Monday, April 27, 2009


AN ALL-NEW ALPHA -- IT'S Android! -- World's first. And it's under $250

One hopes this new Alpha will be picked up the by major wireless service providers like AT&T and Verizon as a giveaway to promote their services. It is certainly a coup for the Alpha's manufacturer to be the first to offer a cheap Android mini-laptop (some will call it a netbook) and gives them a good shot at the mass market via AT&T, etc. (All of this is while we wait for $100 laptops sold on pegboards at CVS and Walgreens -- the real goal.)

See it at manufacturer's website:

This is big, after about 3 months of slow news: The first computer based on the Android operating system will be an Alpha from Guangzhou Skytone Transmission Technologies Co., the actual maker of most if not all of the Alpha 400s we are blogging about. It will be called the Alpha 680. The meaning of "680" is unclear, since the speed is speced at 533 MHz rather than 680 MHz. The prototype will be out in June 2009 and the Alpha will be on the market in August.

Contact Ian Wu at Skytone.

The Android is an open-source OS developed by Google and later the Open Handset Alliance (cellphone manufacturers) based on the Linux kernal. Netbooks based on it have been eagerly and widely awaited -- so, again, this is important.

An Alpha apparently will be the first. And it is basically all-Chinese -- again a serious omen. Think about it: all-Chinese.

Like the Apple iPhone and many other smartphones, the Alpha 680 uses an ARM processor, which is much cheaper than the Intel Atom CPU used in so-called netbooks, which range mostly from $300-$600.

The processor will be Chinese made -- an important trend in the world of computers -- and an ARM 11 type probably from Ingenics. This is really an almost all-Chinese effort (except for the OS): the CPU (probably Ingenic), factory, and even the brand owner Skytone are all Chinese.

The mainstream computer publication Computer World says that some computer industry analysts think that the combination of an ARM processor and Android OS could open an era of sub-$200 netbooks.

These people routinely fail to mention the Alpha 400, which already sells for $169 or less. Also, the Razorbook Model 3K-RZ400-4GB-WIN model -- with an ARM Ingenic 400MHz processor, 7" 800x480 widescreen LCD, 128MB RAM, 4GB Solid-State Disk (SSD) drive, 802.11b/g -- already is available for $147.99. The press misses these things routinely.

The specs of the Alpha 680 Android mini-laptop are: 7-inches, 800 x 480 LCD. 128 MB RAM, 1 GB SSD storage, Wi-Fi, and full applications software (word processor, PDF viewer, etc. -- not just a "netbook" for the Internet). The system is about the same size and weight as the Alpha 400. Battery time: 4 hours.

See here:


  1. Well, better Android than WinCE, but you can already get a 7" laptop with Linux for under $250, even with an Intel processor, double the storage and 4 times as much RAM as this. It's called the Eee 2G Surf.

    In my opinion, prices on newly-introduced netbook models are going to stay at $200 or above until Skytone gets some competition from other ARM-based laptop makers, maybe one or more portable DVD makers looking to branch out. I would bet the Eee 2G will be the first to hit $100... but it'll be a used model on ebay, where the going rate for them is already below $150.

    It's hilarious to me that people still ridicule netbooks (proper netbooks, not slightly smaller notebooks for $400 and up) for not being able to do anything when many people I know use their more expensive PCs for nothing more than a music player, viewing or printing the occasional Word document (Abiword or even Google Docs will be enough for many users), Facebook and other social websites, and instant messaging. Flash is important for web based videos and games, and some use Skype as well, but both Flash and Skype have already been ported to Linux on ARM. The Alpha 400 would have been insufficient for these people because of its lousy Flash support, but a 2G Surf or this Android thing (which even has a built-in webcam) should be fine.

    As much of a threat as netbooks are to the companies who've made their fortunes on Wintel, an equal threat is the rise of smartphones. People with iPhones, Android-based phones and soon the Palm Pre can use just about any web-based app they want to from wherever they want to. You can get an iPod Touch for about $180 which does all the same stuff on a Wifi connection. For less-technical users, a regular phone with a QWERTY keyboard can even be enough, as is the case with a woman I know who uses an LG Lotus to access Facebook and instant messaging programs to stay connected, but has no PC at all. Netbooks are aimed at the 50% of the developed world and far greater percentage of the developing world who can't justify the expense and don't need the speed of a full-sized PC, but need something more than a phone. They're like WebTV was 15 years ago, but more portable and with less hassle and no monthly fee. Whether or not they ever take off in America and Europe, it seems inevitable to me that they'll work in South America, Asia and Africa.

    I don't think Microsoft and Intel (or for that matter Apple or AMD) really have a workable strategy for stemming that tide, just lots of mechanisms to slow its progress in developed countries.

  2. Thank you for a very thoughtful post.

    1. Bust Wintel: To bust Wintelism (high prices) we need to bust down the floor on prices. The lowest possible price on something -- anything -- with a keyboard and screen that can be used as a computer is all I am looking for. I don't care how crappy or underpowered Engadget or Laptop Mag thinks it is: It Will Drive Down All PC and Laptop Prices, even Apples. It will even if its a "toy" on a bubblepack card.

    I am talking new prices. A notebook that sells for $100 new will sell for much less used. So let's shoot for $100, new, now.

    2. Many Brands: As you noted, competition is key. We need to see 30 or more brands all shooting for $100 and under, and I think it is just a matter of time before the Chinese and Asians will do this.

    3. Offbeat Outlets, Ubiquity: And the really cheap computers need to be seen. That is why Skytone has sold only 100,000-200,000 Alpha 400s. They don't know how to market this; Coby does. The masses will have to see them to buy them. Getting these in drug stores, department stores, hardwares, etc. -- not just the Walmarts, Buy Buys, and the like -- is a must.

  3. They have really introduced great alpha laptops.