Ice Cream Sandwich Novo7 Tablet Is Budget-Friendly

MIPS made the world's first known Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich tablet, which it will sell in the U.S. for $100 this year. It's targeted at cost-conscious media users.

MIPS Technologies had reason to be proud when earlier this month after it launched the world's first tablet computer to run Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. Indeed, even at the 2012 International Consumer Electronics Show this past week, it was hard to find ICS running on many tablets.

I saw the latest OS on the Intel Atom-based Lenovo IdeaTab K210 beta machine, which doesn't have a launch date. Velocity Micro was supposed to have its 7-inch Cruz Tablet T507 and 9.7-inch Cruz Tablet T510 at CES, but they weren't ready for display.

The MIPS Ainovo Novo7 Basic tablet, which you can see in pictures here, is available in China, but won't be on the shelves in the United States for a few months. That's good, because even at the bargain cost of $100-repeat, $100-the Novo7 could use some work. But I'm not sure the fix is possible without investing more cash in the machine.

If the Novo7 were a premium tablet, it would be easy to dismiss MIPS as a company that rushed a product to market without careful planning. But as the name of the 7-inch gadget implies, the "Basic" slate is, well, basic. The price fits.

The Novo7 is shorter than 7-inch tablets like the bargain-level Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) Kindle Fire or the premium Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus. The Novo7 weighs only 0.78 of a pound, and is only 7.4 inches long, 4.4 inches wide and less than a half-inch thick. As portability goes, it's top flight.

It's got a middling 800-by-480 resolution LCD display (16:9 aspect ratio) at a time when other Android tablets like it offer as much as 1,280-by-800 resolution. Just a look at the screen, which was often grainy, showed the difference between basic and premium.

The device is encased in a cheap, white plastic that feels brittle, to say the least. When you hold it in your hand, and put any pressure on the screen, you can feel it creaking against the plastic, as if it's a screen door that whines when you close it.

This is off-putting, but remember, this is a bargain tablet. In landscape mode, the power button is an easy-to-access round button on the top right, next to the volume keys.

MIPS was smart not to recess the keys, which I hate in devices. Interestingly, MIPS included volume keys on the tablet's screen as well, running along the right of the screen, above the settings, home and back buttons. The device also has 8GB of internal storage, a headphone port, a MicroSD expansion slot for up to 16GB, a High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) video port and a USB 2.0 port.

MIPS did not provide access to Google's Android Market, or Google Mobile services, so you can't connect the tablet to a Google account. I pretty much had to log into every Web application that has an identity tethered to it.

The review unit I received did come preloaded with YouTube, Pandora, Facebook, Amazon Kindle and several games, such as Rovo Mobile's Angry Birds, Spider Man HD from Gameloft and TurboFly from Osaris.