$99 tablet computer: Android hardware gets cheaper than ever

A $99 tablet computer, with Android 4.0? It could be closer than you think. But is a $99 tablet computer too cheap to be worth anything?

MIPS Technologies
MIPS Technologies has released a $99 tablet computer called the Novo7.

Last month, Amazon launched the Kindle Fire, a tablet designed primarily to sell a whole lot of Amazon content, from books to music. Amazon, as we reported in November, actually takes a hit on each Kindle Fire it sells – the tablets cost an estimated $201.70 to build and sell for a bargain-basement-low $199. Yup, 200 bucks! Not bad for a full-featured tablet.

But it's not as cheap as the $99 tablet computer offered up this week by the folks over at MIPS Technologies. According to copy posted on the MIPS site, the Ainovo Novo7 ships with a 1GHz single-core MIPS processor, Wi-Fi and 3G capability, front and back-facing cameras, a 7-inch touchscreen, and – best of all – Android's 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich operating system. 

“I’m thrilled to see the entrance of MIPS-Based Android 4.0 tablets into the market," Andy Rubin, Google’s senior vice president of mobile, said in a statement today. “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." 

Of course, as Agam Shah of IDG points out today, the Ainovo Novo7 isn't the first tablet to be priced at around a hundred bucks. Visit a Wal-Mart, or a Costco, or even a Duane Reade, and you're likely to find a bargain-bin tablet for around $100. Still, Shah acknowledges, the price on the Novo7 is nothing short of a "breakthrough"  – assuming that it's powerful enough to really offer the Android feel.

"Most inexpensive tablets come with versions of Android 2, which is for smartphones, while notable tablets that come with tablet-optimized Android 3.0 are priced above $250," he writes. "Other device makers are also announcing tablets with Android 4.0, which has already been ported to the ARM and x86 processors."

The Novo7 is available now in China, and IDG reports it will hit shelves in North America and Europe over the next few months, likely under brand names such as Leader International and OMG Electronics. 

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