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First Android Netbook Nothing to Write Home About

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The Android is about to take the leap from the cell phone to the netbook, and much like the first Android-powered cell phone, the first iteration is a bit of head-shaker. Instead of a dazzling showcase, it's underpowered and small, and although it has some interesting qualities, cost is going to be a big issue as some reports have said it could be as high as $250.

What's it Got?

The first Android netbook, the Alpha 680, comes from Skytone, a Chinese company mostly known for creating Skype headsets. According to the Skytone web site, the Alpha 680, which is reportedly due to be released in June, sports a paltry 7 inch screen, it has 1 GB of flash memory (1GB!), 128 MB of RAM and an ARM11 533 MHz 32 bit CPU.

On the plus side there are 2 USB ports, and SD slot (a must with so little storage), built-in WiFi, 3G connectivity and an Ethernet connector. It also boasts a rotating screen, a touch panel and touch pad (some nice little extras I must admit). At only 1.5 pounds, it will be smaller than the smallest Asus Eee computer, but at what cost in terms of usability?

I own an Asus Eee 900. It's extremely portable. The Linux OS is easy to use and you can easily access the Internet (most of the time), but the keyboard makes it almost unusable because they had to cut so many corners to make it fit in such a small foot print. As Seth Weintraub points out in this ComputerWorld blog post, the Alpha 680 is so small, it is more of a large cell phone, than a small computer. Frankly, I already have an internet device in my pocket, and while I want my netbook small, I want it usable too.

The cost is unclear, but Engadget reports that it could be $250, which is really shocking for such an underpowered device with virtually no onboard storage.

Let's Compare

I recently bought an HP Mini Note 1030nr from eCost for $275. The HP runs Windows XP, has 16 GB of onboard storage and a gig of memory. The footprint is far more comfortable with a 10 inch screen and a keyboard that's 92 percent of a full keyboard.

When I brought it to a conference recently, I found I could type easily and freely, and although a bit heavier than the Eee at 2.38 pounds (don't forget you have to carry the power brick with any of these choices so that adds a little weight too), but it was comfortable in my back pack as a I moved throughout the day.

This computer as it stands appears to be a nice little exercise in engineering, and being the first netbook running Android, it should attract gadget freaks and the curious, but like the G1, it will probably better to wait for some other manufacturers to jump on board before you make the investment.

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