A low-cost, Android-based netbook could be available to consumers in as little as three months from China-based Guangzhou Skytone Transmission Technologies Co. In an interview with Computerworld, Guangzhou founder Nixon Wu said the device, dubbed the Alpha 680, is going through final testing.
Wu said his company's interest in an Android device was sparked by a conversation with retail giant Wal-Mart about the possibility of producing a low-cost PC. "[Wal-Mart] was looking for a way to build a $100 PC. We had expertise in porting Linux to embedded systems, and so they found us," Wu said. "At the end of the day, we couldn't meet Wal-Mart's target, but we continued on this path anyway."
Prototypes of the small device were shown at an electronics show in Hong Kong about a week ago. Wu said his company received more than 300 inquiries from companies around the world.
The Alpha 680 will bring an unprecedented level of computing to a small form factor, he said. Measuring 8.5 inches long by 6 inches wide by 1.2 inches thick, and weighting just 1.5 lb., the device will sport basic connectivity (Wi-Fi and EDGE capability) and a seven-inch screen.
The netbook will use an ARM11 CPU running at 533 Mhz, a chip that has seen extensive service in a variety of smartphones, including Apple's iPod and iPhone. The basic configuration will include 128MB of RAM and a 1GB solid-state disk, both of which can be upgraded.
Battery life will check in at a relatively anemic two to four hours, depending on the applications being used. Currently, Wu said, roughly 20 percent of the applications on the Android Market are not compatible with the Alpha 680, although the company hopes to have the issue sorted out shortly.
A gallery of software icons on the Alpha 680 page of the Guangzhou Web site underscores the device's close ties to Google. The netbook relies on Google's growing suite of programs -- Gmail, Google Reader, Google Docs, and the Calendar to provide basic functionality. The limited software package (which some may see as a blessing) includes a video player, games and both IM and blog software.
Will Big Companies Join In?
For a small, relatively unknown company like Guangzhou, the looming question is how long it will be before much larger manufacturers try to produce sub-$300 Android devices. According to industry reports, Dell is considering reentering the smartphone market with an Android-based phone, while Hewlett-Packard has its eye on the Android netbook category.
For the time being, the profit margin on the Alpha 680 isn't likely to raise any corporate pulses. Wu said his company is purposefully targeting non-Western audiences less concerned about the computing capabilities of their devices and more concerned about having basic access to the Internet.