World’s First Official ICS Tablet

World’s First Official ICS Tablet


News from Engadget about the Ainol Novo 7 Basic (or Knight Paladin, in some Chinese retailers parlance) coming to the US for approximately $119 didn’t make much of a splash so far. At the least, it was no more a splash than the news about this strange, very Chinese slate being chosen as the first official Ice Cream Sandwich tablet endorsed by Google’s Andy Rubin, of all people. Obviously there’s no big rush to get this device as a holiday present or something. But even if it were, there’s no vendor on US soil to get it in time — it doesn’t matter if it was really endorsed by Google, or maybe it was just a joke.

The Ainol Novo 7 Basic by its specs does actually look like a joke. First, with the US 7″ tablet market dominated by the Nook Color, Kindle Fire, and Nook Tablet with their 1024×600 IPS-class LCD displays bringing in an abysmal 800 x 480 TFT LCD 7-incher is a recipe for failure. Especially when adding just $20 worth of 1024 x 600 display to this Ainol could bring the tablet into more or less comparable state for competition.

Second, and a very peculiar feature of the Ainol Novo 7 Basic is that it’s based on a first non-ARM SoC: a MIPS32-based Xburst JZ4770 SoC by Beijing Ingenic Semiconductor company. Brushing aside issues of further fragmentation of the Android ecosystem, this chip has passed 24,000 tests of obligatory Compatibility Test Suite (CTS) needed to get Android certification back in June.
Ingenic’s JZ4770 SoC is quite interesting chip in any case, and preliminary specs for the one that is used in Ainol Novo 7 Basic can be found here.  Major highlights of these are:
— 65nm geometry process;
— embedded DSP (digital signal processor);
— Vivante GC860 GPU, a very good 3D performer;
— and a plethora of special features:

XBurst SIMD instruction set, 8-stage pipeline, 16/32-bit LP-DDR/DDR/DDR2 SD RAM interface, 8/16-bit SRAM interface, NOR Flash SLC/MLC/TLC NAND Flash interface, 4/8/12/16/20/24 bit ECC, SRAM interface, 12-ch DMA, 500MHz Xburst VPU, 1080p HD video decode, 444MHz Vivante GC860 GPU, OpenGL ES2.0 and ES1.0, OpenVG1.1, AC97/I2S/SPDIF, Audio Codec, LCD interface, LVDS, TV Encoder, EPD interface, 16.7MP camera interface, Touch ADC, 1-wire, PCM, I2C, SPI, UART, SIM-IF, SD/MMC/SDIO, USB Host, USB OTG 2.0, TS-IF, GPIO, Ethernet MAC, OTP Slave

The tablet itself looks like an ordinary cheap Chinese device of a 7-inch caliber. It sports 512 MB of RAM, 8 GB ROM, bezel buttons, 0.3 MP front camera, 2 MP rear camera, microSD slot, mini-USB port, 4000 mAh battery, HDMI 1.3 video out, but no Bluetooth, and no GPS. However, the presence of USB host may bring in the possibility of using a 3G USB dongle with the device. Attaching USB keyboard/mouse are also possible, maybe even some 2.5″ HDD enclosures with small power consumption.

So far, it is shipped not with the declared ICS 4.0.3, but with some quirky beta of ICS 4.0.1. That is, if you’re lucky: the tablet at a Chinese online store is advertised as Honeycomb 3.2 device. Android CTS certification notwithstanding, list of working apps from the Google’s Market (pre-installed) is quite short. Obviously, one thing is certification, the other thing is a real-life implementation.
Ainol is rumored to build 8 and 9 inch variants of this tablet. There’s also an ongoing confusion of the Ainol Novo 7 Basic (or Knight Paladin) with the quite different Ainol Novo 7 Advanced tablet that is based on an ARM chip and costs about $20 more. Then, there are Ainol Novo 7 Super tablets with an IPS screen, but it’s again, not our hero blessed by Andy Rubin. Re-brands can also follow shortly: endorsing one device in China practically guarantees millions of copycats peddling their products on that chip.
A slowly growing community of early users of the Ainol Novo 7 Basic can be found on TabletRepublic’s forum, so if you decided, against all my warnings, to get yourself this device, you probably may want to ask a question or two from these pioneers first.