First Android Netbook

Posted on 29 June 2009

The first netbook computer running the Google inc. backed Android mobile operating system on a low cost ARM chip will be available to customers within two months that was said by the maker’s co-founder.

Nixon Wu, Skytone’s co-founder told that Guanzou Skytone Tranmission Technologies Co. designs The Alpha 680 and that is on final testing now.

The Skytone Transmission Technologies Co. is located in Guangzhou a city in southern China. The company is aiming to make final samples, which will be ready in this month of June that was said by Wu.

The Alpha 680 had raise excitement in the computer world when it was spotted online few weeks back. A month ago in electronics trade show in Hong Kong The Alpha 680’s prototypes were shown 1st time for public.



It was told by the company’s representative Mr. Nixon Wu that they got 300 inquiries from different countries.

The excitement is surrounding all over in the world of computers and technology; computer made by a Chinese manufacturer is in response to the potential of the technology underlying it.



ARM processors are used in billions of cell phones today, these processors consume so less energy and also less expensive compare to Intel Corp.’s power sipping Atom CPU.

While in same time Android is becoming popular flavor of Linux for smart phones such as Google’s G1, its gaining interest of the software developers so rapidly as it was done by Apple Inc.’s iPhone.

It is predicted by some market experts that the combination of ARM and Android could help usher in era of sub-$200 netbooks with 12-hour battery life and creative designs highly fitted for demands of different consumers.

It could also have a market competition between ARM/Android netbooks and the netbook market from Atom chips and the Windows XP operating system that could weaken or break the grip of Intel and Microsoft Corp. on the PC market.

Expectations

An executive at ARM Holdings PLC, Ian Drew said that last month that he expects to see “ six to 10 ARM-based netbooks this year, starting in Q3.”

In era of rapid changing technologies as being 1st coming wave the Alpha 680 may captivate some netbook watchers and disappoint others.

The Alpha 680 will bring a change into the grounds of portability. Mr. Wu described its design that its prototypes weigh about 1.5 lb. And measure 8.5 in. long, 6 in. wide and 1.2 in. thick. It’s petite enough to fit inside small purse or in shoulder bag.

Wu said that it’s definitely smaller than Eee. While original Eee 701 weighs 922 grams and measures 9 by 6.5 by 1.4 inches.

The Alpha 680 is having ARM11 CPU running at 533 Mhz. It was introduces first in 2002 laterly the ARM11 chip was included also. In many different smart phones more powerful versions has been used, including Apple Inc.’s iPhone and iPhone Touch devices.

Wu said that Android performs fairly well on the chip. He said that YouTube Inc.’s Flash-encoded videos could play fine.

The Alpha 680 have 7 inches LCD screen with 800 X 480 pixels, 128MB of DDr2 RAM which can be expanded to 256MB and 1GB solid-state disk (SSD) drive that also can be expanded to 4GB, there is also slots for remove able date storage disks like SD card and two USB ports. It have a keyboard, touch pad and a built in Wi-Fi.

Mr. Nixon Wu stated that these outstanding things will enable the Alpha to hit a $250 price.

Though that’s more than $200 price as talked up by ARM but most of Atom netbooks running Windows XP have price $300-$500, so the Alpha 680’s price is much more less than that. Wu said that as volume ramps up we hope that we could make it even lower.

There is a little drawback in the Alpha 680 that it won’t have installed local applications, though users can buy and download those applications from the Android Market. Wu accepted that up to 20% of Android applications yet don’t run on the Alpha 680 because of compatibility issues, which still needs to be modified.

It is said by Wu that Alpha 680’s 2-cell battery limit is between two and four hours while surfing web, using its built in Wi-Fi or optional 3G antenna. That is so less than 8 to 12 hour battery timing as stated by ARM.

How Much It Can Descend in Price?

Mr. Nixon Wu is a 50 years old Hong Kong native and working from long time as engineer in the satellite industry. He co-founded the Skytone in 2005 along another partner. Aside from the some wrong reports the Skytone is unrelated to a similarly named maker of skype telephone handset.

U.S. retailing tycoon Wal-Mart Stores Inc. turned it toward low cost PC market in 2006. Before that the company was not having any firm direction. Wu told that they were looking for ways to build a $100 PC. We were having skilled knowledge in porting Linux to embedded systems, so they found us but at end of the day we could not meet the Wal-Mart’s target but anyway we continued on this path.

So in result Skytone’s first product last year the Alpha 400 reached the price 180$ with out monitor. It was the first mobile computer with price less than $200.

In the U.S. the reviewers censure severely that the Alpha 400 is having slow processor and overall build quality. Wu said that Skytone shipped still more than 100,000 units last year. Most of them were sold out in Europe under the brand names such as the Elonex ONET.

Skytone is having 50 employees don’t have any burden of too much employees with big budget. Most of those 50 employees are software developers graduated recently from colleges of China.

They are working hard on whole line of low cost Linux computers along completing the Alpha 680, and following are in row also:

The Alpha 400P, the up version of the last year hit. It will have a faster 500-MHz MIPS processor. Like all other Skytone’s computers aside from the 680, it will run a version of Linux 2.6 that is customized by Skytone’s developers along with free Microsoft Office type software.

The Alpha 300 is a $99 net-top PC that is half the size of the 680 and meant to be connected to the television. Wu describes that the Alpha300 will be controlled by the remote from users and that they can surf the Web during commercial breaks on TV.

The Alpha 700 is an 8.9-inch touch screen tablet PC with 1,024 X 600 resolution, a 500MHz MIPS processor and 2GB SSD drive. Wu said it will cost $200 and $ 250, so because of the cost the screen is not touch controlled, people will have to use a stylus.

Wu said that comparing his computers with today’s netbooks some which have gotten so powerful they support DVD drives and can support HD video is unfair. While arguing about the durability of Alpha 680, he said that the Alpha 400 had proven to be quite durable, as the big OEMs knew how to strengthen the product during manufacturing.

He acknowledged the doubts around the Alpha 680’s potential quality and performance.

Targets

Wu’s goal is to bring low cost computing to the 80% who can’t afford it today, rather than targeting the rich Western consumers. He said that villagers in Africa or formers in China need access to information on the Web equally as anyone else.

Hewlett-Packard Co. has confirmed its interest in Android netbooks, while Dell Inc. is said to be interested in Android smartphones. There is confirmed or still rumors about Taiwanese vendors such as Asustek Computer, Acer and MSI Computer are willing to work on the netbooks or smartphones running Android, an ARM processor or both.

It seems that the Skytone will be overtaken by bigger brands in the market. About that Wu said that it would grow the market and that will benefit the consumers. He said that we are a for profit company trying to make a $100 device. The more there will be the vendors in market netbooks will get more affordable for consumers.

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This post was written by:

Q. AB. - who has written 106 posts on ixibo.


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One Response to “First Android Netbook”

  1. Thanks for the nice article, I’m excitedly waiting for my Samsung Captivate through T-Mobile once they formally confirm that they’re carrying it. I was in my local shop today and had a hold of their own dummy device. It looks and feels much better than I imagined. This is actually going to be the cell phone to get. Never mind the iPhone 4g, the Galaxy S is where it’s at. As for me, I’m upgrading from a Samsung Pixon after an 18 month contract and am thankful to have ultimately settled on the Galaxy S. The decision process was fraught with many, many hours of analysis on the web. I was close to an HTC Desire and even closer to an Xperia X10 but then, from out of nowhere, I came across the GSMArena.com review of the Galaxy S and it just does everything so well.


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