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India's $35 Tablet is No Vaporware
If you thought the Indian HRD ministry's attempt at making that $35 (Rs. 1,500) laptop is pure government fantasy and the usual pep talk we see from the Indian government, be ready to be surprised. Not only does the tablet exist in a prototype form, it actually works pretty well - and how!

Before I start, let's take a look at the brief history behind the story. The first time we heard of the tablet was last month when the HRD ministry, out of no where announced its plans to bring this $35 wonder to the student community of India. Back then, it was welcomed with the usual suspicion and skepticism that the Indian and world media has regarding anything that is remotely connected to the Indian government .

[Image: 112557_35tablet.jpg]

A month on, when all the hype about the tablet was just about to die, folks from NDTV Gadget Guru managed to scoop an interview with HRD Miniter Kapil Sibal (if you don't know who he is, you REALLY need that tablet) who carried the tablet with him to the studios. And that resulted in the first video hands on of the device. Our first impressions?

Well, it's no beauty contest contestant. The looks are nothing much to home about. If you were expecting something curvy like the iPads or the JooJoos or the Notion Inks of the world, be prepared for a nasty, boxy surprise. But hey, this is no lifestyle product. This is pure utilitarian stuff so if it does the job, that should suffice.

The hardware on this thing is pretty impressive by the looks of it. I am not sure what processor does the number crunching inside but it looks quite meaty to handle most tasks thrown at it. It has 2GB of RAM which is quite sufficient for web browsing, the occasional video streaming and document editing tasks that this is expected to do. The tablet is particularly impressive when it comes to connectivity options. Apart from Bluetooth, it seems to have all you need - ranging from Wi-fi, USB ports, Video out and SD card slots to SIM card slots for 3G ready connectivity. There is a camera at the rear (the megapixel count is still under wraps) that should suffice for normal photography. Besides, I don't expect anyone to take this on an African Safari anyway - so, the camera is pretty much sufficient for something that won't cost more than $35. One disappointment might be the screen which is resistive in nature. But then, for $35, it's criminal to expect a capacitive display on this - that too a 7-inch one.

On the software front, while we all thought it would run some real excuse of an OS based on Linux, I was surprised to see it running Android OS! Yes, I know Android is based on Linux as well. The good thing about this bit is the fact that there is considerable activity on the app development front when it comes to Android and this would actually make the tablet appealing to people who are just looking for a pure, no frills tablet. While the version of Android doesn't look to be the latest one, it still is pretty much usable. Also, I think it is likely that the tablet is powerful enough to get an update to Gingerbread once that arrives. Let's hope the processor is clocked at 1Ghz or more so that its eligible for the update.

Sibal, during the entire course of the interview, emphasised that the $35 price is pretty much real and that had it been under the retail sales, the price would have been considerably higher. However, this project is government subsidised and has no intention to go retail. Surprisingly, he also confirmed that he is aiming to bring the cost down to $10 later! By 2011, he expects at least a million units of the $35 tablet in the hands of Indian students. He adds that once that is done, we are ready to take the next step and take the tablet global.

[Image: 112557_tablet.jpg]

What we think about this $35 wonder from India? For once, India has proved and has actually made something that isn't just there on paper or in pictures. It is pretty much real and more importantly, it works pretty well. If the idea is taken forward, there is no doubt that this will positively impact the education of millions of children who do not have access to basic computing. Think of it - an Internet tablet for under $35. Only Indians could pull off this one!

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