Make Play Live is now selling a $75 module with the brains of a computer — and that’s exactly what the Improv is designed to be. You can theoretically slot the card into a laptop dock, tablet dock, or other device to turn it into a fully capable computer.
Or you can use it as a standalone device for a a headless system such as a server.
The board features a processor, RAM, storage, and other basic components. But you can pop it out and use it in other devices. That modular design lets you use a single Improv in multiple devices, or upgrade those devices by replacing the board when a new model is available.
The card features a 1 GHz Allwinner A20 ARM Cortex-A7 dual core processor with ARM Mali-400 graphics. It has 1GB of RAM, 4GB of storage, a micro HDMI port, micro USB port, Ethernet jack, and GPIO and UART pins.
The device ships with Mer OS, a light-weight Linux operating system based on the discontinued MeeGo OS, but it’s also been tested with Debian, Android, and Linaro. At this point open source graphics drivers for the Mali-400 GPU are still a work in progress, so don’t expect bleeding edge 3D or video performance.
Out of the box, the software boots to a command-line interface but you can also install X.org, Wayland, or another display server for a graphical user interface.
All of which is to say, the Improv is a device for folks who know there way around open source software and are looking for a platform to build their own devices. Eventually there may be devices designed around this type of hardware that help turn it into a more consumer-friendly device — Make Play Live is also working on a “Flying Squirrel” tablet which will use an EOMA-68 card as its brains.
Hardware add-ons such as a VGA adapter, keyboard kits and thin client hardware are a work in progress.