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Freescale unveils 'sub-£125' tablet design

The company has introduced a reference design for PC manufacturers who want to make cheap, lightweight touchscreen smartbooks for all-day use
freescalenetbook1.jpg
1 of 3 David Meyer/ZDNet

Chipmaker Freescale Semiconductor has introduced a new smartbook reference design for manufacturers who want to build small Linux tablet computers using ARM's low-power architecture.

The reference design is intended to make it into devices that retail for under $200 (£124), Freescale said in a statement on Monday. The design will be shown at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas later this week, running both Google's Android mobile operating system and another, unspecified form of Linux.

"Freescale's new tablet opens the door to an exciting new world of compelling form factors specifically designed and optimied to support common online activities including social media, high-quality audio/video playback and light gaming," Freescale marketing chief Henri Richard said in the statement.

Freescale showed off its initial smartbook designs — the firm prefers the term 'smartbook' to 'netbook', although they are similar types of device — in June 2009.

According to Freescale, the seven-inch-screened design is the first in a new line of smartbook platforms going under the name of Smart Application Blueprint for Rapid Engineering (Sabre). The first Sabre platform "incorporates feedback" from work done on the initial designs with the Savannah College of Art and Design, the company said, although the recent design is more sober than its conceptual predecessors.

The first products to use the design could go on sale this summer, the company suggested.

freescalenetbook3.jpg
2 of 3 David Meyer/ZDNet

The first Sabre reference design is based on Freescale's i.MX515 processor, which is itself based on ARM Cortex-A8 technology — the same architecture that powers the iPhone 3GS, Motorola Droid and Nokia N900 smartphones.

ARM has, through the introduction of smartbooks, begun making itself a rival to Intel, whose Atom processors are the basis of most netbooks. ARM claims that devices using its architecture are more power-efficient than those using Atom, due to the British chip-design firm's mobile heritage. However, with almost no smartbooks currently on the market, it is hard to compare the power consumption and performance of the rival platforms.

Apart from the CPU, other features of Freescale's reference design include an accelerometer, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and 3G support, GPS, a light sensor, a three-megapixel camera, audio in and out and an SD card slot.

The picture above shows the design together with an optional physical keyboard that manufacturers could choose to use. 

freescalenetbook4.jpg
3 of 3 David Meyer/ZDNet

Freescale's new smartbook reference design measures 200mm x 128mm x 14.9cm and weighs 376 grams, which is heavier than a smartphone but substantially lighter than a netbook. This is achieved because the device does not need a fan or heat sink, due to its low power consumption.

The company said in its statement that the tablet design, which provides a resolution of 1,024 x 600 pixels, would run applications such as a web browser, media centre, PDF viewer, mail client, office suite and social media widgets.

Freescale said in its statement that devices based on its design would give users "instant-on functionality, persistent connectivity and all-day battery life", although it has not yet given a precise life for the 1,900mAh battery.

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