PengPod hoping to ship inexpensive Linux tablets with 7, 10 inch displays

It’s not that tough to get Linux up and running on a variety of ARM-based tablets, notebooks, or mini PCs. But PengPod founder Neal Peacock wants to go one step further and offer a line of tablets and mini PCs that ship with Linux instead of Google Android.

He’s running an Indiegogo campaign to raise money for the project.

Update: PengPod met its fundraising goal in early December, and then surpassed it by more than $10,000.

PengPod 1000

Peacock tells me he already has a source for the tablets and could start placing orders even without reaching the $49,000 crowd-funding goal. But while the devices are capable of handling Linux, they currently ship with Google Android and he’s trying to raise money to fund development of open source, Linux-based software.

PengPod hopes to sell three different devices, all powered by 1 GHz Allwinner A10 ARM Cortex-A8 processors:

PengPod 1000 Tablet

PengPod’s 10 inch tablet features a 1024 x 600 pixel display, 1 GB of RAM, 8GB of storage, 2 USB ports, 1 USB OTG port, HDMI, and a front-facing 0.3MP camera.

It has a microSD card slot and can dual boot two operating systems by running one from internal storage and a second OS from the SD card.

Backers who pledge $185 or more on Indiegogo can reserve this tablet… but if the project doesn’t meet its $49,000 goal, the order will be canceled.

PengPod 700 Tablet

This tablet has a 7 inch, 800 x 480 pixel display, a 1.3MP front-facing camera, and 1 USB OTG port. It also has 1GB of RAM and 8GB of storage.

pengpod 700

The smaller tablet has a battery that’s about half the size of the PengPod 1000′s battery — but the smaller scree probably won’t consume as much power.

PengPod is offering an early bird special on this model. The first 25 backers to pledge $99 or more can claim one. After that, the tablet will go for $120.

PengStick

PengPod is also offering a USB thumb drive-sized device called the PengStick which has 1GB of RAM, 4GB of storage, 1 USB port, a USB OTG port, HDMI output, and WiFi.

PengStick

If the PengStick (which goes for $85) looks familiar, that’s because it’s virtually identical to the MK802. The difference is that PengPod hopes to ship the PengStick with a fully functional Linux-based operating system as an alternative to Android.

Other devices

If PengPod exceeds its crowdfunding goals, the company could add other devices to the mix including a 10 inch netbook, another 7 inch tablet, and a different mini PC.

Android vs. Linux

PengPod plans to ship all the devices standard with Android, but make fully-functional Linux-based software available for those that want to dual boot from an SD card.

If you want a version with Linux pre-loaded on internal storage, you can pay $5 extra for that option. The Linux-only versions of the devices would ship a few weeks later than the Android models.

What’s with the crowdfunding?

While there’s already basic Linux support for devices with Allwinner A10 processors, it’s going to take a bit of elbow grease to hammer out some of the kinks on these particular devices.

Right now the camera isn’t fully supported, the hardware buttons don’t do much, and there’s no support for automatic screen rotation using the g-sensor.

It takes time and effort to get those sorts of features working… and time is money, so Peacock is basically trying to raise money so that the development doesn’t have to be solely a labor of love (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

I’ve seen some crowd-funded projects where the organizers are clearly trying to raise enough money just to place orders for tablets or other devices from Chinese manufacturers. This is a bit different. Peacock says even if he doesn’t meet his fundraising goal he would be able to get the tablets. But there wouldn’t be much to set them apart from anything else on the market. What he really wants to do is ship the first truly Linux-friendly tablets.

It’s not entirely clear what will happen if PengPod doesn’t raise $49,000 in the next few weeks. The tablet may eventually go on sale anyway, but orders and pre-orders would have to take place through a different channel — and it’s not clear how complete the Linux software would be.

Who’s this for?

Bear in mind, the Allwinner A10 is a decent processor… but it’s not exactly a speed demon. A big part of the appeal of this chipset is that there’s already decent support for open source, Linux-based software.

If you’re hoping for bleeding-edge performance, you’ll be disappointed. That said, the Allwinner A10 is a faster processor than the one you’d find in the Raspberry Pi computer… and that hasn’t stopped people from buying those.

Speedy performance clearly isn’t everything.

Just temper your expectations. If you plan to spend $100 to $200 on a Linux-based tablet like a PengPod, don’t expect it to run as well as Ubuntu, Debian, or Fedora on your desktop or laptop computer with an x86 processor.

On the other hand, if you want a tablet that can run full-fledged desktop apps such a Firefox or LibrOffice instead of mobile apps optimized for Android, a PengPod might be able to do that. It will also be able to support the KDE Plasma Active desktop environment designed for Linux-based tablets.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ichthysguy Jonathan Lee

    Android *is* Linux. It uses Linux just as much as any GNU/Linux distribution, just without the GNU. It’s hard to take articles like this seriously when they can’t even get the most basic facts right.

    • http://www.liliputing.com/ Brad Linder

      Android uses a Linux kernel, but that doesn’t mean you can run apps developed for Ubuntu, Fedora, Debian, etc on it. That’s because the OS is much more than a kernel.

      Yes, Android uses some Linux components, but so does the operating system on a TiVo. I don’t think that’s what most people are talking about when they speak about “running” Linux on a notebook, desktop, or tablet.

      • ldrn

        It isn’t what most people mean, but it is still true… you *can* compile the same terminal apps people use on Linux (non-X11 editions) and they *do* run. It’s just easier to do a chroot to a version of Linux with more things compiled already.

        Android doesn’t support X11 very well, or those same gui apps would even run.

        I like this project and what Pengpod is trying to do though. :)

      • http://www.liliputing.com/ Brad Linder

        Yeah… I try to walk a balance with this website between writing for a general audience and writing for geeks… I don’t always walk that line as well as I could :)

    • http://twitter.com/PengPod Neal Peacock

      This is really a marketing issue, we are trying to make it clear they run an X windows, desktop type distro with the Linux kernel as well as Android. Nothing is meant to denigrate Android, but inherently its pitched toward people for whom Android isn’t their first choice. There are already lots of options for you if you are perfectly happy with Android.

    • Zorg

      Well, Jonathan Lee, it’s hard to take YOU seriously when you can’t even get the most basic facts right. If you believe that Linux==Android, you are not in a good position to criticize Liliputing. Having purchased and used many tiny devices, my experience has convinced me that Liliputing is one of about two blogs I read regularly on such devices. Having also purchased far too many portable audio recording devices has convinced me that Brad Lindner is a terrific writer for the consumer audience like me.

    • Richard

      Android, at its core is a modified Linux kernel designed to run the Dalvik Virtual Machine (similar to the Java VM, except it is register based instead of stack based) and not really much else.

      You can’t just recompile apps for Android because the Android kernel doesn’t provide the core C run time libraries.
      Android provides the BIONIC library, which is a stripped down and cut down version of the C run time library. As well, you can’t just bung a copy of clib onto Android because it will conflict with BIONIC.

  • Zorg

    My understanding is that Microsoft extracts a payment for each Android device sold because of patents it holds. I have seen news articles specifying such agreements with Acer, Compal, HTC, Itronix, Onkyo, Quanta, Samsung, Velocity Micro, Viewsonic, Wistron, LG, and Huawei. Paying for Windows but not announced about Android: ZTE. Fighting Microsoft in court: Motorola Mobility and Barnes and Noble.

    My question is whether these tablets will involve such a fee. Microsoft has used the word Linux in some of the articles about the above agreements but I don’t know if that’s just lawyer talk or if the agreements specify Linux or whether Microsoft claims in court to be owed royalties on Linux in general.

    Some of the companies listed above are OEMs and some doubtless contract out some of their production to different Shenzhen factories, not all of which are transparent in their dealings and some of which could bundle a per-cpu payment to Microsoft into their selling price without Peacock’s knowledge. All this is to say that I recognize that Peacock may not be in a position to know whether a per-device payment is being extracted by Microsoft.

    It only makes a difference to me because it means that a fraction of every dollar spent on an Android device is used to try to destroy Linux. It seems more sustainable to me to try to purchase a Linux tablet that is not Android if Microsoft does not pursue royalties on non-Android devices. By sustainable, I mean that either more or fewer shipped-with-Linux devices will be available in the future. The “more shipped-with-Linux devices in future” scenario works better for me. So it makes sense that I would prefer a Linux device that does not require that I, in effect, make a small payment to a fund to destroy Linux.

    Please note that I am not “anti-Microsoft” but that I am simply a rational consumer acting in a marketplace where I like to make repeated purchases over the years. I have seen the court documents where Microsoft executives state explicitly that they have not “won” until every single developer has stopped working on the competition. Whether they throw 500,000USD at the Linux Foundation or not, I know that they remain an obstacle to my future purchase of shipped-with-Linux devices.

    This is important in the near term when I read posts like the one about Linux on the Nexus 7. Halfway through the post they admit that Bluetooth isn’t working yet. When I say I want a “shipped-with-Linux” tablet, I mean that I don’t want to read halfway through the post to find out that what is really happening is the reselling of a formerly-Android, already-Microsoft-taxed, and driver-deficient tablet.

    • http://twitter.com/PengPod Neal Peacock

      I think you are right, as consumers we must be conscious of how we are
      ‘voting with our dollars’ and make sure we are supporting the things we
      really want to prosper.

      The point you make is very interesting and one we had not considered. I think given the size of my supplier and where most of their tablets are sold they would not catch the attention of Microsoft, but who knows. I will talk to the manufacturer and see if they make any payments like this and if so try make sure we can avoid them.

  • Richard

    Doesn’t seem to be a new product – just a rebadging. Of course, they could all be based on the same hardware reference design.

    See a review of a similarly (identically?) spec’d tablet here:
    http://complete-concrete-concise.com/blog/review-of-the-lazer-7-mid7109-tablet

    Interestingly, their site (and your article images) show two different looking models:

    - the top image shows the camera in the corner and what looks like a home(?) button on the right edge (which looks like the one in the article linked above).

    - the second image, shows 3 buttons on the right edge (and if you look at their demo video, the camera is located in the centre of the top edge).

    I wonder if they are simply rebranding someone else’s product? Or did they just grab some generic tablets and used them as “mock ups” for their tablet (and funding pitch)?

    Regardless, the main problem is in Linux support for the A10 – it is still pretty sucky. Compared to the Raspberry Pi, all other ARM SoC look pretty sickly. Maybe the sucess of the Pi will encourage these manufacturers to open up their hardware specs so hobbiests can really get to work.

    (ok, so I am a little bit all over the place).