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.
ICS Runs Smoothly on Novo7
DocumentstoGo provides access to Word and other office documents, but this device would never pass muster in the enterprise. At the price, it’s not intended to.
Under the hood lies a 1GHz Ingenic Xburst CPU, a MIPS architecture chip that powers a lot of TVs. I’m relatively new to ICS, having used it only on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, but I can tell you it looks a lot like Honeycomb.
And so it does here on the Novo7, albeit without the Face Unlock capability and Android Beam, the near-field communication-enabled data-swapping feature, both of which are highlighted in the Samsung Galaxy Nexus smartphone.
Applications loaded with minor latency, 2 to 5 seconds depending on the application. This is not the AT&T HTC Jetstream, one of the snappiest tablets I’ve tested.
The tablet has a 2-megapixel rear-facing camera on the back, and only a 0.3MP VGA camera in the front. The pictures I took were subpar in quality to those from tablets with 5MP and 8MP shutters, but that’s to be expected. The camera was serviceable, overall.
The tablet, whose battery life is a pleasant 8 hours, also froze. I had to reset the device by taking a pin or something of its ilk and using it to press the recessed reset button. Yikes.
If you can overlook this amateur-hour issue, and the creaking syndrome, then you might warm to this device, whose software and processing power isn’t bad.
I can recommend it to anyone who is budget-conscious and wouldn’t think of buying a $499-plus iPad, and who was on the fence about whether a $199 Kindle Fire was to pricey.
And I actually have a great use for something like this. I want to teach my almost 2-year-old son to use a tablet early, but I don’t want him to trash my Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, which is a bit big and unwieldy for him.
The Novo7 proved a great little tool for Angry Birds, and Sean isn’t as picky about specs as his father is. This can be a great teaching tool/starter tablet for children. And that would make the Novo7 far more valuable than its $100 price tag.