Entertainment, Graphics, Hardware

ICD Tegra 2-based tablets unveiled


Three months ago, ICD [Converged Devices or Intelligent Converged Devices] was a small British startup nobody heard about. Then, Jen-Hsun Huang, co-founder and CEO of nVidia took a prototype of their 15.6" tablet and following the interview with a Middle-Eastern Mac fan site – a new star was born in IT space.

During CES, we met with the executive team behind ICD at a suite at Venetian and learned a great deal about this promising company and got the chance to try their products for the first time. We met with David Hayes, CEO of ICD and Rebecca Pribby, Creative Director.

David Hayes, CEO of ICD and Rebecca Pribby, Creative Director
David Hayes, CEO of ICD and Rebecca Pribby, Creative Director showing their labor of love – a 15.6" Vega

David is an industry veteran and his main job was "making these deviceswork", while Rebecca is "spiritus citatus", designer of the not justthe hardware but also the software aspect. According to Rebecca, ICDproducts should offer a balanced experience in every aspect – hardwarelooks, build quality, stability of software as well as customizable UIto fit different screen types. For instance, Rebecca compared thestandard Android keyboard on ICD Vega and Ultra. While the defaultkeyboard worked on a 7" screen – it didn’t exactly shine on a larger15.6" screen [keys were much too big for quick operation]. In order toaddress that, ICD is designing a new keyboard layout with moreshortcuts for Vega and subsequent larger models, as well as enhancingthe Ultra and all other compact models.

BSN*s own Daniela checks what will be available this summer from United States to Croatia, Turkey and many more.
BSN*s own Daniela checks what will be available this summer from United States to Croatia, Turkey and more.

Even though their products are not ready to roll out just yet, thecompany is working on tweaking every aspect of software and hardware inorder to be able to deliver millions of tablets onto the market. Whilewe are not in the liberty to disclose all the business deals that ICDsigned with the telecom operators and other companies, our roughestimate is that thanks to these deals, Tegra 2 will outship NV100"Fermi" GPU in 2010, regardless of how positive the yield of NV100[Tesla 20-Series, GF100] ultimately becomes. While 2009 was the year ofnetbooks, telecom operators view 2010 as the year of tablets and 2011and 2012 are years of "final convergence", with content following you everywhere you go – thanks to developments such as 4G LTE.

ICD Ultra 7"
Ultra is based off Tegra T20 Series SOC clocked at top clock [1GHz] for each of the two ARM Cortex-A9 cores. Tablet comes with 512MB of Low-Power DDR2 memory and 512MB of NAND Flash. Additionally, ICD bundles a 4GB Internal SD card [non-removable] and can expand to 32GB Internal SD, if the company who orders an Ultra decides to do so.

ICD Ultra cracked open - same motherboard is used on Vega - note the flexible design options
ICD Ultra cracked open – same motherboard is used on Vega – note the flexible design options

When it comes to communication capabilities, Ultra supports Bluetooth 2.1 EDS, 802.11 b/g 11/54Mbps Wi-Fi, FM Radio and an optional Communication PCIe module. This module can be either an already existing 2G-3.5G or an upcoming 4G LTE PCIe modules. In the case of our Tablet, you can see Motorola HTM1000, 2G [GPRS], 2.5G [EDGE], 3G [UMTS] and 3.5G [HSPA] add-in card. This can easily be replaced with Motorola or Sony Ericsson 4G LTE card. During CES 2010, nVidia and Verizon used ICD Ultra to demonstrate 4G LTE network working on the show floor.

ICD’s trademark – cool-looking magnetic dock is also available with the Ultra. Due to customer demands, not all magnetic chargers are the same, as they are optional equipment. Ultra will have a different magnetic charger from Vega – in case you don’t want to cash out for magnetic dock, you can charge the device using a conventional charger. David told us that when a product is being offered to different clients, they all want specific customizations that will pull their offering in front of the competitors. At the end of the day, those changes will result in a lower price for end user.

As far as our own experience goes, we were impressed with responsiveness of the Android 2.0 "Eclair" operating system, as Ultra looks to be the sweet spot for Android OS. The screen is just the right size, as 10.1" Acer One netbook looked to be a stretch, and Android is an operating system that can do so much more when is not confined to tiny screens on smartphones.

The subtle touches are Accelerometer which rotates the screen depending on the angle you take and Ambient light sensor – the screen brightness will increase or decrease depending on the amount of detected light. Skype is also a very interesting feature, given that Ultra will ship with dual digital microphones which should cancel external noise and result in clearer voice going out.

As far as the touch-screen goes, Ultra can be resistive or capacitive, single or multi-touch. It all depends on operators wishes [read: budget] so don’t be too surprised if Ultra appears on the market with different types of screens.

Next Page: ICD 15.6" Vega

ICD Vega 15.6"
To put it in a food context, going from Ultra to Vega seemed like going from a Kobe Beef Filet Mignon to a 22 ounce porterhouse – they both taste great in their own way but sizes differ.

7" Ultra on the left and 15.6" Vega on the right
7" Ultra on the left and 15.6" Vega on the right

Vega was the tablet that put ICD on the map and the company kept on developing the tablet following its debut. The tablet was so hot that sites spread rumors that Vega was the long-awaited Apple’s tablet or some secret weapon made by nVidia. The fact of the matter is that Vega stands on its own, with massive 15.6" screen. Even though the screen is massive, the prototype doesn’t weigh a ton. David claims the device will be very mobile, as the screen size enabled them to put in a conventional notebook battery. With 4400 mAh available, you can expect this tablet to last for ages and remains in-line with nVidia’s claims for Tegra playback – you should get more than
a hundred hours of audio playback and if you take the world’s longest route with Singapore Airlines from Singapore to Newark, the device should work without a charger for majority of the flight. For routes such as West Coast to Europe or Asia to West Coast – don’t worry, you’re covered.

Back of Vega shows ICD's trademark - magnetic charging dock
Vega’s backside shows a trademark of ICD design – magnetic charging dock

When it comes to hardware specifications, size was decided by the 15.6" Resistive Touchscreen. David told us they’re trying to get capacitive multi-touch 15.6" panels – the issue is that not a lot of companies offer such a model. Thus, if you’re an LCD vendor or know a friend that knows a fried – let ICD know if they could get 15.6" capacitive touch-screen. Do bear in mind they need a lot of them. Seriously, a lot of them. Unlike the Ultra, Vega will probably ship with 32GB Internal SD memory, while the rest of specifications is the same as Ultra. Going with universal motherboard with an MXM slot enabled ICD to be as flexible in creation of tablets as possible. For instance, Vega started its life powered by 1st generation Tegra and the company easily upgraded the design with Tegra 2 and can do the same thing with Tegra 3 etc.

As far as the experience goes, at first the device felt a bit odd, mostly due to its size. Virtual Keyboard was too big for quick typing but Rebecca assured us that the new and more efficient keyboard is on the way. Surfing was as comfortable as on a desktop PC, even we do feel that Vega needs a capacitive multi-touch screen to become a perfect converged device. Our site loaded perfectly, as was going back and forth between different stories. For instance, Facebook, Twitter all work like a charm, while Adobe still needs time to polish the Flash for Android OS. Once Adobe makes stable version that doesn’t crash at all, you should be able to play games such as Farmville, Bejeweled, Mafia Wars and many more. Given that Farmville alone has over 150 million accounts with 78 million active players; that is a huge user base that would love to have the ability to play games "on the go."

Farmville on a tablet? You bet.
Farmville on a tablet? You bet.

Still, the most impressive feature is watching movies. Screen is just perfect for the job and if the tablet is able to hold out for hours and hours, we see nothing else but doom and gloom for smartphones and netbooks as far as multimedia-savvy users are concerned. Imagine leaving your tablet turned on all the time, active data connection and receiving calls through Skype/Google Voice on your Bluetooth headset. At the same time, Battery life with the screen turned off is not running in circles around Apple’s iPhone or Blackberry Bold, but rather flying around the globe. With 3G turned on, iPhone’s battery life is somewhere around four hours. BlackBerry Bold offers twice as much battery life due to the fact that RIM used Atheros 3.5G chip that utilizes power saving features. With ICD able to use whatever is available on the market, battery life is just a killer. If ICD keeps on Android phone capabilities, we might see the death of a cellphone as we know it – why not wear a headset when we need to, and have a tablet running all the time – that is exactly the disruptive technology Jen-Hsun is pitching nVidia on and who knows, it might just work. Bear in mind that 10 years ago, if you told anyone that Apple would be making almost all the profits on an MP3 player [with only MP3 players being Creative 6GB Jukebox and Diamond’s RIO] and manufacturing cellphones, Palm and Nokia in trouble and some Canadian company ruled them all – you’d be called crazy.

ICD told us that they don’t have a concrete plan on how many units they want to sell. The company won’t risk the product quality on lower cost of manufacturing – rather lower the cost over time through ordering first hundreds, then millions of units.

You can expect to see ICD’s 15.6" Vega and 7" Ultra rolling out in T-Mobile worldwide offering with a 3G data package, following up with deployment of 4G versions and hopefully bagging the Verizon contract.
One thing is certain – pay close attention to this company, because Ultra and Vega are just the beginning.