$99 Ice Cream Sandwich tablet to debut in US

The 7-inch Novo7 sports a 1GHz CPU and includes front and rear cameras, 3D capability, 1080p video decoding and an HDMI port.

The Novo7, a 7-inch tablet available in China that runs Ice Cream Sandwich, is set to arrive in the United States in the coming months with an expected price of $99.

The game-changing tablet could shake up the market just like the Kindle Fire did with its debut in November. The Novo7 doesn’t skimp on specs and cut corners at every turn. It has a MIPS XBurst 1GHz CPU and includes front and rear cameras, 3D capability, 1080p video decoding and an HDMI port, not to mention up to 8 hours of battery life while watching video. It also features a multitouch-capable touchscreen and the latest version of Android, where other inexpensive tablets have been known to run older versions.

Currently offered in China from Ainol Electronics, the tablet is expected to be available in North America from brand names including Leader International and OMG Electronics.

Another indication of the Novo7's seriousness is the fact that it has been certified by Google. In fact, the Novo7 is tantamount to Google and MIPS firing a shot across the bow of their respective competitors, most specifically Amazon and ARM.

While Amazon's Kindle Fire may technically be built upon Android, the mobile operating system was drastically forked to suit the e-retailer's needs and the $199 tablet doesn’t offer access to the Android Market.

Android tablets have struggled to compete with the iPad in the high-end market, so perhaps Google sees a chance to go after the lower end of the market. That strategy proved successful with smartphones, where it has been gobbling up a huge chunk of the market and outselling the iPhone.

For MIPS, the Novo7 could represent an aggressive push into the tablet market currently dominated by ARM processors. Earlier this year, the company said it planned to have an Ice Cream Sandwich demo available within weeks of the release of the source code, with a model in production within 90 days. Instead, the Novo7 became available within weeks instead of months.

"I'm thrilled to see the entrance of MIPS-Based Android 4.0 tablets into the market," Google's Android head, Andy Rubin, said in a statement. "Low-cost, high-performance tablets are a big win for mobile consumers and a strong illustration of how Android's openness drives innovation and competition for the benefit of consumers around the world."

MIPS currently dominates the embedded device market, and much like Intel, is convinced it has a shot at challenging ARM in the mobile sector. The company says 8- and 9-inch form factors are already in the works.

It is reportedly possible to get a Novo7 from Asia right now for about $50 in shipping costs, provided you can find a site that isn't sold out of them.

E-mail Eric at EMackPCW at Gmail, follow him on Twitter, and at ericmack.org. Follow PCWorld on Twitter, too.

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