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UK Exclusive Preview : Pink Pegatron Smartbook

Last week, ITProPortal was convened to an anonymous-looking building in West London where we were granted an interview with Ian Drew, vice president, Segment Marketing, ARM, along with a yet-to-be released device, the Smartbook.

(ed: One could also argue that the Datawind Ubisurfer was the first proper smartbook out there and comes with Vodafone GPRS, an ARM-based platform and a Linux operating system.)

Ian works for ARM (Advanced Risc Machines, the creators of the Acorn Archimedes PC) and not for Pegatron and although the smartbook is the focus of today's preview, it is only a single piece of a puzzle game whose name has yet to be unveiled.

But first, let's have a look the Pegatron smartbook. The device that we had for preview was pink in colour and is a prototype - a very, very slim one - see the comparison with the the EEE PC we brought. Ian claimed that "tens of" these devices are roaming the earth as we speak.

But even if it was "only" a prototype, it worked flawlessly. The particular smartbook ITproportal reviewed was powered by a single-core Freescale i.MX515 (ARM Cortex-A8) which is clocked at 800MHz and launched in January 2009.

The processor supports 2D/3D graphics as well as HD 720P video. Ian told me that multicore, higher clocked versions could be coming by next year, depending on market demands.

There was also 512MB DDR2 memory but no built-in storage. The smartbook actually run on a SD Card of unknown capacity. In addition, there's a 8.9-inch screen capable of displaying 1024x600 pixels. On top of it is a webcam with a microphone on the right. Below it are two speakers.

Other features include Bluetooth 2.0, 802.11g. On one side, there's one USB and one micro USB port, a one-pin power socket, a VGA port as well as a card reader.

On the other side, is a USB port, Line in and speaker out. The back of the laptop is completely devoid of any connectors and there's a couple of blue indicator lights in front.

One thing that users will notice almost immediately is that there's no air vents on this particular smartbook. Because the power dissipation is so low, there's no need for any fans as well, a passive heatsink does the trick. The processor is situated on the left side of the keyboard and is slightly warm to the touch.

The other thing one will notice is how light the smartbook is. At around 850g, it is as light as the first 7-inch Asus EEE PC netbook and a full 50 percent lighter than the current crop of 8.9-inch models.

It is significantly slimmer than any netbooks we've tested until now - and that includes the Asus Seashell 1008HA.

Build quality on the Pegatron Netbook was quite good and on par with entry level netbooks. Battery life is expected to reach around 8 hours - we didn't have time to test it - thanks to, what we were told, was a two-cell 4400mAH battery.

The keyboard was properly laid (except maybe for the small right hand SHIFT button). The keys had the right amount of spring and felt reassuringly solid. Ditto for the touchpad with that fused right/left button.

Our prototype ran on Ubuntu Netbook version 9.01; a lonely attempt to restart the smartbook failed and we had to cold boot the device.

We were not able to test many applications except playing around with Firefox. We did get some stuttering when trying to play some BBC iPlayer content.

This, Ian told us, was down to the lack of proper drivers and the fact that the version of Flash on the smartbook was not the latest one. The system appear, overall, quite responsive during the short time we spent with it.

Attempts to obtain the permission to open up the smartbook with a screwdriver failed miserably as well. Next time maybe.

Now for the interesting part. There will be smartbook-like devices available before Christmas. The Bill of Material for the Pegatron smartbook is only $120 which means that the model should be available for £200 and possibly much, much less.

Manufacturers may or may not decide to bundle SD Card with their products and although the Pegatron Smartbook did not come with an integrated 3G modem, chances are that final production models will.

As mentioned before, Smartbooks are only one of the many devices that will be build around the ARM platform and that's the common denominator across all the smartbook-esque gadgets to be launched over the next six months.

Ian told us that unlike the EEE PC, there will not be a set launch date and instead products may appear on the market in waves.

And there will be far more form factors involved than with the EEE PC. ARM has six public silicon partners where netbooks had one - Intel - and Ian told us that ALL of them - including Nvidia - were vying to produce products around the ARM technology.

At the last count, there were nine platforms supporting ARM including Windows CE, Windows Mobile, Android and Chrome OS. That's 54 possible permutations compared to just TWO for the Netbook.

Obviously, we are not taking into consideration Apple OS, Blackberry and WebOS, all of which run on ARM.

As for the Pegatron, well, this offshoot of Asus will not apparently be selling smartbooks (although the smartbook we tested had the Pegatron logo on it). It is in fact an ODM, which will build smartbooks for other companies. Stay tune for more as the story of Smartbooks unfolds.