ZiiLabs unveils Zii Egg, a Wi-Fi Android device

The new handheld with the mouth-filling name Zii Egg StemCell Computer is, at present, essentially a showcase for ZiiLabs' innovative chip architecture

Singapore-based ZiiLabs has unveiled a new mobile computer that's like an Android-based iPod Touch. It supports advanced 3D and outputs full high-definition video -- but it's currently available only to developers.

The new handheld with the mouth-filling name Zii (pronounced "zee") Egg StemCell Computer is, at present, essentially a showcase for ZiiLabs' innovative chip architecture, which runs either its own open Linux-based OS, dubbed Plaszma, or an "optimized" Android to exploit ZiiLabs' processor technology.

The Egg's specifications are impressive:

o 3.5" 320x480 capactive 10-point multi-touch display

o Up to 32Gbytes internal NAND flash

o 256 Mbytes RAM

o Support for 1080p high definition output via HD Cable

o Two cameras: a forward facing VGA cam, and a rear-facing high def camera

o 802.11b/g Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth 2.1 + Enhanced Data Rateo Hardware GPS receiver with antennao 3-axis accelerometer

o Full-size SDHC slot, which can take a corresponding card with up to 32Gbytes of storage

o Support for OpenGL ES, an open standard for embedded 2D and 3D graphics

All of that is packed into a case that's 4.53 x 2.4 x 0.47 inches, and weighs just 3.8 ounces. That's just slightly longer and thicker than Apple's iPod Touch, but about 8/10ths of an ounce lighter.

The Egg also comes with the Opera Mobile 9.7 Web browser.

Many of those are features "not yet found on any Android device," notes Gareth Myles, site editor with MobileTechAddicts, in a recent blog post. "Overall, it appears to top any Android gadget that has been officially announced."

"One of the biggest weaknesses of the Android platform is the current lack of advanced 3D support and games," Myles writes.

Network World's Android Angle blogger, Mark Murphy, says the specs are "fascinating."

Both the Egg and iPod Touch lack a cellular radio, so there are no cellular voice calls. The iPhone simply adds the cellular interface to the Touch package. And it seems equally straightforward to add a cellular chipset to the Egg. ZiiLab's support for the Android smartphone OS is intended to make that addition attractive and feasible.

The Egg ships with the Plaszma software. An optimized version of Android can be loaded onto it, and the company plans to release shortly an "after-sales installer upgrade" to make that possible.

As an introductory offer, a 32Gbyte model of the Zii Egg is bundled free with the just-released development package, which includes the Plaszma OS, the companion SDK, and the optimized Android OS. The starter kit is $399.

Android was tweaked to exploit the core ZiiLabs applications processor, an ARM-based system on a chip, dubbed the ZMS-05 module. The module's dual-core ARM subsystem handles most of the routine chores. But a separate "media processing array" handles all the 2D, 3D, video, digital signal processing and similar tasks. According to the company press release, this array consists of 24 floating point processors, with a total raw processing power of 8 GFLOPS. The company's "stem cell" architecture refers to the fact that the chip module can rearrange these processors as needed for specific tasks, pulling in additional processors, or releasing them, as the type and amount of work changes.

The ZMS-05 modules will start volume shipments in September with a starting per-unit price of $75.

ZiiLabs was formerly 3DLabs, founded in 1994. It was acquired in early 2009 by Singapore-based Creative Technology and combined with Creative's Personal Digital Entertainment Group.

Tags Wi-FiGoogle Android

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John Cox

Network World

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