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Archive for September, 2010

That’s what I call Linux mobility: Smart Book from Always Innovating

September 17, 2010 3 comments

Always Innovating has recently introduced its latest creation, the Smart Book. See the Slashgear article here and the product page here about this brilliant device.

The Smart Book is an ultra-modular, ultra-mobile computing device, which integrates an IP phone, a tablet and a netbook into one, Linux based machine. Although, there is not enough information (yet) about the exact nature/working of the hardware/software components, the modularity of the device is stunning.

As the basis, you have a MID / IP phone unit which houses a Texas Instruments Cortex-A8 (likely an OMAP3) SOC with a powerful graphics core and 512 Mb of RAM. This is the computing core of the whole set. It has microSD slot for extra storage and a 1500 mAh battery. You may use this for quick email checking and limited web-browsing if you want to carry only a very small device with you.

When the need arises, the MID can be inserted into a tablet “jacket”. This provides an 8.9″screen and an extra 6000 mAh battery for the computing core (the IP phone). You can use the tablet for comfortable browsing/email reading/book reading and you can still accept phone calls with a bluetooth headset.

If you need to do some serious typing (or run out of the battery of both the tablet and phone-core), you can dock the tablet into a stand with a keyboard which makes the device a proper netbook/laptop and gives you an extra 12000 (!!!) mAh battery capacity. When this happens, you may switch the computing core to a full Ubuntu Linux from the Android you used on the MID. This is done with a dedicated hardware button (called the AI button).

The battery life is not yet known, but if the battery capacity figures are real, it should be brutal. Some assumptions for the web browsing activity on wifi:

  • 3-4 hours for the MID alone (1500 mAh)
  • 10-14 hours for the tablet set (1500 + 6000 mAh)
  • 20-34 hours for the netbook set (1500 + 6000 + 12000 mAh)

Some other goodies:

  • One of the cases (tablet or the stand) can house a USB key so it won’t protrude from the device and you can safely ship it, always inserted into the device, removing only when you need to stick it into an other computer.
  • The tablet can be used as a secondary display for an arbitrary computer which has a USB port (by DisplayLink technology)
  • The MID has an HDMI out so it can directly connect to a TV
  • You get a USB-HDMI converter in the pack which can be used independently (e.g. connecting an arbitrary computer with no HDMI out (only USB) to a TV). This also uses DisplayLink at its heart. The converter unit can be inserted into the dock (like the USBkey) so you will not loose it.
  • The keyboard dock can be used as a bluetooth keyboard with any arbitrary computer, not only with the tablet/MID combo.

The modular sales method is also well thought-out. You don’t need to buy the whole device in one go for $549. You can buy it one-by-one, $199 a piece.

My grievances with the machine:

1) The seeming lack of computing power. I would like to have at least dual-core Cortex-A9 SOC with 1Gb of RAM. I perfectly understand the design reasons leading to the single computing core solution (only this can result in an affordable price for the whole system) but I still think that the OMAP3 core is not enough for netbook-strength applications like OpenOffice and Firefox and the 512Mb of RAM is very much on the borderline for a Ubuntu Gnome desktop. If this machine had some Tegra2-level processing guts and more memory, I would shout “Ipad killer” and try to register a pre-order entry (which is already available, by the way).

2) The MID should be a real mobile phone with a sufficiently powerful HSPA modem, phone buttons and it should run a phone oriented GUI of Android. This would make the whole idea a one-stop solution for most of the mobile computing needs of the average people (including myself). I hope AI will soon create a version which has a real phone as the core of the Smart Book set.

That said, I believe the concept is brilliant and Always Innovating may very well have created a good implementation which will be successful on the market.

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