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First Android-Based Netbook, Set-Top Box 114

Posted by timothy
from the every-glovebox-could-have-one dept.
An anonymous reader writes "China based Skytone famous for making skype headsets have brought out a $100 device, the Alpha-680 netbook running Google Android for its OS. The device has Wi-Fi, Ethernet, USB ports and an SD card slot. After watching the video though, I get a feeling that the boot time is somewhat long. IMO good enough for browsing." Also on the Android front, ruphus13 points out what the maker claims is the first "fully realized" non-mobile Android device (though I think there were some other non-mobile gadgets on diplay at CES), a set-top box from Motorola based on Android. According to the linked post, it's "capable of playing DVDs and CDs, transferring music and video to a mobile device, and ripping and storing files" and "will have a full-featured Chrome-like browser."
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First Android-Based Netbook, Set-Top Box

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  • Anemic for 100 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CSFFlame (761318) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @02:48PM (#27664793) Homepage
    $100 isn't very much. As low spec as that is, it's very good for $100. I don't know why they were bashing it so much.
    • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

      by lordtoran (1063300)

      Because Wintel fanboys can only run Windows CE on it.

    • not anemic (Score:3, Interesting)

      by yog (19073) *

      $100 isn't very much.

      As low spec as that is, it's very good for $100.

      I don't know why they were bashing it so much.

      Agreed, the blogger makes some rather opinionated statements but misses the forest for the trees in this case.

      It's a good trend that low cost hardware manufacturers are getting into the netbook game and featuring systems like Android. Backed by a mega corporation and open sourced, Android is bound to keep getting better. I think it's going to give the iPhone a run for its money eventually.

      As for netbooks, it seems like a good idea for some purposes--a handy little sub laptop. If it works with Skype--and

      • I think the Chinese copycat manufacturers have some good ideas but their execution, especially their engineering, is nowhere close to American, Japanese, or Korean standards.

        The Taiwanese made the eeepc. Their engineers are top notch.

        • by xilmaril (573709)

          I think you just equated taiwan and mainland china. let's ignore politics, because it's got no definitive standards, but you simply must face two simple facts. Taiwan and Mainland China have massively different industrial complexes. Taiwan's makes higher end electronics.

    • by Fred_A (10934)

      I don't know why they were bashing it so much.

      I especially don't quite get the "While this device is going to be extremely cheap, it does have some redeeming qualities."

      Because if there's one thing we apparently don't want (at least at Computer World) it's for our devices to be extremely cheap.

  • Did anybody else notice that the web browser shown in the picture of the device in the summary's link [skytone.net.cn]appears to be a simulated screenshot of Firefox on Windows XP? ;) Specs indicate only Android.
    • It's probably just an XPish skin, like on the first Asus EEE. I hate that. They should just use the damn window manager's default skin instead of fooling potential buyers.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Darkness404 (1287218)
        Yes, but there could be a few problems with it.

        A) The default skin is ugly for some WMs. While the default look of GNOME and KDE and even XFCE look good, other, lighter WMs look plain ugly when on their default themes.

        B) Licensing issues with some custom themes. Some custom themes may be released under the GPL... But the artwork is proprietary or something so, while its no big deal for an individual, for a company looking to make a profit on them, this is a potential landmine.

        C) People these days
  • Android Java (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pleappleappleap (1182301) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @02:55PM (#27664913) Homepage

    I'd be much more impressed with android if there was a full JRE available.

    • It's not as if there's tons of legacy Java GUI apps that people want to run.

      • so rather than having to go through the rigmarole of developing for this tiny set of Java classes, I'd much rather just develop for the Java SE and ME APIs with which I am already familiar.

        One of my favorite features of Java is its cross-platform compatibility.

      • Re:Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by fm6 (162816) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @04:10PM (#27666081) Homepage Journal

        Please. Java SE may not be the Windows killer Sun used to claim it was, but there are still a lot of people running Java GUI apps, especially in enterprise applications. And not "legacy" apps either. It's a simple way to create simple client programs that you can deploy over the web. It will never replace native apps for most purposes, but it still has a big role.

        The absence of a JRE would all seem to relate to the confusion over what kind of device Android is really meant for. Google seems to have targeted at cell phones and PDA-style devices. In that context, not supporting Java SE makes sense. But once you start deploying Android on netbooks....

        • "Java SE may not be the Windows killer Sun used to claim it was, but there are still a lot of people running Java GUI apps, especially in enterprise applications."

          At the time that Sun was claiming Java was a Windows killer there was no such thing as Java SE. That was back before Sun discovered that WORA wasn't really possible.

          "Google seems to have targeted at cell phones and PDA-style devices. In that context, not supporting Java SE makes sense. But once you start deploying Android on netbooks..."

          I think n

          • by fm6 (162816)

            Please. The "SE" in Java SE is just branding to differentiate it from Java EE, Java ME, etc. Java SE certainly did exist back in the WORA days. It was called "Java".

            You certainly wouldn't want to run a heavy duty enterprise app on a netbook. But there are light-weight ones that are deployed over the web that could be very useful.

            Suppose you're in charge of a bunch of Sun servers and one of them has a problem that you can only figure out by access the console — while you're off on a trip, and can't get

    • by GooberToo (74388)

      I'd be much more impressed with android if there was a full JRE available.

      So you would prefer your phone/portable device to run as slow as possible? The Dalvik-VM, which runs on Android devices is specifically designed to run on low memory, low power, low-end CPUs. Check out the available design docs and videos before you comment further.

      The VM running on Android right now has tons of room for performance improvement and is already pretty good at addressing its niche and doesn't even have a JIT yet. And sur

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by BikeHelmet (1437881)

        JamVM [sourceforge.net] proved that interpreting java can be faster than JIT compiling it. JamVM is the fastest JavaSE-capable JVM for ARM based devices that isn't made by Sun.

        It's still way slower than optimized C or assembly, but... GCC is pretty bad at optimizing for ARM, so the difference between C and interpreted java isn't that huge. (maybe 2-4x faster)

        • by GooberToo (74388)

          I didn't mean to imply Dalvik will not get faster without JIT. In fact, its well known Dalvik is fairly unoptimized as is and still performs fairly well. The intent of my comment was to indicate there is much, much, much more performance to be had from Dalvik's early stage of development.

        • by jipn4 (1367823)

          JIT-compiled Java is nearly as fast as C for inner loops. So, the sense in which JamVM "can be faster than JIT compiling" must be some sense of "faster" that I am not familiar with.

          • http://bugblogger.com/java-vms-compared-160/ [bugblogger.com]

            Nothing is as you'd expect on ARM.

            I've seen well optimized C programs get a 60% speed boost from some arm assembly. 60% is huge - it's hard to believe GCC could be failing so badly.

            It's strange that interpreting is faster than JIT compiling in all those tests, but it was true when the article was written, and probably still is.

            JamVM is very light on memory usage because of the lack of JIT compilation, which actually enhances performance on low memory devices. You

            • by jipn4 (1367823)

              That doesn't mean that there's a problem with Java or JIT compilation in general, it just means that someone implemented their JIT badly or that the JIT is coupled to a really bad interpreter that's slowing it down.

      • The standard JRE runs fine on my eeepc at 600Mhz with 512Mb of RAM.
        • by GooberToo (74388)

          Go look at the advantages Dalvik has - such as faster start up, MUCH lower memory footprint, MUCH faster memory mapping and class loading, etc...etc...etc...

          Once Dalkvik matures you'll be wondering why you ever thought the JRE was a good idea. Remember, Dalvik is designed to run well on slower CPUs with 1/4 the memory, sharing it with the OS and graphics environment. I'd fully expect Dalvik to be faster, even as is, on design targeted hardware. And at this point, Dalvik hasn't had hundreds of millions of do

    • I'm glad Google trimmed some of the fat out of Java; bloat is one of the reasons Java has failed to go mainstream for desktop applications. The JVM and the JNI also were badly designed, and Dalvik improves on them.

      If we're really lucky, Oracle will deprecate 90% of Java SE (since it's open source, you can still use it if you like).

  • by Nerdposeur (910128) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @02:55PM (#27664915) Journal
    ...amateur astronomers have just spotted a flaming mass falling towards Skytone headquarters. Initial reports indicate that it is shaped like a chair.
  • not a netbook (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Lord Ender (156273) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @02:56PM (#27664929) Homepage

    MacOS, Linux, and Windows have enough apps that they can be considered full-blown operating systems. Android is absolutely not in the same league. It's closer to phone firmware than to PC operating systems.

    This is just a glorified phone, at least for now.

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Well at one point any of those OSes that mentioned had less features and functionality than Android does currently, where do you draw the line between OS and "glorified phone"?

      • Well, if you want something quantifiable (somewhat) I would say that there need to be mature applications which perform all of the top 100 or so functions a desktop computer user does. It may get there some day, but it's far from being there now.

      • by CAIMLAS (41445)

        MacOS came about when there was no such thing as a GUI. Microsoft's first OS came about when there was no really usable, readily available operating system for the hobbyist. For a decade or more, on into the 1990s, people paid hundreds of dollars to get a handful of moderately functional text editors, word processors, printer drivers, and various other software tidbits to create a 'computing environment'.

        Linux came along, as did the Internet, and changed all that: a movement of popular culture took place in

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Thornburg (264444)

      MacOS, Linux, and Windows have enough apps that they can be considered full-blown operating systems.

      So the iPhone is a full computer? It does run a version of MacOS, and it has tons of apps...

      What about Windows Mobile devices?

      I don't think either "number of apps" or "mac os/linux/windows" is the identifier for "computer" versus "appliance/phone/etc".

      Also, the need to draw a line between the two is rapidly disappearing.

      Welcome to the Great Convergance. AI controlled machines will take over the world and eliminate the human race in 3...2...

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Lord Ender (156273)

        Well if you want to have mobile phones and netbooks as separate categories, there must be a distinction. And my definition would be that netbooks have all the functionality one would expect from a desktop PC.

        Windows mobile and iPhone do not have anywhere near that functionality. Have you ever tried using the spreadsheet app on WM6? A toy.

        • by timbck2 (233967)

          Does the Alpha-680 have the capability to place and receive calls (and I'm not talking about Skype)? No? Then it's not a phone. Besides, I can't carry it in my pocket, and I don't want to hold that thing up to my head.

          There definitely is a distinction, and it's not that difficult to draw.

        • by Ambvai (1106941)
          I always thought that an item should be defined by its primary intended use (assuming that it's actually DESIGNED for its intended use...). A portable music player should be small and accessible; a mobile phone should make it easy to place calls, etc. This rather breaks down when looking at very multifunctional devices. (Netbooks would be simpler to operate [for the general user] than a laptop maybe?)
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Polumna (1141165)
          How about this for a distinction: I can't imagine trying to talk into a device with a 7" screen.

          Indeed, using a spreadsheet app is mostly a futility on WM6. I can speak from experience on that. Why? Because putting a spreadsheet on a 3" screen is ridiculous. Not because of anything else. My phone has multiple TIMES the processing power and memory of the first computer I used a spreadsheet app on. If I had a VGA output and a mouse input on my phone, there is no reason it couldn't run a port of Excel 97.
    • by Vexorian (959249)
      Actually, I think this is more of a netbook than most of those recent 600 USD power consuming-beasts running windows and with those noisy hard drives on them. A netbook != laptop with small screen for gawd's sake...
      • It looks like a slightly higher-spec'ed Alpha 400: AKA CnMBook, Elonex OneT, Trendtac, etc.

        I've had an Elonex OneT for a few months and it's fun. I can only imagine that this model will a little bit more capable. The ARM proc compares favourably to the MIPS SoC found in the Alpha 400 and the dedicated game pads are a good omen (the 400 can run Gameboy Color games in emulation).

        I'll be watching this one with interest.

    • by mjwx (966435)

      MacOS, Linux, and Windows have enough apps that they can be considered full-blown operating systems. Android is absolutely not in the same league. It's closer to phone firmware than to PC operating systems.

      This is just a glorified phone, at least for now.

      And that is a problem because...

      With the current HW trend towards low power, low cost, all in one hardware (netbooks) a cut down OS that can do everything the average person needs (read: Email, Messaging, web browsing) on a cheap (sub A$800) 6-8" t

  • Dell and HP must be cutting shit-bricks with their sphincters right now.
    Fortunately Google is a nice company that gives its employees great workspaces, so we'll all be happier when they take over every software and hardware related business right?
  • by oo7tushar (311912) <slash.@tushar.cx> on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @03:06PM (#27665095) Homepage

    I'm actually wanting one if it's around $100. It would be perfect for showing simple stats or doing very basic quick commands. Could even write a custom application quickly.

    I'm not anywhere close to disappointed by the specs as the author of the article is.

    • The specs look pretty good to me. I've been looking for something about this speed and cost for a while now. As long as it isn't locked to Android, and lets my do a full *NIX install then I'll probably get one.
      • by Rip Dick (1207150)
        I believe Skytone offers a nearly identical device with linux pre-installed.

        http://www.skytone.net.cn/en/products.php?bigclass=3&smallclass=10&show_type=2 [skytone.net.cn]

        • Ah, thanks. One thing I didn't notice was that it appears to be aimed at the US market exclusively. The fastest mobile connection that it supports that is widely deployed on this side of the pond is GPRS. It has no UMTS or HSPA, which limits it to around 4KB/s and 1-2 second latency; the same kind of throughput I got with the phone I stopped using four years ago. Shame - apart from that it looks nice. I want a small / cheap machine for working in the park this summer (assuming the weather stays relativ
  • by TheNarrator (200498) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @03:07PM (#27665103)

    Geez... The reviewer was criticizing this netbook saying that this thing was "low-end" and a glorified cellphone. Well I have no idea what kinds of cellphone you can get with a QWERTY keyboard, an RJ45 Jack, USB, 3G, Wifi an SD card slot and an 800x600 screen for $100.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by dreemernj (859414)
      I was thinking the same. And maybe I'm showing my age, but I know I can use a laptop very productively if it has up to 256MB RAM and 4 gigs of storage. It'll never be a powerhouse, but for $100 bucks I'd be happy with one.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      If it wasn't a toy, it would be running a real OS and not Android. Android is Linux for Hardware Dummies.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mweather (1089505)
      For the size, yiou could probably easily make a smartphone with those features. They're expensive because they're small.
      • by Zouden (232738)

        This is a smartphone. It's a netbook-sized smartphone, for $100. How is that not awesome?

        • by Zouden (232738)

          Correction: according to the Skytone website, it needs a USB dongle to get 3G access, which is a shame.

    • by fm6 (162816) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @03:51PM (#27665787) Homepage Journal

      The "reviewer" was the usual ignorant and opinionated "technology columnist". Saying stupid things is practically part of his job description.

    • by Ash-Fox (726320)

      The reviewer was criticizing this netbook saying that this thing was "low-end" and a glorified cellphone. Well I have no idea what kinds of cellphone you can get with a QWERTY keyboard, an RJ45 Jack, USB, 3G, Wifi an SD card slot and an 800x600 screen for $100.

      A Nokia E90 [wikipedia.org] can almost fulfil all these specs.

  • by pancakegeels (673199) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @03:08PM (#27665123)
    according to the reg http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/04/21/android_set_top_not/ [theregister.co.uk] If you are getting your hopes up...
    • by Anonymous Coward

      ... (posting anonymously for obvious reasons) the browser KreaTV is switching to is not Chrome.

      The KreaTV stack uses a browser engine as its default frontend (currently an old version of Gecko) and they're switching to WebCore and JavascriptCore. Sure, Chrome uses WebKit, but it's not the same thing.

  • Any info on the battery? ARM cpu could make for some impressive battery life, especially with that tiny screen.
  • This guy is dismissing the specs, calling it a Cellphone. Fine, call it that, but geesh, for $100, a smartphone with a 7" screen and full keyboard, that is one sweet phone. Sign me up right now!

    • but geesh, for $100, a smartphone with a 7" screen and full keyboard, that is one sweet phone. Sign me up right now!

      Is that $100 alone, or $100 with the purchase of a 2-year data plan at $720 per year?

  • I know the licensing for cable cards is stupid and companies aren't willing to pony up for it, and I know there's yet more talk about some new standard, but until more set-top boxes can handle them, they're getting to the point where they're not overly useful. I have three Tivo's, and being somewhat older models, they can't handle a cable card - so I can't use them with our HD FIOS. The Apple TV box (whatever it's called. AppleTV or something?) is the same thing. I'd love to get it to use as a DVR or whate
    • by swb (14022)

      So get a new Tivo. My S3 uses a dual-channel cable card without an issue.

      • by mattack2 (1165421)

        If you mean an M card, a Tivo Series 3 needs *two* cable cards, regardless of whether it's an S card or an M card, to be dual tuner. (With one cable card, S3s revert to single-tuner-ness, even if the other tuner could be recording an analog channel. That is, 0 cablecards = dual analog/ota digital recording. 1 cablecard = single recording at a time, 2 cablecards regardless of type == dual recording capability.)

        Tivo HD/HD XL will work with 2 S cards, or 1 M card, for dual recording functionality.

        • I support motorola cable boxes so I know a little bit about cable cards. The whole point of an MCard is that is supports two tuners. I don't own a tivo but I've heard 1 MCard lets you use both tuners. The motorola equivalent [motorola.com] only requires one MCard for it's two tuners. Perhaps when the installers visited you they gave you an older SCard instead. I wouldn't put it past them.

          • by mattack2 (1165421)

            Yes, I know that the intent of M-cards is that they provide multiple tuners.

            But for a Tivo Series 3 (only the ORIGINAL series 3, the one with the OLED screen -- Tivo HD variants are considered part of the same 'series' but are not relevant in this specific case), you need two cable cards, REGARDLESS of type S or M, for dual tuner use. It is a hardware and/or software problem in this specific Tivo. (Tivo employees have made it fairly clear that they aren't likely to fix this issue so that original series 3

        • by swb (14022)

          Where I live Comcast only give out M-cards (sorry, I forgot the name) since they are newer and work better (per the tech on site who had to "install" it).

          But with ONE M card I get dual channel recording, so your information is incorrect.

  • This set-top box have arms and legs?
  • I think these upcoming ARM based devices would be the thing
    to get a decent e-book reader which can be used for something
    else as well.

    I wish I had one of these few of months ago when I had to
    stay a couple of nights at a hospital. Xvids, e-books and mp3
    collection.

    This is what the netbooks should be: really cheap, small form
    and great battery life.

  • Ok, so you're probably going: "why would you put a phone OS on a PC, why not just go with a 'real' OS" I'm sure there are several reasons, but I quite like the idea what this would do for the OSes of phones, if people start using it on laptops they will at some point demand the same or similar software/performance of a genuine OS as much is possible, which I hope will be a big boost for the development of the OS which will benefit the phone OS since it will have more software ported to the OS/phone which w
  • Does it run Debian? Would make it even more useful.
  • Better and Prower ...from the website...

  • Is there anyone actually selling one of these netbooks? Or is it just vaporware?
  • Teaching tool (Score:2, Interesting)

    by oh2 (520684)
    A tablet like this one would be a very useful teaching tool. As a teacher I see many potential uses for it and with a low cost it might actually be able to pry loose the money for one per kid. oh, the possibilities. Its going to be a few interesting months ahead when the ARM netbooks start to appear...
  • by loudmax (243935)

    Some nice pictures of the device on the manufacturer's web site:
    http://www.skytone.net.cn/en/products.php?bigclass=4&smallclass=15&show_type=1 [skytone.net.cn]

    The SkyTone corporate picture at the top of the page has a road leading to a city... apparently straight toward the Manhattan's erstwhile World Trade Center.

  • Sold. If this thing is as advertised with "unlimited" internet, I'm buying one.
  • I'd pick this up simply because its a decent sized touch screen for a $100 bucks. Hacker and hobbiest paradise!
    • I read that as "boobiest paradise", which made me wonder where the touch-screen aspect came into the equation...oh, wait.

      I don't think it is a touch screen, though. :(

  • by Medievalist (16032) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @05:25PM (#27667233)

    He drove the price of a basic laptop down to $100 just like he said he would.

    What was it Ghandi said? First they mock you, then they fight you, then you win?

    • by Ash-Fox (726320)

      First they mock you, then they fight you, then you get murdered, then you win.

      Fixed that for Ghandi and you.

      • You're right; thanks! I'll return the favor:

        echo -e "HEAD / HTTP/1.1\nHost: slashdot.org\n\n" | nc slashdot.org 80 | grep ^X

        X-Powered-By: Slash 2.005001
        X-Hermes: Without my body, I'm a nobody.
        X-Varnish: 247810914 247810236 ;)

        • by Ash-Fox (726320)

          You're right; thanks! I'll return the favor:

          echo -e "HEAD / HTTP/1.1\nHost: slashdot.org\n\n" | nc slashdot.org 80 | grep ^X

          bash: nc: command not found

          • echo -e "HEAD / HTTP/1.1\nHost: slashdot.org\n\n" | nc slashdot.org 80 | grep ^X

            bash: nc: command not found

            Weird; did you rename netcat? [wikipedia.org] When Hobbit [techno-fandom.org] wrote it, the command was nc... I've never heard of someone renaming the executable image before.

            The following is from a Red Hat Enterprise 5 machine with all current patches:

            [medievalist@corelord ~]$ echo -e "HEAD / HTTP/1.1\nHost: slashdot.org\n\n" | nc slashdot.org 80 | grep ^X
            X-Powered-By: Slash 2.005001
            X-Bender: The laws of science be a harsh mistress.
            X-Varnish: 1312575435 1312574226

            This is from a very large HP-UX 11i machine:

            medievalist@pwcontrol ~ $ echo -e

  • Unless I'm missing a video posted elsewhere, the video in the article is not that of the Alpha-680 as the summary implies. You can clearly see the Intel logo during boot.
  • The article suggests it might have a touchscreen, while the specs say no such thing. Has anyone seen any evidence either way? At that price, it could be a flipping screen that's meant to be controlled with arrows/trackball
  • by Eccles (932) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @06:19PM (#27668047) Journal

    I want a car PC. GPS/Nav, ~7" screen, music, bluetooth for my cell, rear-view cam, voice recognition, browser if possible (at least if near Wi-Fi, ideally with 3G if my phone supports it), more. For $100, this might serve as a good basis for it.

    I'm not looking to compile code on it, play FPSes, etc., so the specs don't have to be impressive.

  • TFA states that Motorola has built the set top box for the Japanese. No further details that I care about are given or linked to.

    Intriguing and fine and good, but not being an Android guy, maybe somebuddy here can help me out: play DVDs and CDs - how?

    I'm in the US and use VLC on my Mac mini (pulls duty as a set top box, among other things), and damn the consequences - who's going to stop me?

    But what would a commercial, Android-based set top box use without violating whatever license(s) seem to the problem?

  • $100 bucks? Made in China? I love the Chinese people, but given these two facts, I give it a good 3 weeks before the hinge breaks off. Newsflash kids: You get what you pay for.
  • Am I the only one who can't seem to find the dimensions and weight in the specs?

    I mean, 7in screen tells something, but how hard is it to provide full dimensions?

  • I actually RTFA: the video on that link is showing a prototype called the "i-Buddie" which is running on Intel Atom. That's not the same thing as the Alpha 680 which the bulk of the article is discussing. Mind you, I don't expect the Alpha to boot any faster, although it might, since it's not just a prototype like the "i-Buddie".

    My question: is there a VGA output on the Alpha 680? If so, it would be a decent ultra-mobile device to use for slide-show presentations.

    Also: where does the author get the $100 pri

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