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ARM-powered Ubuntu 'Webbook" Launches in South Africa

By - Source: Tom's Hardware US | B 21 comments

Vodafone officially launches its Ubuntu-based netbook in South Africa today, which will be distributed by local telco Vodacom.

Netbooks might not be everyone's cup of tea. However, when you're targeting a market that has poor access to any form of computing device, netbooks are a good balance between the practicality of a larger laptop and achieving the lowest possible manufacturing cost. Add a free (as in freedom and beer) operating system into the mix which has been tested and tweaked for the hardware and what do you come up with? The Vodafone Webbook.

The specs for this machine aren't going to blow you away. It's a standard 10.1" netbook form factor weighing in at a feathery 2.14 lb (0.97 kg), including the 2200 mAh battery. With a mere 512MB of DDR2 RAM and 4GB of flash storage, users of the Webbook won't be running any intensive applications or storing their entire family photo album. Assuming that Unity 2D is the default desktop shell being used, RAM consumption by the operating system should be low enough to allow common preloaded software such as LibreOffice (the fork of OpenOffice.org which ships with 11.10) and Firefox to be run relatively smoothly. No specific tweaks were made to improve performance or battery life, with the primary modification being the addition of content relevant to the market.

Most of the hardware specs are reminiscent of the original ASUS Eee PC. The most interesting hardware feature for the Webbook is its processor. In order to cut costs and power consumption, Vodafone went with an 800 MHz Freescale iMX515 (based on the ARM Cortex-A8), making this netbook the first to ship with a mainstream Linux distribution compiled for the ARM architecture, rather than x86.

“Ubuntu's founding principle is to remove the barriers of access to computing for everyone,” said Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Canonical, the primary commercial backer of Ubuntu.

The base unit will cost 1499 ZAR (~190 USD). Adding a prepaid SIM and modem with 100 MB of data per month for 12 months will increase the cost to 1899 ZAR (~240 USD). There are also contract options.

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  • 2 Hide
    de5_Roy , October 20, 2011 6:46 AM
    price is too high for a netbook with 800 mhz cpu, 512 mb ddr2(OLD) ram, 4 gb flash storage. there are $130 laptops and $60 tablets. :( 
  • -2 Hide
    Stardude82 , October 20, 2011 6:50 AM
    Actually, that's a pretty good deal considering you pay $10/month for that data plan in the States...
  • 2 Hide
    cookoy , October 20, 2011 7:04 AM
    that's $50 for 100mb per month for 12 months, ~$5/month. Still wouldn't buy anything with less than 2gb ram and 16gb storage.
  • Display all 21 comments.
  • -3 Hide
    randomizer , October 20, 2011 8:52 AM
    de5_roythere are $130 laptops and $60 tablets.

    In South Africa?
  • 0 Hide
    de5_Roy , October 20, 2011 9:07 AM
    no. not in south africa. and those two don't have bundled data plans.

  • 0 Hide
    cats_Paw , October 20, 2011 9:10 AM
    I thought the idea was to make faster and cheaper devices, not slower...
  • 1 Hide
    feeddagoat , October 20, 2011 9:25 AM
    cookoythat's $50 for 100mb per month for 12 months, ~$5/month. Still wouldn't buy anything with less than 2gb ram and 16gb storage.

    cats_pawI thought the idea was to make faster and cheaper devices, not slower...

    The market its aimed at will be happy to even have a laptop never mind a fast one. Nothing like looking a gift horse in the mouth.
  • 0 Hide
    Pherule , October 20, 2011 9:33 AM
    I wonder if there's an option to get one without the data plan. With the data plan I suspect the netbook will be useless to many people as far as price goes. Too bad about the 4GB storage. Nice that it's flash, but really, you can't do much with 4GB nowadays.

    100MB per month - almost makes you wonder if they are on drugs. 5GB per month should be the bare minimum for that price.
  • 1 Hide
    alidan , October 20, 2011 9:53 AM
    de5_royprice is too high for a netbook with 800 mhz cpu, 512 mb ddr2(OLD) ram, 4 gb flash storage. there are $130 laptops and $60 tablets.


    that arm will last you how long though?
    ddr2 or ddr3, doesnt really matter at all, speed wise, these aren't high powered machines and 512 of ddr2 was probably cheaper than a gig of 3
    4gb flash is good enough for the os to boot, keep in mind, not ment for storage, just getting online, in touch with people and such
  • -2 Hide
    vaughn2k , October 20, 2011 10:21 AM
    I want one.
  • 1 Hide
    nikorr , October 20, 2011 10:46 AM
    Ubuntu :cool:
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , October 20, 2011 11:01 AM
    It will be interesting to see how it does, sounds like something designed in the boardroom, I live in South Africa but would certainly not presume to speak for the poor. Are poor people more or less likely to spend their hard-earned cash on old, outdated, slow, limited devices? We will see.
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , October 20, 2011 11:30 AM
    This is not "the first [netbbok] to ship with a mainstream Linux distribution compiled for the ARM architecture, rather than x86", Genesi and Hercules have a similar one based on the Efika MX515.
  • 3 Hide
    Anonymous , October 20, 2011 12:17 PM
    Do not confuse Rands with any other currency such as Pounds or Dollars.

    R1499 = £117/$185

    This may seem a lot, but when compared to your salary, it is minute!

    South Africa has some of the highest tech and car prices in the world. It produces most of its own cars, Imports are taxed heavily to protect the Internal Manufacturing market. Here in the uk, a 15yr old car generally ends in the Scrap Yard, In SA It will still be worth a few Thousand Pounds!

    This Laptop is CHEAP in SA Standards! I see a large population who may just be able to stretch to this and become connected!
  • 0 Hide
    spookie , October 20, 2011 12:27 PM
    It realy needs a better CPU!
    here in South Africa everything is over priced... especially Vodacom internet!! for R200 (R8.09/$ so that's roughly $25) you can barely get 4GB on vodacom. There is another network where you can get 10GB for the same price
  • 2 Hide
    indian-art , October 20, 2011 12:28 PM
    Now that Ubuntu has been ported so well to ARM laptops, I request Mark to bring it to tablets like Aakash. http://www.moneycontrol.com/news/special-videos/the-story-behind-indias-dirt-cheap-tablet-pc-aakash_602271.html

    I completely agree with Mark when he says "Ubuntu’s founding principle is to remove the barriers of access to computing for everyone".
  • 0 Hide
    spookie , October 20, 2011 12:31 PM
    moriconDo not confuse Rands with any other currency such as Pounds or Dollars.R1499 = £117/$185This may seem a lot, but when compared to your salary, it is minute!South Africa has some of the highest tech and car prices in the world. It produces most of its own cars, Imports are taxed heavily to protect the Internal Manufacturing market. Here in the uk, a 15yr old car generally ends in the Scrap Yard, In SA It will still be worth a few Thousand Pounds!This Laptop is CHEAP in SA Standards! I see a large population who may just be able to stretch to this and become connected!

    I agree on the overpriced part!! you can buy a car from Australia, ship it, and pay import tax, and it will still be cheaper than buying it here. Plus that car you buy in Aus comes out of the same factory (in South Africa) as the one you buy here
  • -1 Hide
    randomizer , October 20, 2011 1:01 PM
    de5_royno. not in south africa.

    Then why did you bring it up when this is specifically talking about South Africa?

    Pherule100MB per month - almost makes you wonder if they are on drugs. 5GB per month should be the bare minimum for that price.


    Again, consider the market. This is not for sale in the US. It would never sell there.
  • -1 Hide
    de5_Roy , October 20, 2011 1:24 PM
    Quote:
    Then why did you bring it up when this is specifically talking about South Africa?



    Again, consider the market. This is not for sale in the US. It would never sell there.


    i didn't mean to be off-topic.
    once i tried to install ubuntu 11.04 from the live boot cd to a 4 gb flash drive, ubuntu stopped the installer and said it needed more than 4+ gb to install. the dvd version needed more than 14+ gb. so i got it to run from an 8 gb flash disk but it ran really slow (cpu was a 1.4 ghz celeron) one of the reason might be that i choose to encrypt the home folder(that option was selected already so i didn't change it).
    i figured ubuntu should be run on a faster device and they deserved one for the price. may be the ubuntu on this netbook is a customized one, i'm not sure.
  • 0 Hide
    sonofliberty08 , October 20, 2011 5:08 PM
    better go get the 10" ASUS EeePC with AMD C-50 fusion APU
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