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First Android netbooks surface

Apr 21, 2009 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 7 views

[Updated: 8PM] — Skytone announced the Alpha 680, a 533MHz Freescale i.MX31-based netbook with a 7-inch touchscreen that may well be the first Android netbook. Meanwhile, a group called I-Buddy has released a YouTube video that shows Android running on an Atom-based netbook prototype.

(Click for larger view of the Skytone Alpha 680 )

A spokesperson from Guanzhou, China-based Skytone said in an email that the Alpha 680 is expected to ship in June for $250. According to Skytone, the company was launched in 2005 and specializes in Linux consumer electronics and Skype-related accessories. The company is the original manufacturer of the Alpha 400 netbook, which first appeared with a Bestlink label last May. At the time, the Alpha 400, which also appears to be the basis for 3K Computer's RazorBook 400, was billed as the world's cheapest Linux-based laptop, selling with the same $250 pricetag.

The Alpha 400, which is still available from Skytone, incorporates a 32-bit XBurst CPU from Ingenic Semiconductors clocked to 400MHz. The Linux/Android Alpha 680, and nearly identical Linux 2.6-based Alpha 600, instead run the ARM11 based Freescale i.MX31 system-on-chip (SoC) running at 533MHz. Skytone offers several other Linux-based Alpha models, including mobile Internet devices (MIDs) like the Alpha 200 and Alpha 700, and even a set-top box (Alpha 300), all of which use an unnamed 500MHz MIPS processor.

The Alpha 680 appears to offer a convertible screen that can fold flat as a touchscreen tablet (right)

The Alpha 680 backs up its i.MX31 SoC with 128 to 256MB DDR2 memory, and 1 to 4GB flash. An SD slot is available for expansion. Judging from the photos above, the 7-inch WVGA touchscreen appears to swivel and fold down into a tablet. I/O includes Ethernet, dual USB ports, WiFi, and optional cellular connections via USB dongles, says Skytone. A video camera is also said to be optional. In addition to the QWERTY keyboard, the device offers a touchpad and dual game keys.

Detail views of the Alpha 680
(Click to enlarge)

Specifications listed for the Alpha 680 include:

  • Processor — Freescale i.MX31 (ARM11) SoC at 533MHz, 32bit
  • Memory — 128MB DDR2 (expandable to 256MB)
  • Flash — 1GB NAND flash solid-state disk (expandable to 4GB)
  • Flash expansion — SD/MMC card slot (supports SDHC)
  • Display — 7-inch TFT LCD true color 800 x 480 pixels (WVGA); VGA port
  • Networking — 10/100 Ethernet (RJ-45)
  • WiFi — 802.11b/g
  • Other communications — optional ADSL, GPRS, CDMA, EDGE, WCDMA (all via USB)
  • USB — 2 x USB 2.0 ports
  • Camera — optional 300K-pixel video camera
  • Audio — microphone; analog stereo out
  • Input — 80-key standard keyboard; capacitive touchpad; dual game keys; pen interface
  • Case colors — black, white, yellow, pink, red
  • Media support — MPEG1/2/4, H.263, H.264, WMV9
  • Power — SV AC-DC adapter; 3.7 V 4200mA Polymer battery
  • Operating system — Android (Linux/Java)

I-Buddy gets robotic with the Atom

Depending on when SkyTone plans to ship the Alpha 680, it could be the first Android-based netbook to reach market — unless of course I-Buddy gets there first. The I-Buddie project/company has posted a video on YouTube (below) of a prototype netbook based an Intel Atom N270 with Intel 845 graphics that runs Android. Several error messages pop up, and judging by the kid walking through in the background, funding may be a problem. No more details were available, but it appears to be a genuine working Android port.

I-Buddie may have a hard time competing with the likes of Acer and HP, both of which have confirmed rumors that they are testing Android-based netbooks. Neither, however, has committed to moving forward with an actual product. Meanwhile, Google is rumored to working on a netbook implementation of Android in collaboration with Asus, and Pegatron has developed a Android-ready netbook reference design for Freescale based on the latter's ARM Cortex-A8-based i.MX515 SoC. The Pegatron design is also said to run the new ARM-supporting Ubuntu 9.04.

There's a fine line, of course, between a small-scale netbook and a large mobile Internet device (MID) or portable media player (PMP). Archos and GiiNii are both preparing MID-like Android-based PMPs, and one industry report has it that T-Mobile is working with an unnamed hardware partner to develop an Android-ready tablet with a 7-inch touchscreen.


Skytone expects to ship the Alpha 680 in June for a price of $250. More information may be found here.

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