Freescale chips power Android smartphones, MIDs

Freescale Semiconductor displayed a number of devices containing its chips at Computex Taipei 2009 this year, including an e-book reader made by an Asustek Computer subsidiary, and a smartphone and two handheld computers with Google's Android software on board.

The U.S. chip maker is one of a group of mobile phone chip makers promoting handheld computers and a new kind of device they call smartbooks, which look and feel like mini-laptops, or netbooks, but are made using mobile phone parts and chips with ARM processing cores instead of PC components.

The handheld computers fit the profile of the mobile Internet devices (MIDs) the PC industry is peddling as devices with slightly bigger screens than smartphones. At its office, Freescale had a MID from Inventec Appliances with a 6-inch touchscreen running Android that allowed Web surfing and doubled as an e-book reader.

A prototype of a device from Kinpo with a 7-inch touchscreen and also running Android sat by the Inventec device. Both machines use chips from Freescale and are designed to be constantly linked to wireless networks the same way as mobile phones.

Freescale also had a smartphone from Inventec designed for the Chinese market with a 4.3-inch touchscreen, also running Android. The device sported a QWERTY keypad that slid out from beneath the screen.

The devices show Inventec has jumped on the Android bandwagon, along with Acer, Asustek, HTC and Samsung Electronics, among others, with devices running Google's Android smartphone operating system. The software is meant to make communications and Web browsing easy, especially on Google sites such as Docs, Gmail and Google Maps.

E-books were also on display at Freescale's office, including Amazon's Kindle and Sony's Reader Digital Book, which use Freescale's i.MX31 low-power chips.

These devices sat next to a new e-book made by Unihan, a division of Asustek that develops non-PC products. Unihan won't market the device itself because it's a contract manufacturer. It will sell the design to a customer and then take care of the manufacturing.

Freescale also displayed several smartbooks, which with their 10-inch screens and full keyboards look a lot like netbooks, but work somewhat differently. Since they're built from mobile phone parts designed for power efficiency, smartbooks should run much longer than netbooks on a single charge.

Glen Burchers, director of global marketing at Freescale, said a smartbook with Freescale chips inside can run for eight hours on a three-cell battery, much longer than comparable netbooks, which can only last two or three hours with such a battery. Most netbooks are sold with a heavier six-cell battery and can run for around six hours before needing a recharge.

Smartbooks from Pegatron, another contract manufacturing spin-off from Asustek, were on show at Freescale's office. They will cost around US$199 each if they're made for Wi-Fi wireless Internet access. Adding a 3.5G module would increase the cost by around $50 but would also subject the device to a completely different marketing plan because it would then likely be sold by a mobile service provider and could be free with a signed contract.

Netbooks with 10-inch screens and Wi-Fi connectivity generally cost between $300 and $400.

The Pegatron smartbooks were first displayed at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas early this year, but Freescale showed off some new smartbooks made using its i.MX51 chips, including the N900Z from Wistron, the former contract manufacturing arm of Acer. The Wistron device used Ubuntu Linux as its operating system, while the Pegatron smartbooks on display carried a variety of Linux OSs.

Smartbooks made using chips by Qualcomm and Texas Instruments were also on show at Computex.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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