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Debian Handhelds Linux

Ask Slashdot: Best Tablet For Running a Real GNU/Linux Distribution? 277

bmsleight writes "Android is nice, but I do not want to pay to print or be beholden to the cloud to do everything or chroot. I just want a tablet that can run a MythTv-client, and good old apt-get instead of an app market. I have a Joggler — which costs £60 — I'd like something similar but with a battery, a bigger screen, and other modern tablet features. So, what's the best tablet for running a real GNU/Linux distribution (ideally Debian)? Bonus points for the best apt-get-able distribution that works with a tablet."
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Ask Slashdot: Best Tablet For Running a Real GNU/Linux Distribution?

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  • Asus Transformer (Score:5, Informative)

    by Jeagoss ( 661909 ) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @06:33AM (#38333546) Homepage Journal
    The Asus Transformer isn't exactly cheap, but you can run full blown Linux distros on it. I've read of people running Ubuntu on it. I've had Arch Linux running on mine. I went back to Android after a bit just because my OS choices were more for the "cause I could" factor.
  • Re:HP Touchpad (Score:5, Informative)

    by anomaly256 ( 1243020 ) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @06:39AM (#38333574)
    Not free per-se.. Open source. There's a distinction ;)
  • Thinkpad X201T (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 11, 2011 @06:51AM (#38333626)

    Ok, a tablet PC is not exactly the same thing as a plain tablet, but if you are serious about Linux, then you can't beat a proper laptop that can also be used as a tablet with the keyboard folded down.

  • by Gaygirlie ( 1657131 ) <gaygirlie&hotmail,com> on Sunday December 11, 2011 @06:52AM (#38333632) Homepage

    I have a 10" Iconia Tab A500 and I know one can run Ubuntu on it, though I do not know how easy it is to install as I haven't tried it. A500 may not be the best tablet out there, but it sports a pretty good, strong aluminum construction which makes it plenty sturdy, and more importantly it sports a full-size USB-host port meaning that you can plug in all kinds of regular USB-devices. In an emergency you can even charge your cellphone from it.

    A500 has bluetooth, 802.11n support and does have a MicroSDHC slot for expanding storage, but it isn't exactly cheap. And it doesn't come with 3G. If you want 3G then you can use a USB-dongle under Ubuntu or buy A501 which is otherwise the same as A500 but does include a built-in 3G modem (though I don't know if it is supported under Ubuntu, you better google that)

    Other than that I really do not have much to offer though, sorry.

  • by stephanruby ( 542433 ) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @06:58AM (#38333654)

    You do not have to pay to print on Android, and nor do you need to rely on Cloud Print to print either.

    You just need to install the Android app from the printer manufacturer that makes your printer. That's all. And those apps are all free (with no ads and no paid apps equivalents). You can just think of them as drivers. They'll work through the usb to your computer, through bluetooth, or through wifi.

  • Re:Unity (Score:5, Informative)

    by SausageOfDoom ( 930370 ) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @06:58AM (#38333658)

    He was asking what hardware is best suited, not which distro.

    This is something I've been interested in for a while, but haven't found any reasonably-priced tablet (eg same price as a comparative netbook).

    I mostly want mine for myth-frontend and a web browser - although like the OP I'd prefer to run debian/ubuntu, if I find a decent cheap android-only tablet, there is mythdroid: []

    It's not a one-click install, and requires MDD on the myth backend, but I'm using it on my android mobile at the moment, and seems to work pretty well (apart from the lack of a menu button when operating as a remote)

  • by Gaygirlie ( 1657131 ) <gaygirlie&hotmail,com> on Sunday December 11, 2011 @07:02AM (#38333670) Homepage

    Ah, in a reply to myself: apparently you cannot run plain Ubuntu on A500. You can run Ubuntu under Android with e.g. [] but I don't know if that is useful for anyone else or not, but I feel somewhat tempted to try it myself.

  • by rust627 ( 1072296 ) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @07:08AM (#38333692)

    You could try the Smart Book from Always Innovating

    This is the tablet/netbook convertible that seems to have been the inspiration for the Asus Transformer

    Comes preloaded with AIOS (their own customised flavour of linux), Android, Ubuntu, and ChromiumOS

    I'm hoping to have one soon myself to try.

  • Archos (Score:5, Informative)

    by lowieken ( 522530 ) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @07:13AM (#38333714) Homepage

    Have a look at Archos tablets. They support Debian on their gen8 series, but those are still a bit slow. People are already running debian on their gen9 products, and official support for that is coming soon.

    See also: [] [] []

  • Re:Unity (Score:5, Informative)

    by bmullan ( 1425023 ) <.moc.oohay. .ta. .nallumb.> on Sunday December 11, 2011 @07:16AM (#38333732)
    I have an ExoPC which is ATOM N450 based. Being Atom cpu Ubuntu 11.10 installed easily and required NO chroot.

    I've looked for quite a while and as far as my searching has found there are no ARM based linux for tablets out there "yet".

    Ubuntu 12.04 (april 2012) is going to support OMAP4 ARM devices. Tegra2 cpu included so alot of the current flock of ARM Tegra 2 Tablets should be able to run it and any derivatives (mint etc) when that is released next spring.

    There's also been alot of work by Canonical/Ubuntu and others that you can find at
  • Re:Unity (Score:5, Informative)

    by bmullan ( 1425023 ) <.moc.oohay. .ta. .nallumb.> on Sunday December 11, 2011 @07:22AM (#38333768)
    From Intel's AppUP website here is a writeup/guide about how to create a multi-boot environment on the Atom based ExoPC []

    This shows how to multiboot Ubuntu, Windows, MeeGo on the ExoPC.

    NOTE: the ExoPC is exactly the same h/w as the European WeTab tablet. BOTH are made by a subsidiary of ASUS.
  • Re:Asus Transformer (Score:4, Informative)

    by scdeimos ( 632778 ) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @07:25AM (#38333778)

    You *can* install Ubuntu on it, but it doesn't exactly run well.

  • Re:HP Touchpad (Score:5, Informative)

    by Sipper ( 462582 ) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @08:22AM (#38333976)

    I've been looking around for something very similar, and I found that you can run "UbuntuChroot" on the HP TouchPad:


    This isn't exactly what you're looking for, but it's close. I've specifically been looking at solutions for the HP TouchPad for this since I was given one as a gift. I also would greatly prefer Debian over Ubuntu, and would rather have straight Debian rather than a Chroot, but this is as close as I've gotten so far.

  • Re:Working on it (Score:5, Informative)

    by lkcl ( 517947 ) <> on Sunday December 11, 2011 @08:38AM (#38334022) Homepage

    ok there are two answer. the first is for the EOMA-compliant module *only*.

    1) we'd like to keep it somewhere between $75 and $100 for the very early runs, and it looks like we're set to achieve that. it seriously depends on the quantities, and on how much profit people would like the CIC company to make (yes, CICs can work that way whereas Ltd Companies cannot be trusted with that kind of strategy).

    the NREs (non-recurring expenses) by the factory will be about $2,000, and that excludes hardware engineer's time because we've done this "you don't charge us for hardware engineering time and we won't charge you for software engineering time" deal.

    we have people committed to buying about 17 units so far: if that gets to 30 then the costs are down to $75 per unit (just for those initial 30). after that, there are no more NREs, and the unit cost can, assuming large volume, approach the mass-volume price of $15.

    of course... that's excluding other parts which is answer 2:

    2) it's best to go on mass-volume retail cost, unless you'd like to help dominic (debian developer, see debian-arm mailing list) make one using the EOMA-compliant CPU card which is where most of the difficult work (CPU-to-DDR RAM etc.) will already have been done.

    mass-volume retail cost for something that even includes a capacitive touch panel can be as low as $130, but i know from experience that there's at least a 60% markup on the BOM, possibly even more. here's a link to a discussion: [] and please note that the example product will be yet _another_ GPL-violating tablet, absolutely guaranteed.

    to work out the BOM you have to factor in the following costs, assuming mass-volume pricing: EOMA-PCMCIA-compliant CPU module about $15, 2000mAh battery $8, 7in 800x600 LCD $15, resistive touchpanel $5, main motherboard including WIFI module about $8, case (excluding *massive* NREs) about $3 - comes to a total of $39. yes, really - $39.

    if you want a capacitive touchpanel instead, add an extra $15 because capacitive touchpanels, being also made of glass and having to be thicker than LCDs, are at least 25% more expensive than the LCD underneath them! but you can see, even with a capacitive touchpanel the BOM only comes to about $55.

    so basically, you can see that a mass-volume retail cost of about $80 for a 7in tablet with the Allwinner A10 and a resistive touchpanel would be quite reasonable, and about $130 for one with a capacitive touchpanel would also be quite reasonable.

    apologies for answering in a rather indirect and roundabout way, which i'm sure you would appreciate given that this is slashdot, and that i'm not working for a profit-maximising company that is primarily motivated to do anything including lie to you in order to get your money.

  • Re:Unity (Score:5, Informative)

    by rlees42 ( 1973364 ) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @10:32AM (#38334668)
    The ExoPC is sold through the Microsoft store and is currently on sale for $399 for the 64Gb model. [] I've got one and love it. There is also a healthy community installing alternate OSes on it - including Ubuntu and Meego. []
  • Re:HP Touchpad (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 11, 2011 @10:47AM (#38334758)

    I've been looking around for something very similar, and I found that you can run "UbuntuChroot" on the HP TouchPad:


    This isn't exactly what you're looking for, but it's close. I've specifically been looking at solutions for the HP TouchPad for this since I was given one as a gift. I also would greatly prefer Debian over Ubuntu, and would rather have straight Debian rather than a Chroot, but this is as close as I've gotten so far.

    Agreed - I do this and it works great. There are a couple of rough edges perhaps getting the best keyboard setup but once you've chosen what you like with that, it works well. I have some crashes with the browsers - both FF and Chrome, but I don't really use it for browsing with under Linux on the TP, rather, for developing on the road when I can't take a full machine with me. Xournal also works great for taking notes, and, yes, you can install printer drivers and software and print from it just fine just like Linux on other systems. You can also install a compiler chain and compile your own code. I needed some updated versions of several pieces of software that were availble via apt-get but a little dated. No problems so far doing that.

  • by JoSch1337 ( 1168265 ) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @10:50AM (#38334774)

    I pre-ordered a smartbook in february 2010 (!!) and there is nothing there yet.

    Forums are dead.

    IRC is dead.

    No reply to any email you send to them.

    Dont bother with this company!

  • Not a Tablet (Score:4, Informative)

    by Thumper_SVX ( 239525 ) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @12:12PM (#38335362) Homepage

    My setup is not a tablet, but it's very portable and flexible and runs a pretty much fully fledged Ubuntu install any time I want to. It also keeps the number of gadgets I carry around and thus synchronize to a minimum.

    The basic part of my setup is a Motorola Atrix ( with the Lapdock ( To that I then used Webtop2SD ( to move my Webtop environment to my 16GB SD card on its own dedicated 4GB partition and then did the work to create a full Ubuntu on Webtop ( Of course, I had to root the phone but that was dead easy... in fact all of the above steps I did in about an hour while sitting at my dining room table drinking my coffee on a Saturday morning.

    It's not perfect... I'll admit that. It's slow compared to a laptop but in terms of functionality it's excellent. I can apt-get or run synaptic from my command line, and I added a small Gnome toolbar on the left side of the screen that contains my standard Gnome menu. I can surf the web, write articles in OpenOffice and I am not at the mercy of WiFi in order to be able to access the Internet. The Lapdock contains a battery that charges the phone while it's docked, and so I have gotten several hours of work done without needing to recharge either, and by the time I was done my phone was fully charged anyway.

    The beauty part was that I was able to then go home and slap my phone into my Multimedia Dock ( which is hooked up to my 23" widescreen monitor and has a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse and there was my desktop again like it had never left.

    I recently flew about 900 miles from home to get a new car (BMW Performance Center Delivery - and drove all the way home, and all I took with me was my Atrix and Lapdock as well as my cameras and I was able to use them to move pictures and videos to a USB stick temporarily to clear up space on the cameras, as well as use it to check into email and so on. If I'd needed to I could even have dialed into work thanks to our Citrix XenDesktop environment that works like champ on the Lapdock. Thankfully that was unnecessary as it would have really detracted from my driving my new BMW on the Tail of the Dragon (twice!) and the Cherohala Skyway (which I videoed both of them using my ContourGPS video camera and car mount).

  • Re:Unity (Score:5, Informative)

    by kno3 ( 1327725 ) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @12:13PM (#38335374)
    If you read the post fully, the author offers "Bonus points for the best apt-get-able distribution that works with a tablet."
  • Re:Working on it (Score:4, Informative)

    by lkcl ( 517947 ) <> on Sunday December 11, 2011 @01:17PM (#38335908) Homepage

    Ok, so if I understand, the problem lies in the binary firmware blobs the ODM gets from the SoC maker, making it hell from that point on to install any distro lacking those drivers.

    it's worse than that: you can't do security updates yourself, and if there's a bug you're screwed - you might as well throw the hardware away. the reason is that the ODMs are having such a hard time keeping hold of the limited supply of competent software engineers within china that they can't _do_ "updates": even if the factory asked for one, the ODM is forced to try to sell them the "latest hardware design" because the software engineer who did the firmware for the old device has quit and got a job somewhere else, better paid, with "old device X" on his CV!

    And if they are included in the kernel without source code, it violates the kernel's GPL.


    So the SoC maker doesn't violate the GPL, the ODM does,

    actually... there are a number of SoC manufacturers that do. given the serious consequences to them of doing so (GPLv2 requires permission from *all* copyright holders for reinstatement of distribution rights), i am often stunned when i learn of a SoC manufacturer that is involved in GPL violations.

    but the ODM never had the source to begin with.

    often they do, but it's also often under NDA (which is a GPL violation by the SoC manufacturer). we have actually jeapordised a relationship with one ODM because we went "oi!" to the SoC manufacturer, pointing out the SoC manufacturer was in GPL violation, and this went down so badly that the SoC manufacturer refuses to provide that ODM with *any* source code! it's a real serious mess, basically.

    I am beginning to understand what a mess the current fragmentation of designs has caused. I am glad there are people like you out there working towards bringing products to the market that preserve the spirit of true ownership, rather than feeling like a rented appliance.


    I have been monitoring the Rasberry pi site for months waiting to grab a one from the first batch, but I will be keeping an eye on Rhombus tech now too. The PCMCIA approach is one I have not seen before though, interesting.

    yeah - it's just at the right time. PCMCIA is dead, but with things like Conditional Access Modules for Satellite boxes, the actual PCMCIA connectors and assemblies are still being manufactured in mass-volume quantities. so we get the best of both worlds.

    the thing is that a credit-card size is coincidentally the exact same size (to within a few millimetres) as a PCMCIA card. so the difference in price comes down to that of the CPU, and the Allwinner A10 is $7 in mass-volume. for a 1.5ghz Cortex A8. which is stunning. that means that qualcom's 700mhz ARM11 is going to be at least $12, possibly even as high as $15. it's really hard to see how a USA-based company, with the USA-based overheads, could possibly compete with the Taiwanese and China based SoC manufacturers.

"How many teamsters does it take to screw in a light bulb?" "FIFTEEN!! YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT?"