments and I'll compile a Q&A.

The Sharp IS01 is available now from Conics for $246.

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Jenn K. Lee

Jenn K. Lee is the founder of Pocketables. She loves gadgets the way most women love shoes and purses. The pieces in her tech wardrobe that go with everything are currently the Samsung Galaxy Note II, Sony Tablet P, and Nexus 7, but there are still a couple of vintage UMPCs/MIDs in the back of her closet.

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