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No, I'm not talking about the Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN ) Kindle Fire. That's old news already in this breakneck race to dethrone the tablet king. In fact, chances are that you've never heard of this brand.
Sold in China under the Ainol Electronics brand, this tablet will hit America "within the next several months" under equally unheralded brand names like Leader International and OMG Electronics. And at less than $100, this model undercuts iPads, Nooks, and Kindles like a chop block on Monday night.
Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG ) senior vice president of mobile operations, Andy Rubin, seems excited: "Low cost, high performance tablets are a big win for mobile consumers and a strong illustration of how Android's openness drives innovation and competition for the benefit of consumers around the world," he says.
However, this isn't quite the slam dunk it might look like on paper.
For one thing, this thing isn't exactly an iPad replacement -- to hit that ultra-low price point, Ainol had to settle for a smaller 7-inch screen. LCD panels are often the most expensive parts of smartphones and tablets today. It's an easy spot to conserve costs.
For another, it's not built around another ARM (Nasdaq: ARMH ) processor, manufactured by familiar names such as Samsung or NVIDIA (Nasdaq: NVDA ) . Instead, it's pretty much the first consumer-level Android gadget designed for MIPS (Nasdaq: MIPS ) processors, in this case stamped out by Chinese semiconductor firm Ingenic Semiconductor.
The performance of such chips is unproven and unknown. Rubin calls it "high-performance," but then he's supposed to evangelize Android products wherever they appear.
If MIPS chips turn out to be truly competitive with the usual ARM solutions, then we might have a winner here. In that case, you should see an onslaught of MIPS-powered smartphones and tablets following this trailblazer. MIPS sure would love that. But if it's a dog, or sucks up battery juice like a thirsty camel, it's just another unsellable doorstop. Animals don't mix with mobile gadgetry.
Only time will tell where these chips may fall. In the meantime, there are plenty of slam-dunk winners in the mobile computing race. You'll find three surprising examples in this special report, modestly known as "3 Hidden Winners of the iPhone, iPad, and Android Revolution." Just click here to learn more -- it's totally free for Fools.