We certainly didn't expect the world's first Android 4.0 tablet to be this: The Novo7 Basic, a $99 7-inch tablet that's available now in China from Ainovo. Ingenic and MIPS teamed up to produce the tablet, which runs on an Ingenic XBurst 1GHz CPU with 512MB of RAM and 8GB of storage. The Novo7 Basic doesn't come with Google apps, but you are free to sideload to your heart's content.
The screen, surprisingly, is capacitive instead of the standard resistive screen in this price class, but truth be told that's the only thing going for this 800 x 480 display, which is quite dim and has poor color reproduction. Build quality, similarly, is exactly what you'd expect on a $99 tablet: it's thick at 12.3mm and there are plenty of creaks throughout. As far as ports go, there's HDMI out, microSD port capable of reading cards up to 16GB, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and a USB 2.0 port that should be able to work with 3G data cards (though it certainly wasn't plug and play with our Verizon LG stick). Performance is definitely lacking as well — web pages take a very long time to load and once they do, scrolling is quite painful on all but the most basic sites. There's a 2-megapixel camera around back and a 0.3-megapixel camera on the front, and in fitting with the common theme here they're not all that great.
Android 4.0 on a tablet is fairly similar to Honeycomb. The applications button is still in the upper right-hand corner, while the settings menu on the lower-right offers a few more options. One neat feature is a revamped the lock screen, which offers a circle of your five most recently used applications for you to jump directly into. We'd say Ice Cream Sandwich is usable at 7 inches, but not quite ideal as the buttons on the bottom bar are quite small.
In the meantime, we have to say we're rather impressed that a $99 tablet can perform as well as the Novo7 Basic, even if it can't compare to other, higher-priced 7-inch tablets. Obviously all but the most frugal users will want to wait for something that's more powerful and capable, but if nothing else the Novo7 Basic could be the vanguard for a wave of ultra-low-cost, usable tablets. MIPS tells us that the tablet will be coming to the US under a different brand later this year.