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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.