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Skytone Alpha-400

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Skytone Alpha-400

Skytone Alpha-400
German version branded by JAY-tech
Developer Skytone, Exon International Technology Co Ltd
Manufacturer Exon International Technology Co Ltd
Type Netbook
Media 1 or 2 GB NAND flash soldered on mainboard
Operating system customized CE Linux kernel 2.4.20 or Windows CE 5.0
Power Li-ion 7.4 V, 2.1 Ah 2-cell battery, approximately 3–4 hours use
CPU Ingenic Jz4730 a.k.a. XBurst (32-bit, 336 MHz)[1][2]
Memory 128 MiB SDRAM
Display matte 7 in 800×480 LED-backlit TFT LCD
Input Keyboard, touchpad
Connectivity 10/100 Mbit Ethernet,
ZyDAS ZD1211B 802.11b/g wireless LAN,
3 USB 1.1 ports,
3-in-1 flash memory card reader (SD, SDHC, MMC)
Dimensions 210 mm (8.3 in) H
140 mm (5.5 in) W
32 mm (1.3 in) D
Weight 0.65 kg (1.4 lb)

The Skytone Alpha-400 is a Linux-based low-cost netbook with a 7 in 800×480 LCD screen. Its measurements (length×width×depth) are 210×140×32 mm and it weighs 0.65 kg. It is made in China by Skytone and Exon International Technology Co Ltd, with the former providing the GNU/Linux software and the latter producing the hardware. It uses a Chinese Ingenic Jz4730 336 MHz MIPSII-compatible one core 32-bit system-on-a-chip (SoC)[3] with 128 MiB of SDRAM, and a 1–2 GB solid state drive.

The Skytone Alpha-400 was designed with low cost and child-friendliness in mind, some versions being sold for as little as $130 retail. There is an option to swap the standard theme with a children's theme. It also comes with applications geared toward children, and a Flash player to play animated children's songs. The Flash player is not built into the browser, so Flash-dependent sites such as YouTube will not work, but a standalone Flash player is available to run .swf files and can be used to play Flash based games, and such.

Alternative names

The Trendtac 700 EPC as sold in the Netherlands

The Skytone Alpha is often marketed, sometimes in slightly altered form, under many different brand names.

Here is a (probably incomplete) list of variants;

  • 3k Razorbook 400 (also with Windows CE and more flash memory)[4]
  • Bestlink/Belco Alpha 400
  • Belco 450R
  • CherryPal Africa[5]
  • CnMBook
  • CnM Lifestyle CnMbook
  • Datacask Jupiter 0708l
  • Elonex ONEt (ONEt+ with 2 GB NAND flash)
  • Exon PC701-LX[6]
  • HiVision MiniNote/NB0700[7][8]
  • Impulse NPX-9000
  • Impulse TNX-9500
  • iPC400 — available in Greece
  • IDA 400 — available in India[9]
  • JAY-tech Jee-PC 400S
  • Letux 400 (uses Debian)[10]
  • Maplin miniBook
  • Novatech Minibook
  • PC701-LX
  • Sakar MiniBook / PC-01017
  • Semprotech T70AM04
  • Semprotech T70DJ10
  • Silverstar E-PC
  • Skytone Alpha 400[11]
  • SurfOne INOS1
  • Trendtac 700 EPC
  • Yinlips Micro PC

Features

The motherboard of the device
The Skytone Alpha 400 compared to a 15.4 in laptop
The 2.1 Ah battery compared to a pen

The Skytone Alpha-400 uses a customized version of Linux, based on a 2.4.x kernel, with a user-friendly interface optimized for children.

The Linux desktop is implemented as Kiosk software, meaning that nothing the user can do can modify the available applications, and no new applications can be (easily) added or removed.

Browsing can be done through the use of the built in browser called Bon Echo, an Alpha release of Mozilla Firefox 2, using the built-in 10/100 BASE-T Ethernet port, or the integrated 802.11 Wireless LAN, but the browser does not support Flash, meaning that Flash intensive tools, such as YouTube, cannot be used. However, recently Exon, the original design manufacturer of most of these devices, announced full support for YouTube and most Flash enabled websites.

The device sports three USB ports, a small but fully functioning keyboard, a touchpad, stereo speakers, and a 2 cell 2.1 Ah battery.

The Skytone Alpha's processor uses as little as 0.2 W of power, and does not have a heat sink, and thus no ventilation openings. Some versions have extra features like a VGA video port, or a USB On-The-Go port.

Available distributions

  • The default OS, based on CELinux with the matchbox window manager and an Asus Eee PC inspired interface.
  • Xenium[12] This project seems to have been abandoned.
  • 3MX based on the default OS, Xenium and Debian.[13] Comes with the jwm window manager. Release 3.1 now available provides good functionality including wi-fi stumbler, aircrack-ng, web server and a good range of browser alternatives.
  • Debian etch[14]

So far all distributions for this device use the 2.4.20-celf3 kernel. The kernel itself is not on the root file system itself and gets loaded by u-boot.

Other similar devices by Exon/Skytone

The successor of the device, the Alpha 400P, comes with a 416 MHz XScale, fifth generation ARM architecture, SoC (likely a Marvell PXA27x), USB 2.0 and up to 256 MiB of DDR2 memory.[15] Another similar device comes with the 248 MHz ARM SoC AK7802Q216, 64/128 MiB of DDR RAM and Windows CE 5.0.[16] Skytone announced another device called Alpha 680 running Android[17] that features a 533 MHz Jade Tech Z228[18] ARM CPU. The Alpha-680 has a rotatable touchscreen that can be turned and flipped over, so that the unit becomes a tablet computer.[19]

Another similar machine produced by Exon, but not sold by Skytone, comes with an x86 legacy compatible 800 MHz DM&P PDX-600 SoC CPU and is thus able to run Windows XP.[20]

It uses a XGI Volari Z9s GPU without 3D acceleration. As it is usually sold with Windows XP preinstalled, its default configuration has 512 MiB DDR2 SDRAM and 4/8 GB flash. It is also available with a built-in 0.3 Mpixel camera. This version was first presented at CES 2009.[21]

Known issues

  • The 3G support is limited to few USB 3G modems as a result of the old kernel. The same is true for the Wi-Fi module. The Ath5k driver used in the device for the ZD1211B module had been replaced since 2.6.18 for providing an unstable connection. As it is running 2.4.20, the old driver is still in use.
  • While it is possible to install gnash in order to obtain Flash support, it has been reported that the processor is too slow, so that it can take near enough to ten minutes or more for something to load.[22]
  • The default distribution does not provide root access per default, but it is possible to install a root terminal through the software manager.

See also

  • Dingoo, a Chinese handheld game system based on the same Ingenic Xburst processor

References

  1. ^ CPU Info, Heise 
  2. ^ Jz4730 Data Sheet, Ingenic 
  3. ^ Jz47xx SoCs descriptions, Windows for Devices, archived from the original on 2012-09-17 
  4. ^ 3k Razorbook 400
  5. ^ http://www.eetimes.com/rss/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=222002241&pgno=1
  6. ^ "Exon PC701-LX. Overview". Exon International Technology Co Ltd. 2010. Archived from the original on 2010-08-07. 
  7. ^ $98 Hivision Mininote review, Tech Video Blog 
  8. ^ The first sub-$100 laptop,  
  9. ^ http://www.idasystems.net/ida_400
  10. ^ Letux 400
  11. ^ Skytone Alpha 400
  12. ^ Xenium
  13. ^ 3MX toolchain/build instructions – linuxlaptopforum
  14. ^ Debian etch recovery image
  15. ^ Alpha 400Plus
  16. ^ Novatech Mini E7
  17. ^ First Android netbook to cost about $250 – computerworld
  18. ^ Z228 Application Processor
  19. ^ http://www.arm.com/markets/mobile_solutions/armpp/25332.html
  20. ^ Engadget calls it world's cheapest laptop, too 03/16/09
  21. ^ Pictures & Video of T70DJ10
  22. ^ 3MX and the Little Linux Laptop – FAQ, Information, Links and other useful stuff

External links

  • Engadget calls it the worlds cheapest laptop 07/21/08
  • Engadget calls it the crappiest netbook you'll ever hate 12/08/08
  • Engadget reviews it Alpha 400 pays a high price for low cost 12/22/08
  • PC Magazine – Mystery Chip Powers New $299 UMPC
  • Review at testfreaks.com
  • Review at laptopmag.com
  • Exon International Technology Co Ltd, manufacturer site
  • littlelinuxlaptop, fan site providing software and alternative distributions for the device
  • CnM Lifestyle, more software
  • Epc700 Wiki, 2.6 kernel port, backlight control, installing Debian
  • 3MX, the distribution for the 400 mHz MIPS netbooks
  • 3MX Board
  • Ingenic XBurst, product page of the SoC
  • My Wincey, software for CE version
  • Skytone download page, source code, documentation, patches
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