Attack of the $99 Droid-Pads

A 7-inch, underpowered Android tablet that may or may not be available at your corner Walgreen Drug Store is made some big waves today.  It’s underpowered, but it’s supposedly on sale for 99 bucks. Regular retail price is $129.

Yes, for 99 bucks, it’s a toy. But it could be a fun toy.

Can’t make it to Walgreens? Head over to Dealextreme.com and search on “android tablet.” You’ll find a number of similar devices.

Reviews on Walgreens.com suggest it has some undocumented capability like a camera. What I do see is that it has USB, an RJ-45 Ethernet connector, and 802.11b/g wireless on board. The specs on the CPU are conflicting. I’ve seen it quoted as 400, 533, or 800 MHz. It’s obviously a better bargain at 800 MHz than at 400. I suspect the CPU is rated for 800 MHz, and down-clocked to some lower speed to improve battery life. It has 256 MB of RAM.

It’s Android, so it’s Linux. You can run Android apps on it. You can root it and compile Linux apps on it. If I had one, I’d be inclined to connect a keyboard, plug it into my network, and try it out as a tiny, low-power server. By virtue of having a display and the ability to connect a keyboard right to it, it would be nicer than hacking a Pogoplug.

Or, you can essentially leave it alone, and use it as a cheap e-book reader that can do other things, up to and including web access, in a pinch. And any Android app that can run on the archaic Android 1.6 will run, so you can play simple games on it and use it like a PDA.

I wouldn’t necessarily want to hand one over to my two-year-old, but when he got a bit older, something like this would have lots of potential for keeping him occupied.

They’re toys, but in some ways, so was the Commodore 64 in its day. But it could still be useful, and it was a whole lot of fun.

Dealextreme also has some netbooks running Windows CE on ARM. I’ve also heard of those being sold in drugstores and other places as impulse purchases. All of the ones I’ve seen run Windows CE though. If you could put Linux on them–efforts appear to be under way to get Debian running on them–they could be interesting devices to play with too. As they stand, they’re basically PocketPCs (think HP iPAQ or Dell Axim) with a bigger screen and a mini-keyboard. That doesn’t really get me excited. But if I could run something other than Windows CE on it, I could probably think of uses for it.

I’m sure some available inventory will be bought by people who don’t really know what these are or what they want to do with them. Many will probably be snapped up by experimenters. But I don’t think this is the last we’ve seen of these. Not at all. They’ll be even better in a year or two when it’s feasible to put dual-core Snapdragon CPUs in them.

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