The tablet market is dominated by Apple’s iPad. There’s no way to argue with the numbers. There are some decent Android tablets available, namely the Nexus 7 and Nexus 10. Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 8.0 and 10.1 are right there, too. Consumers just don’t view Android tablets on the same level with the iPad, and with good reason. The glut of sub-$150 Android tablets on the market offer little in the way of quality and give consumers a bad taste for Android when they don’t perform well. Even Microsoft is struggling to gain traction with their Surface tablets. There’s a new player in the tablet space that hopes to offer a truly open-source option. This underdog is coming from a team called PengPod.
PengPod is a line of tablets that dual-boot Android and Linux. The tablets are designed by a team in Florida. All of the funding so far has been through Indiegogo. The hardware is manufactured in China and is powered by an Allwinner quad-core ARM-based processor. Last year, the PengPod team was able to raise more than $72,000 through an Indiegogo campaign for their first two tablet models. Those original tablets were going to come in 7 and 10-inch versions and be able to boot into Linux from an SD card. A small community sprang up around the devices, but there were issues with an overseas supplier and the models were discontinued.
The PengPod team decided to give it another shot. Led by Neal Peacock, PengPod launched a second Indiegogo campaign last month. This time they are focusing on a 9.7-inch tablet, the PengPod1040. The team has improved on the original design and made it easier to switch between multiple operating systems by booting from the 16 GB internal storage. They have done away with the need for a bootable SD card. The PengPod team says they have a new supplier in place and will be able to deliver these tablets by December to crowdfunders. The PengPod1040 can be yours for $249 or $294 (to cover shipping) if you’re outside of the US.
Eric Mack at CNET got his hands on a prototype version of the PengPod1040 and gave it a test drive for a few weeks. It comes with a 2048 x 1536 display that is equal to a Retina Display iPad, so the display looks really good. Overall, Mack says the hardware is solid. He seems to think that the unit has promise, but it’s not ready for prime-time. That makes sense considering that he had pre-production hardware, and the software that wasn’t fully integrated yet. WiFi connectivity was buggy. The ARM-compatible version of Linux that the PengPod runs, called Linaro, was not ready to ship to consumers yet either. When running Android, the 1040 was better but it was still slower than most tablets that are already available. Mack seems to think that these issues can be overcome, and I tend to agree. Swapping out the WiFi module and optimizing the software are easy things to fix. The question is, can this all be fixed before the December ship date? And will the larger consumer market be interested in a dual-boot Linux/Android tablet?
The PengPod1040 is aimed at open-source advocates and users that want to tinker with their devices. Neal Peacock says:
“We offer an open-source device free of restrictions and NSA tracking. This allows consumers to do what they please with our device, also known as a hacker-friendly device.”
The 1040 can run Ubuntu Touch, Fedora, ArchLinux, and OpenSUSE. It ships with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean and the PengPod team is working on updating it to Android 4.2. As much as I am interested in an open-source, DIY tablet with an amazing display, the average consumer doesn’t want to hack their device. The PengPod peaks my interest, but I would not pick one up for my wife or mother.
You can find the current PengPod Indiegogo campaign here. There are 5 days left for the campaign to hit its goal of $349,000. The team has released a promo video too, which you can view below. What do you think? Does the PengPod interest you? Can it make a splash in the tablet market?