Can we interest you in a $10 pocket calculator powered by Android 9?
Beware, it only has 3GB free and may go up to – yikes! – $23
A Chinese vendor is offering a pocket calculator that runs a full copy of Android 9 – complete with Wi-Fi. It costs ¥69, about 10 bucks.
Want to feel old? The calculator – not a scientific one, note – is powered by a quad-core Arm chip and runs Android 9, just to provide plain standard calculator functionality. That's what is described in an article on embedded and IoT site CNX Software.
To be fair, this isn't the new price. Writer Li Zexi found it on a secondhand stall and warns:
Now the price of this Android calculator has increased to 159 RMB in the secondary market, I don't recommend you buy it. After all, Allwinner A50's performance can be considered really low in 2023.
That's $23, or over £19, which is nearly the price of a tomato (if you can find one).
The specifications of the device are actually fairly reasonable. The chip is an A50 [PDF] SoC from cheap and cheerful chipbuilders Allwinner. It's a 1.8GHz quad-core Cortex-A7 with a dual-core Mali-400 GPU, but the calculator makers only bundled 8GB of RAM and 8GB of Flash, so there's a puny 3GB of non-volatile storage free. A calculator with three gigs of storage for only a tenner doesn't strike us as a terrible rip-off, but then again, The Reg FOSS desk is pretty old now.
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In 2012 we reported that Allwinner was selling its single-core A10 SoC for $7 in bulk. By 2015, CNX was reporting that they were selling a $5 quad-core device. Why run Android on it? Well, the core AOSP is free, so doing it this way is cheap: someone else has done the development for you.
The calculator has no launcher, so it's not that easy to load other software, but the device comes with a calendar, a notepad, volume controls and so on. It has a touchscreen, so people have rooted it and side-loaded games on it, as well as Playstation and Playstation Portable emulators.
Twenty years ago, The Reg reported on Xbox hacker Andrew "Bunnie" Huang and his write-up of a $12 Gongkai phone shocked a lot of people. A cellphone that could be sold, presumably at a profit, for only twelve bucks.
Well, now that kind of money buys a pretty functional Android device. Koomey's Law is marching on. Conventional computers may not get dramatically faster than they are from now on, but they will get cheaper, smaller, and use less and less power. If we want real advances in performance, it has to come from smaller, simpler software, rather than just spending cheap gigahertz on running gigabytes of free bloat… just to implement a calculator. ®