A first-of-its-kind tablet with Google's Android 4.0 priced under £100 is now available in China, and will reach other countries soon, according to companies that helped build the device.
Ainol's Novo7 tablet has a 7-inch capacitive screen and runs on a 1GHz single-core MIPS processor, said MIPS Technologies and chip maker Ingenic in a joint press release. The tablet's battery lasts eight hours on watching video, seven hours when browsing the Web and six hours when playing games.
The tablet runs on Google's Android 4.0, code-named Ice Cream Sandwich, which is the successor to Android 3.0, code-named Honeycomb, which is found on the more advanced tablets today.
The tablet is available only in China through Ainol Electronics, but will come to other countries within the next several months under brands including Leader International and OMG Electronics. New tablets with 8-inch and 9-inch screens will also become available in the future, MIPS and Ingenic said. Nevertheless, several UK consumer electronics etailers have the product available, with prices starting from £81.24.
For its price, the tablet also has a surprisingly vast feature list. The Novo7 includes cameras on the front and back, 3D graphics capabilities, 1080p video decoding and an HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) port to connect the tablet to high-definition TVs.
No Android market access in China
"I'm thrilled to see the entrance of MIPS-based Android 4.0 tablets into the market. Low cost, high performance tablets are a big win for mobile consumers and a strong illustration of how Android's openness drives innovation and competition for the benefit of consumers around the world," said Andy Rubin, senior vice president of mobile at Google in a statement.
The tablet has acquired Google certification to run applications such as Google Maps, Gmail, Google Music and Google Talk. However, Google does not provide official Android market access in China, so the device lacks that feature, said Jen Bernier-Santarini, a MIPS spokeswoman. Access to Android Market is an ongoing concern for inexpensive tablet users.
"Android Market access is provided by Google through negotiations with carriers and OEMs as part of Google Mobile Services in other geographies. So Google will need to work with US OEMs on this for future releases of the product," Bernier-Santarini said.
However, the tablet can access other third-party app markets such as Amazon, from where apps like Angry Birds can be downloaded.
The rise of MIPS
The sub-£100 price is a breakthrough for users looking for new tablets with the latest Android OS. Most inexpensive tablets come with versions of Android 2, which is for smartphones, while notable tablets that come with tablet-optimised Android 3.0 are priced above £160. Other device makers are also announcing tablets with Android 4.0, which has already been ported to the ARM and x86 processors.
The Novo7 is also a showcase tablet for MIPS, a chip licensing company that is battling ARM and Intel for smartphone and tablet market share. Tablets using MIPS processors include Velocity Micro's £89 Cruz Tablet (available only on Amazon.com at US$139), but MIPS processors have not found wide acceptance in the tablet market dominated by Apple's iPad, which runs on an ARM processor.
The original development of Android 4.0 revolved around ARM processors, but Intel and MIPS quickly ported the OS to work on their processors after Google released the source code last month.
MIPS dominates the embedded market, with processors found in set-top boxes, TV sets and other embedded devices. The company believes the smartphones and tablets are a natural extension from the embedded market. The company's processors are also being used by the Chinese government in chip designs.
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