First Tegra 3 'Kal-El' tablet spotted from ZTE

The flood of five-core tablets powered by Nvidia's Tegra 3 'Kal-El' chip appears to be just around the corner, with Chinese giant ZTE the first to break cover.

Spotted by the guys over on Chinese-language tech site Zol.com.cn, ZTE's stand at the International Communications Exhibition in Beijing has a surprise in store for visitors: a seven-inch tablet running Nvidia's upcoming superchip.

According to the specifications on display, the ZTE T98 is a combination tablet and smartphone featuring a seven-inch 1280x800 high-definition display, 16GB of storage, 1GB of RAM, and quad-band communcations capabilities.

More importantly, it also features Nvidia's 'Kal-El' super-chip, which includes four Cortex-A9 processing cores running at 1.5GHz alongside a slower 'Companion Chip' which keeps the tablet ticking over during standby and non-intensive tasks.

The 11.5mm-thick tablet also includes a five megapixel rear camera and a two megapixel front camera, a 4,000mAh battery, and Google's tablet-centric Android 3.2 'Honeycomb' operating system.

Interestingly, despite claims of a 1.5GHz speed for the processors four main cores, the system information reads the quad-core chip's maximum performance as 1.3GHz - suggesting some confusion as to precisely what level Nvidia's next-generation SoC design will scale.

A run through several common Android benchmarks reveals another fact: unlike Nvidia's internal testing, the real-world performance of Kal-El seems to be poor, with ZTE's tablet being outclassed by Samsung's dual-core Galaxy S II smartphone. Whether this is purely a result of a lack of support for quad-core systems in the benchmarking software, however, is currently unclear. Graphics performance is more impressive, with Nvidia's chip easily beating all rivals.

ZTE has yet to announce a launch date or pricing for the device, but the fact that it is ready to show off suggests that it - and Nvidia's other licensees - will be planning to release Kal-El devices in the very near future.