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Tablet for hackers: is the dream dead?

Last year, the small California company, ZaReason, promised, and then came out with a tablet called the ZaTab which it described as a device for hackers. Now it looks as though our great hope was premature.

Source code was supplied with the device, there were plenty of means to move files in and out. The operating system was a modified version of Cyanogenmod 9, which is based on Android 4.0.

Given that there were some issues with the device as first supplied, a firmware update was promised before the end of the year.

Alas, it looks like the dream is now dead. The ZaTab is out of stock with no indication whether it will be coming back into circulation again.

And the people who run ZaReason are not forthcoming when asked whether the product is now dead.

Back in September, when iTWire ran a short review of the device, the chief executive, Cathy Malmrose, promised that there would be a firmware update to fix some of the issues we (and probably others) had raised.

She said that the new firmware would greatly increase the responsiveness of the tablet; it has a habit of suddenly refusing to respond for minutes at a time.

The auto-rotate feature seems to have a mind of its own and wireless reception is flaky - as compared to devices running Cyanogenmod, Debian, and Mac OSX. The processor in the device is the Allwinner A10 SoC, which includes the Mali-400 GPU.

Recently, iTWire asked Malmrose about the promised firmware update. Her response was: "We weren't able to make any improvements to the existing firmware so we don't expect to release an update but it isn't for lack of trying.

"The chip manufacturers have not been co-operating releasing updated sources. Manufacturing is a very closed business in general and it's dangerous for us (F/LOSS, everyone really) to have manufacturing so centralised in only one area of the world.

"The end goal is for ZaReason to either have its own factories or joint-ownership of factories in countries governed by laws that can be upheld, i.e. we can get the source."

Lofty goals, no doubt, but of no use to the people who bought the tablet for anything ranging from $349 to $425 - and are now left holding what can only be described as rather expensive paperweights.

Malmrose did not respond when asked whether the next generation of the tablet would have a processor sourced from another company.

ZaReason has traction with the FOSS community because it also sells Linux servers, workstations and laptops. In keeping with the general trend in the community, little criticism is levelled at the company even if the products do not come up to expectations.

The defects in the ZaTab have not been publicised mostly because most of the articles about it are written by people who never had a device to look at.

Only those who have the patience of the Biblical Job will be able to use the ZaTab as they would any other tablet.


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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.