MG, Android’s Answer to the iPod Touch, Hits Kickstarter

mg

If the Kickstarter campaign for the MG goes according to plan, kids all over the world may be opening up shiny new Ice Cream Sandwich devices over the holidays…but we’ve got a long way to go.

The MG

The easiest way to think of the MG is as an Android phone, but without the phone part. To compare it to the iOS world, this would be the Android equivalent to the iPod Touch; it runs all the same apps and does all the same things, except without the pesky monthly payments to complicate things.

Neo Freerunner

To that end, the MG answers a fairly common request from the Android community. While there’s no shortage of cheap Android tablets, there’s been a distinct lack of media or game targeted Android devices, at least, of any quality. If the MG can deliver a high quality Android device for a reasonable price, they just might be able to corner the market.

In terms of aesthetics, the MG smartly doesn’t look nearly as childish as you may expect. It’s certainly nothing to get overly excited about visually, but an adult wouldn’t look completely foolish holding it in public. In fact, it looks strangely similar to the Linux powered NeoFreerunner.

The hardware specs are respectable for a device designed primary for children, but not exactly breaking any new ground here:

  • 4″ WVGA (480×800) Capacitive Touch
  • TCC8925 Cortex A5 processor at 1 GHz
  • 1GB RAM
  • 4GB internal storage
  • 1880mAh battery (3.75+ hours – Play time; 4 days+ – Idle time)
  • Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich)
  • WiFi 802.11 b/g/n
  • 1.3MP front-facing camera for still image and video capture
  • Stereo headset jack
  • Micro SD card slot for expandable memory
  • Micro USB 2.0 HS
  • Gyroscope, Compass, Accelerometer sensors

The most underwhelming part of the MG has to be the CPU; the TCC8925 Cortex A5 is usually found in various low-cost Android tablets, set top boxes, and most recently, the “Android on a stick” devices. While it should have no problems with lower end games, this is certainly no Tegra 3, which is seen in even entry level tablets such as the Nexus 7.

As for pricing, the Kickstarter page is a bit coy in that regard. For a $99 pledge you can get your hands on an MG, but it’s clear that’s lower than the retail. Looking a bit farther down the page we see that $150 will get you a first run MG, and $300 will get you two of them, so it seems pretty safe to assume $150 is at least close to its retail price. $150 is pretty fair when compared to dedicated handheld game consoles like the 3DS and PS Vita, but may seem a little pricey when consumers compare it to the cost of traditional Android phones (which, to be fair, are subsidized).

MG Software

The MG runs what appears to be stock Android 4.0, which means you will have access to all of the applications, games, and media that is available in the official Play Store. This means, out of the box, this will have a game catalog to rival any other handheld game system.

Naturally, this means that kids will have access to a lot of software and content that they probably shouldn’t. In addition to the standard Android Play Store content filtering, the MG also employs what’s being called the “Remote Trust” system: basically a way to remotely monitor the usage of the device. Parents will be able monitor which applications are installed and played on the MG, down to how long each individual application was run.

Parents will be able to get insight on how the MG is being used.

SpendSmart Payments

Other than content that children aren’t supposed to have access too, there is another threat lurking in the Play Store: paid software.

Letting your kids hammer at your credit card with 99 cent purchases is something most parents would want to avoid, so the MG will use a prepaid debit system run by the aptly named “BillMyParents“. This lets kids purchase whatever they wish without getting access to your primary account. Once they have drained the SpendSmart account with purchases via “freemium” games, they are cut off until you decide to add new funds to the account.

Of course, this is no different than other reloadable debit cards, or even the newly released Google Play Store cards, but bundling this program with the hardware is a clever way to curb some of the doubt that that perspective purchasers may have.

The Community’s Decision

The MG is an interesting concept, has a fair price, and just might have what it takes to make inroads in an area where Android traditionally has little penetration. But even still, the MG needs a little help getting out the door.

As of this writing, the MG has only raised around $30,000 of the considerable $950,000 goal. No doubt  the success of similar projects on Kickstarter, like the OUYA, has raised the expectations on what Kickstarter is capable of; but you have to wonder how many times lightning can strike. Will MG be able to repeat OUYA’s miracle, or was it a fluke?

One thing’s for sure, we’ll be finding out soon. With only 20 days left on the MG Kickstarter, and a targeted ship date of the end of this year, the MG needs to make a lot of money in a short amount of time.

If the idea of a mobile game system based around Android 4.0 sounds interesting to you or your kids, now would be the time to show your support.


Tom Nardi

Tom is a Network Engineer with focus on GNU/Linux and open source software. He is a frequent submitter to "2600", and maintains a personal site of his projects and areas of research at: www.digifail.com .

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