With all the hopes that many members of the FOSS community place in the increasingly popular netbook, it’s no surprise that the subject is controversial. So when the first Android netbook was spotted recently, the blogging excitement reached fever pitch.
Computerworld’s Seth Weintraub seems to have been the first to shine the spotlight on the Skytone Alpha 680, apparently announced a few weeks ago in Hong Kong.
Further investigation revealed that the ARM-based machine will cost around $250 and should be available within three months.
The specs of the diminutive device are “anaemic,” according to Weintraub; nevertheless, they were more than enough to spark a bloody conversation.
“The price is disappointing”
“Good to see companies experimenting with installing Android on netbooks, even if this first seems like a dud (not enough RAM, battery life issues),” Theli wrote on Digg, where the subject has come up not once but twice. in separate threads. “That’s to be expected, though. This is clearly an early adopter’s device. I would probably wait for some of the bigger players (Asus, Acer, MSI and HP) to get involved. The prices should come down and the design should settle on something that works.
Also: “Given current netbook prices, the $250 price tag is disappointing,” Binarydemon agreed. “Unless the performance or battery life is significantly better, I’d just spend a few extra bucks for x86 compatibility. They should start to hit the expected $100 price point.
With over 1,400 combined Diggs and 130 comments – in addition to those from the Computerworld blog – the topic was clearly inspiring. So here at LinuxInsider, we’ve taken to the streets for more perspective.
“Very good,” Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack told LinuxInsider. “I wonder how difficult it would be to reformat this machine. It would be a good replacement for the full-size laptop I use for network analysis and equipment setup, as it would probably be a lot easier to carry around.
Along the same lines: “So far Android seems like a good thing,” agreed Slashdot blogger drinkypoo. “You can run real Linux alongside Android or you can (theoretically) put Android on arbitrary hardware.”
Not the first?
Whether the Alpha 680 is the first ARM-powered netbook – as the Computerworld article claims – is far from clear, however, drinkypoo told LinuxInsider.
In fact, there’s currently a lawsuit pending over the rights to the netbook’s name, he noted — something that “was invented by Psion, who had an ARM-powered ‘netbook’ before no one knows what a netbook was”.
The claim that Skytone was the first “seems to have been made solely by the author of the article, Eric Lai, who should probably familiarize himself with Wikipedia before being allowed to write any further articles for Computerworld”, added drinkypoo.
“A really great thing”
“I’m thrilled to see Android escaping the T-Mobile G1, and after a sad and disappointing love affair with the Kogan Agora Pro that never made it to market, I’m ready for Android to make itself available to me. on a new consumer device,” Monochrome Mentality blogger Kevin Dean told LinuxInsider via email.
“My skepticism is not about Android, but about netbooks in general,” Dean added. “My view is that Linux has a BIG chance of ‘dominance’ in the embedded market because mainstream users don’t yet have a clear idea of a ‘telephone interface’, whereas on PCs desktop, people reject Linux because the expected user experience is strong enough.”
Netbooks, of course, fall somewhere in between.
Android could be “a great operating system” for netbook users looking for mobile internet devices, Dean explained. “In this area, I see a ton of potential, useful and original applications deployed on a generally stable and consistent development platform. This could be “A really great thing”.
Unfortunately, “most people today see netbooks as laptop replacements,” he added, “and due to Windows expectations, Android netbooks will fail because they are not clearly marketed like “not replacing a laptop””.
The problem with flash
Prices will also have to come down, many bloggers said.
“The price is too high,” Slashdot blogger hairyfeet told LinuxInsider.
“I can get a netbook with XP Home for $300 – less if there’s a special at a place like Woot, which last week had [an] EEE at $159,” he noted. “At these prices, why would I adopt an operating system that, frankly, is practically devoid of applications?”
However, at under $200 — or better yet, under $150 — price, “you’ve got the makings of a hit,” hairyfeet added. “The 12+ hour battery life might help sell it there.”
Flash video could be a sticking point.
“Last time I checked, Adobe had ARM Flash support on their to-do list but hadn’t released anything that works, and we frankly don’t know which, if any, ARM chips they have. will support until the code is released,” Hairy Feet says. “With so much of the web adopting Flash, this will be a tough hurdle to overcome.”
‘$150 Sweet Spot’
Still, assuming the problem is fixed and the price drops, “Linux might have a real shot in this market, because the only Windows that supports ARM – WinCE – just doesn’t measure up,” said observed hairyfeet.
Of course, “if this ‘ultra low-end’ market turns out to be a big seller, Intel has the Atom and the Celeron capable of competing in this space, and most people will be willing to forgive the lifespan of battery in exchange for Windows”, he predicts.
“I would say $150 will probably be the sweet spot for these units; at over $250, they’re just too close to the price of an Atom-based netbook – and why would a consumer spend so much when they can get one that runs all its programs? he wondered.
“The year of GNU/Linux!”
“Forget $250 – China will be producing $100 machines this year and ARM will be one of them,” blogger Robert Pogson claimed via email. “There is no room for this other operating system at these prices.”
The world “will go small and portable because it costs less, and the lowest cost will be with GNU/Linux or other free software,” Pogson told LinuxInsider. “Expect an intense readjustment period at M$ as they try to push [Windows] 7 on the world.
Netbooks, in fact, “are what makes 2009 the year of GNU/Linux,” Pogson added. “They outperform other hardware in terms of portability, price, power consumption and ease of use. They clearly state to the world that we don’t need to continue with the Wintel treadmill.
AMD and Intel “must use their 32nm processes to produce chips for these things, or someone else will,” he said. “ARM will devour them as is, and ARM will spread from the PC world to laptops/desktops/servers. ARM is already multi-core; isn’t it possible to produce server chips with 1024 cores with this technology? »
In short, “expect rapid changes,” Pogson concluded. “Wintel is fighting back with feature bloat, but they can’t keep selling bloat without big price cuts.”