Pandora highlights the evolution of the smartphone platform.

Posted on 21 May 2008 by

The pricing game in the cheap notebook category getting rather silly. I’m seeing a lot of ‘tricks’ being used that will make it very difficult for consumers to sort the wheat from the chaff. The low-end Alpha 400 from Bestlink, a RISC-based Eee-a-like is another example. I’m not going to spend any time reporting details of the device (see LinuxDevices for that) or discuss whether it’s a good choice or not but I will report exactly what came into my mind when I read the news about it. Devices like these are nothing much more than smartphones running Linux and placed in notebook casings. I sound very negative when saying that but it shouldn’t be taken that way because while current solutions don’t provide enough oomph to give most users a serious alternative to a full notebook PC, they do show that we are moving to a point where the smartphone could be the only processing device you need. The idea of a smartphone running inside a notebook form factor really is a trick that needs to be observed. [Analysis after the break.]

redflyNokia never stops talking about the evolution of the mobile phone into the computer, Celio Redfly is a product based on the same principle (image right,) and for many people in developing countries, the mobile phone is the only computer they use. One of the first UMPCs, the Pepper Pad was based on the same CPU that you will now find in the HTC Advantage and the Sharp Zaurus followed the same idea. Enthusiasts have been running Linux on PocketPCs and other low-cost ARM architectures for years and you’ll find it all over the place in industrial scenarios so why isn’t it happening in the consumer world? Why are we seeing device like the Alpha 400 appearing and yet many of us walk around with devices in our pockets that would require just a keyboard, screen and extended battery to enable them as similar, general computing devices.

The answer lies in the software and in the processing power. General purpose operating systems like Windows Mobile and S60 don’t provide the easy hooks that allow other devices to extend the screen and input experience yet. Celio achieves some success by using in-house developed drivers for Windows Mobile but it needs to be built in to the operating system for it to enable this modular approach for the mass market. It’s being worked on though. Nokia have already shown some wireless remote screen technology and I feel sure that the complete remote screen and input support will be something we’ll see in the next generation of mobile operating systems. Linux is already well-equipped for this scenario. As for processing power, the current generation of smartphone platforms are still under-powered for most people but that will also change soon.

Cortex A8 cores are just around the corner. This ARM-developed architecture is being used by licensees such as Qualcomm (Scorpion platform) and Ti (OMAP 3430 platform) to make mobile devices that are targeting exactly the mobile computing market that Intel is aiming for with Atom. The Pandora open-source mobile computing development is based on a Cortex A8 CPU (as is being used in Android mobile phone platforms) and the PowerVR graphics solutions (as is used by Intel in their Poulsbo graphics engine) and is an early example of what can be done. It’s promoted as “by far the most powerful handheld in the world both in terms of raw CPU power and 3D graphics.” [ref]

pandora

Its only slightly larger than a Nintendo DS and its got specifications that make every pocketable PC fan sit up and take note. Granted, the style-factor is somewhat ‘raw’ in this redering but this is one of the first Cortex A8 based devices [product brief PDF] that you can find public information on right now and it gives you an idea of how a leading edge ARM-based device could perform. At a similar cost to that Alpha 400!

It is designed as an ultra portable open source computer with gaming controls, it is very small, around about the same size as a DS. It can easily fit in your pocket. It is by far the most powerful handheld in the world both in terms of raw CPU power and 3D graphics capability, it will be able to handle things such as Firefox3 or Quake3 with ease. Around 10+ Hours battery life. [http://openpandora.org/]

I really like Pandora as a device in it’s own right as it appears to satisfy most of my portable device requirements. In theory it should be able to return a Firefox experience that’s as fast as a low-end MID with Internet page load times being an estimated 30-50% quicker [my estimation] than on high-end smartphones. The application and UI development appears to have a long way to go (development systems are only just going out the door now) and that’s a problem that needs to be overcome but ignore my desires for Pandora for a minute and take a wider view on this. Take this architecture, put it in a mobile phone form factor and drop the Android OS, app and GUI suite on top, link-in the necessary online storage and content components, add the docking port (USB? Wireless USB?) and software hooks to a sub $200 X terminal Eee-PC style device that contains a larger battery and you have exactly that modular mobile PC. Smartphone-to-PC.

It’s not only ARM that are moving towards closing the gap between PCs and smartphones. Intel are driving in the PC-to-smartphone direction and headed towards the same target. The Atom/Moblin platform has the ultimate aim of being the core of your smartphone and although it looks like its one year behind ARM in being able to reach the Smartphone/PC intersection, Intel is obviously serious about getting there as quickly as possible.

We’re still a number of months away from any sort of reality from any platform yet but can anyone deny that there’s a compelling case for the phone being the core part of a modular PC somewhere down the line?

Latest: As I finish writing the article and take a break to read some feeds I see this: Toshiba have just licensed the ARM Cortex A9 core. ARM states that its ‘ideal for smartphones, and MIDs.’ Press release. ARM’s Mobile Internet Device info.

Post+9hrs: PCPro posted an article a few weeks ago that clearly highlights ARM’s stance. Power, price and performance. I’ve also just read an interesting ARM vs Intel technical article by Jon Stokes of ars technica.

The Pandora device is now detailed in the database.

Latest products in our mobile pc database.

22 Comments For This Post

  1. Marc says:

    The Pandora looks great, although most development on it is going towards gaming and emulation of old gaming platforms as it comes from a line of open platform gaming devices that the hacking community loved.

    I hope they do spend time on the browser front as it could be a nice little all round device (although the spec does lack bluetooth which makes tethering to a phone harder).

    Initial reports on the dev consoles is that whilst it is being sold rated at 600Mhz they run happily at 900Mhz!

    Anyway, I’m very much looking forward to this and can see me putting down another stack of cash to get an early unit…

  2. turn.self.off says:

    nice article.

    i must admit, when i see article after article about the “full internet experience” i start to wonder if someone have sold out to wintel.

    but then articles like these pop up, reminding me that there is still attention being paid to the whole spectrum of mobile computing devices.

    i know that the main focus is on umpc’s, and these days they are made using intel and microsoft products. but still, its nice to be reminded ever so often that there are alternatives out there.

  3. chippy says:

    TSO. I’m watching all angles for my ideal device!
    Chippy

  4. turn.self.off says:

    heh, i should try to remember that. even if that ideal device, may be just that. some things just cant be turned into anything more then a dream and some design sketches, sadly…

  5. Will says:

    I think in the future, connectivity between your phone and PC will be easier and more extensive but I don’t think it will become an essential “module” of your PC (like the Redfly).

    Soon, sharing data between your phone and PC will become seamless by using an intelligent syncing scheme or by storing data in the “cloud”.

    On a different note, it seems like most members on InternetTabletBlog are confident that the next Nokia Internet tablet will be using an OMAP3 SoC which should give it at least a 3x boost in processing power.

    Qualcomm are also expecting several devices to be released before the end of the year based on their Snapdragon SoC. Based on current info, the Scorpion core on the Snapdragon should be as fast as the Cortex-A8 core but use even less power!

    With HTC using so many Qualcomm SoC (and fewer TI units), Snapdragon would be perfect in the next version of the HTC Advantage.

  6. icura says:

    Thankyou chippy. This was a great report. I’m a little concerned of the Pandora as a MID based on it’s memory of only 128MB. After a linux distro, a instant messenger program, firefox3 and a few other bits and peices, I can see the memory become very limited.

    For me, this is a perfect gaming device, because I am a gamer. It should replace my GP2X, which is great, and allow me to wifi into a hotspot to IM and firefox when my UMPC is not with me or I’m too lazy to boot it up.

    Another awful smartphone chip in a laptop form factor is the newest dreambook. (With ARM CPU at 400-533MHz) with no details, so we can assume the standard samsung ARM9.

    http://www.pioneercomputers.com.au/products/info.asp?c1=3&c2=12&id=2580

  7. turn.self.off says:

    one thing, intelligent sync isnt…

  8. ssagg says:

    Interesting device (The Dreambook from pioneer) it has covered almost all the UMPC spectrum (see the UMPC’s link into the main page).
    Anyway: what is “MS Windows Compact Edition operating system”?

  9. TareX says:

    Pandora is great. Even though getting a small UMPC (loaded with roms and emulators, obviously) with a Dual Shock gamepad USB sounds like a much better option.

    Sure it’s more expensive, but you’ll be owning a UMPC, AND not compromising any gameplay controls.

  10. TareX says:

    In addition to that, you’ll be playing full PC games. RTS games for instance, were made to be played on a touchscreen.

  11. turn.self.off says:

    question is, can the pandora pull of the 10+ claim when it comes to gaming? if so, good luck doing that on a umpc ;)

    also, maybe im old and its my “old days where always better” mentality that kicks in, but i find that older games, while simpler, are more playable. iirc the number of media artists in a game development crew have gone up 10 times or more since the early days, but the number of programmers have stayed relatively stable.

    its not without reason that the only thing that can match vista in install size are games…

  12. turn.self.off says:

    btw, is it me or are that way to many no-name eeepc clones out there? it seems they are coming out of china like some “red horde” ;)

  13. TareX says:

    Nothing can be better than playing an RTS game on a touchscreen UMPC. This is where I will invest my money; a high-end touchscreen tablet UMPC.

    Having SNES/GBA emulators would be a great plus of course. Which is why I guess the Pandora should only be considered if money is the only issue (i.e. for your kid!) :)

  14. icura says:

    That Craigix guy is a bit of a salesman. He said 10 to 100 hours. That’s 100 hours in mp3 mode and 10 hours gaming.

    I wouldn’t trust it entirely, but the Pandora has the remarkable ability to turn off unused components and underclock the GPU and GPU. When it is is MP3 mode, I’m assuming the CPU is nearly off with the DSP downclocked from the 400 or so MHz. LCD and others off and assuming you’re no listening from a USB.

    For gaming, who knows the criteria. 10 hours could be downclocked CPU with the backlight off. I’m certainly going to wait-and-see rather than trusting anything this guy says. There are also a few devs with the current dev unit that release information from time to time, and an engineer called mwesten who seem a lot more honest.

  15. Foz says:

    As interested I am in the Pandora, it can’t compete with my small UMPC that happily runs GTA SA, Project64, Zsnes, Mame, Office 2000 and all of those other emulators and PC games that can run on X86. Playing Swat 4 and Halo when away from my Desktop cannot be beat.

  16. turn.self.off says:

    funny thing about those emulators, thats exactly what the pandora is designed to run…

    http://www.gp32x.com/board/index.php?showtopic=41897

  17. pupnik says:

    The pandora controls are optimal for gaming, unlike those of a UMPC. The battery life will be much greater than a UMPC (x86 sucked since the day it was designed). And people with moderate budgets will be able to afford the pandora, unlike a UMPC.

    The latest addition of bluetooth is KILLer for me, because that means I can grab my stowaway bluetooth keyboard and have an excellent typing experience.

  18. Marc says:

    They have added Bluetooth? That is brilliant news.

    If it can be tethered to a phone for internet access it suddenly makes it far more useful.

  19. turn.self.off says:

    yep, they get a extra wait period because of some issues with the internal timings of the CPU or something, and therefor could do a revision of the board that made room for internal bluetooth.

    http://www.engadget.com/2008/05/30/bluetooth-a-confirmed-addition-to-pandora/

    also, as its a fan/community driven project, there will be basically no limitations on what software one can slap on it.

    and with the beagleboard thats under development:
    http://beagleboard.org/

    the future combo of linux and arm seems very promising indeed ;)

  20. jyoecm hoazpmld says:

    lgtzyvcf zhwfqk sbladtq yqdp jzyetaoib udslhavm onfe

  21. nick says:

    The pandora has a 4000mah lithium polymer battery. So I could see 10+ hours of gaming from this. I’m also told that they may offer 5000mah extended battery packs. As long as it gets anywhere near the 100 hours of music playing I’ll be happy. Plus the newest revision will have bluetooth.

  22. PhrawzT says:

    I am looking forward to the release of this device. I have been wanting to get a UMPC for mobile internet and gaming. I have been using a modified PSP for some time now and I would like something with better internet capabilities.

10 Trackbacks For This Post

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  8. tv tuner for pc says:

    turn your pc into a wireless access point…

    This is a very good and informative post. I look forward to see more….

  9. Pandora UMPC & The evolution of the Smartphone Platform « Bannaga says:

    […] “It is designed as an ultra portable open source computer with gaming controls, it is very small, around about the same size as a DS. It can easily fit in your pocket. It is by far the most powerful handheld in the world both in terms of raw CPU power and 3D graphics capability, it will be able to handle things such as Firefox3 or Quake3 with ease. Around 10+ Hours battery life. [http://openpandora.org/]” Via <UMPCPortal.com> […]

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