A new tablet called the Spark is on the way. At first glance it looks like most of the cheap Chinese tablets we’ve seen in the past few years, but the Spark won’t run Google Android. Instead it will run an open source Linux-based operating system with the KDE Plasma Active interface running on top.

Spark Tablet

KDE Plasma Active team member Aaron Seigo unveiled the tablet on his website this weekend. It features a 1 GHz AMLogic CPU with Mali 400 graphics and a 7 inch capacitive multitouch display. The tablet has 512MB of RAM, 4GB of storage and a microSD card slot.

The Spark is expected to ship “soon” and it will sell for about €200, or just under $265 US.

Update: The Spark is expected to ship in May, 2012. Pre-orders will begin in early February.

It’s certainly not the most powerful tablet to hit the scene. We’ve seen plenty of devices with more memory or storage or faster processors. But the tablet’s software is what sets it apart.

While Google tends to release the source code for most new versions of Android, the software is developed behind closed doors and released to the public only after Google decides it’s ready. Google doesn’t accept community contributions to the code and the company didn’t release the source for Android 3.0 until Android 4.0 was already ready to go.

KDE Plasma Active is a community driven free software platform. For folks that aren’t interested in developing software, the development team is working to make the tablet as usable as possible. There will be a content store that allows users to download free or paid apps as well as digital books from Project Gutenberg.

Primarily though, I expect the Spark tablet and future devices based on this platform to appeal primarily to open source and free software enthusiasts — at least initially.

The Plasma Active development team has been working on tablet-friendly software for a while. We got a first look at a touch-friendly version of the software last April, and by October the team was showing off a pretty functional demo of Plasma Active on tablet hardware.

Thanks DDevine!

Update: Post updated to reflect the fact that Google did release the source code for Android 3.0, but not until Android 4.0 was also available.

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26 replies on “$265 Spark tablet runs Plasma Active Linux software”

  1. Hey Brad.

    I switched to Linux in part thanks to you.
    I ended up buying a Dell Mini 9 that came with Ubuntu 8.
    Problem was it was so ugly that my wife called it depressing.
    Luckily, my neighbours son knows about Linux and told me I had a choice of desktops.

    3 years later, we run 4 computers-laptops on Linux at home and Ive installed KDE based Linux on the computers of my parents, inlaws and two aunts. Im a Linux geek now!!

    To each his own, so I wont badmouth other desktop environments, I like vanilla and you mght chocolate, so these are personal choices and not a right or wrong thing.

    But coming from the Windows world, KDE has made the jump to Linux much smoother.

    I really have no need for tablets (tried fora few weeks, and it didnt beat the netbook for my uses) but I just might be convinced at 250$ instead of buying another netbook.

  2. 512meg of ram is very low… why not 1G..surely a few buck of difference

      1. 256MB and 512MB respectively… 1GB for ARM devices is relatively new and is mainly to improve multi-tasking and running multiple apps without having to manage apps and turn anything not being used off to save memory for the present running app.

        It’s mainly that ARM chips are finally getting powerful enough to start running desktop OS options with the upcoming next gen chips that there’s a push for up to 2GB of RAM.

        ARM chips though are still 32bit and aside from employing some 64bit memory management to boost performance they won’t have a true 64bit solution for a couple more years and it may be over a decade before it becomes common like it has on x86 hardware.  So unlikely you’ll ever see more than 2-4 GB on a ARM system till then.

  3. So… who’s going to develop apps for this OS? Are we going to be able to put Android apps on it like BlackBerry OS?

    1. Just look up “Linux” for what will be running on this system and who will be developing for it, Plasma is just the custom UI.

      While yes, there are ways to run Android apps on Linux but given the hardware it’ll probably be better to dual boot.

  4. Hardware looks like the Zenithink ZT280-C71. n.b. the Mali 400 GPU is scheduled to have a proof-of-concept Free driver released at FOSDEM next week.

    1. Ipad 1 had 256mb ram, ipad 2 has 512mb. As for the storage there is an SD card slot.

      1. Running a mobile OS doesn’t require as much resources as running a desktop OS.  Though 512MB should be enough for a light weight version of Linux.

  5. From my experience of cheap China tablets the amlogic chips only run at 533mhz per core, yet are quoted as 1ghz. I think this oem tablet I’ve seen running android a little sluggish.

  6. Google did release the source code for 3.0 (honeycomb), it was released at the same time as Ice Cream Sandwich’s source code. Do some research before writing things like that 😛

    1. Right… that slipped my mind. I should have said they didn’t release it until it was obsolete… 
      The point being that they’re under no obligation to ever release the source and Honeycomb is a good example of an OS that was on the market for most of the year while the source code was unavailable. 

      I’ll update the post though. 

      1.  That’s what most of us saw coming when they announced it was under the Apache license (same thing HP’s doing for WebOS).

        They can withhold the source as and when they see fit.

        1. To be fair, the fact that Google has released as much source code as it has already sets the company pretty far apart from Apple or Microsoft — and the truth is that most users probably don’t care much anyway.

          But for those that *do* care, the Spark tablet will use not only free and open source software, but a community-driven release that doesn’t rely on a single company for development.

      2. Obsolete? dunno. It is the basis for ICS, after all. It is just that now we have a single set of code for all Android devices rather then juggling two brances. Hell, i think there was some video that showed Honeycomb falling back to the 2.x interface when small physical screen was set. Now however the interface stays largely the same across all devices. Flip a ICS tablet into protrait and it will look pretty much like a ICS phone.

  7. I’ll wait and see, but KDE on 512MB ram sounds cramped unless a lot of work has gone into putting it on a serious diet.

    1. This is not full blown KDE4 it is a tablet specific version so I expect it to be fine.

    2. Well on the N8x0 people have played with both swap to SD and swap to compressed ram with good results, so i suspect lessons learned will be applied to this tablet.

    3. Cramped?
      Damn! I knew that ipad2 with its 512mb ram was totally useless.

      Its a good thing you warned the world.

  8. When they say “learns your usage patterns”, I sure hope they aren’t employing KDE’s Nepomuk. That thing’s a resource hog!!

    1.  Nepomuk has become orders of magnitude lighter, due in large part because they needed it for mobile devices.

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