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Friday, August 2, 2013

From North Korea With Love: a Tablet With No Internet Access

TOKYO - The Samjiyon tablet computer, it is safe to say, is no threat to the iPad.

While Apple and other leading tablet makers keep adding more features to these devices, the Samjiyon is more notable for what it lacks: YouTube, Gmail, Wi-Fi, even access to the Internet â€" at least, the Internet that most of the world knows.

Samjiyon is a North Korean brand, if that is the right word for the labels affixed to electronics in the world's most hard-line communist country. Word of the Samjiyon began to trickle out of North Korea last year after the device was shown off at a trade fair in Pyongyang.

A demonstration of the Samjiyon tablet.

Now an intrepid traveler has gone into North Korea and brought back a Samjiyon tablet for the rest of the world to see. IDG, a technology news service and trade publisher, has provided a report based on his review.

The device, IDG says, comes equipped with a 7-inch screen, a 2-megapixel camera, a 1.2-GHz processor and it runs a version of Google's Android operating system. Several apps, including games like “Angry Birds,” come pre-installed.

IDG said the information was provided by a tourist who asked that he be identified only by his first name, Michael, to ensure that he could re-enter the country.

The Samjiyon, acquired at a gift shop in Pyongyang for $200, is “surprisingly impressive,” IDG quotes Michael as saying.

“In terms of responsiveness and speed, it can almost compete against the leading tablets,” the news service quotes him as saying. “Tapping and launching apps feels fairly fluid, initializing the camera is as fast as the world's leading tablets, and there is no noticeable lag when playing games I'm familiar with, like ‘Angry Birds.' ''

But there is a hitch. Michael tells IDG that he has been unable to get the Samjiyon online. While there is limited Internet connectivity in North Korea, access requires government permission. Even mobile phones remain rare.

Instead, North Korea has its own walled garden of an online service, called Kwangmyong, and the tablet has a Web browser for access. The Samjiyon also provides access to government-run television broadcasts, IDG says.