THE CHINESE have been building smartphones for companies from other countries for a long time. Then recently came locally developed smartphones using Western processors, and now we are starting to see the first tablets and smartphones with locally developed processors using technology from both ARM and MIPS.
The most interesting company that's doing this is probably Ingenic, headquartered in Beijing. Ingenic has designed a lean and mean series of processors that have an extremely efficient instruction pipeline. The latest chip fabbed in 65nm CMOS includes a graphics core licensed from Vivante, making it more of a system-on-chip (SoC) processor.
The processor is a single-core MIPS-based CPU that runs at 1GHz, and it is surprisingly fast. We have had an Ainovo 7in tablet based on this processor running for a couple of months now and we are very impressed, considering its price tag of around $80.
We ordered the tablet directly from the Ainol web site and it arrived at our doorstep within a couple of days. The tablet was also the first to sport Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich.
The NOVO7 tablet sports a 7in screen with 480x800 resolution, which is relatively poor but still useable. It has 7GB of internal storage, but this can be expanded with up to an additional 32GB using a microSD card. The video output is HD 1080p if you use the HDMI port to connect the tablet to a suitable display.
The tablet has built-in WLAN but lacks 3G connectivity, however it has a USB port that can accept a 3G dongle if needed.
Considering that this is the first tablet using a Chinese designed processor and has a low price, it is actually quite a steal.
Now also comes a smartphone based on the same SoC from Ingenic, the JZ4770. The phone will start shipping in June and comes with a 3.5in inch screen. The Saihon phone is also expected to run Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich right from the outset. The price will be around $160 on the Chinese market.
The first version on the phone uses CDMA, which is logical as China Mobile is the world's largest CDMA carrier, but eventually we should expect to see products supporting 3G and 4G as well.
Huawei, based in Shenzhen in China, has just started shipping its Honor phone that is based on a Qualcomm 1.4 GHz Scorpion processor, but its next generation phone will use a locally rolled quad-core chip based on the ARM Cortex A9 architecture. These phones will support all the usual wireless standards and work well in Europe, where we have tested the Honor for about a month.
All in all these developments point to a Chinese semiconductor market that will be worth observing, as things change rapidly. As an example, Ingenic has managed within a few years to move from a 180nm process that it used in 2009 to a 65nm process for its latest processor. µ