How Far Has North Korea Come with Tablet PC Technology?
Since the summer of 2012, North Korea has released three table PCs: the Samjiyeon by the Korea Computer Center; the Arirang by Pyongyang Technology Company under the Pyongyang Information Center (PIC); and the Achim by Achim Panda (a joint venture between China's Panda and the North’s Achim).
These early tablet PC models come with 7- to 9-inch screens and 4 GB to 16 GB of internal memory and weigh 300-520 grams. Hardware-wise, they can connect to the Internet using wired connections but they do not actually support access to the Internet.
They are all Android tablets but they run different versions of Android: Android 4.0.3 for the Samjiyeon and the Arirang and Android 2.3.4 for the Achim. Though they are based on the same operating system, their ways of utilizing the OS is different so that their support for foreign language use differs.
The Samjiyeon and Achim use the Android OS as it is with small changes made to the OS’s support for Korean while the Arirang has broken down the Android source code and modified the entire OS to meet North Korean demands. Thus, using foreign languages on the Samjiyeon and Achim cause no problem while users will hit a snag when trying to type in Chinese and Japanese on the Arirang.
These tables are still on the market though each model has been fine-tuned. The Arirang, which had been produced at the 5.11 plant, operating under the Pyongyang Information Center, has been discontinued and replaced with the Ulrim.
An upgraded version of the Samjiyeon, produced and sold by the Korea Computer Center, has also been launched.
The early version of the Samjiyeon had a circular button on the front screen just like the circular iPhone home button but its new version has ditched the circular button. In 2013, the Ryongak Computation Information and Technology Exchange Center had released a new tablet called ‘Yongheung.’ Thus, as of now, four tablet models are selling in North Korea.
To see where North Korea’s tablet technology stands now, I obtained the Arirang, Samjiyeon and Yongheung and had a first-hand look at them. Information on model names and production sites are printed on the back of all of the tablets. Bar codes containing their production information are also printed on their body.
What’s inside North Korean tablets?
To measure progress between different versions of a tablet, I looked mainly into the Samjiyeon because the 9-inch Arirang has gone through a hardware change: from a 9-inch model to a 7-inch model, which was released in 2013. A new version of the Yongheung has yet to be released since its launch in 2013. Thus, to examine changes in device specifications, I put the Samjiyeon under the microscope. First of all, in terms of hardware, progress has been made on the whole.
The early version’s display resolution was 800x480, which has been improved to 1024x768; its system memory has been upgraded from 512MB to 1GB. Also, its OS has been upgraded from Android 4.0.3 to 4.0.4. The latest version, lighter than the old version, features various entertainment programs that the old version did offer, such as Billiards, Basketball, Defensive Warfare, etc.
The Samjiyeon comes with various application programs, most of which do not support Internet connections. Programs related to education, entertainment and documentation are on board. Educational software programs mainly consist of dictionaries, textbooks, political ideology textbooks and other informative books. In an effort to address North Korea’s lack of paper, the Samjiyeon basically provides electronic textbooks and reference books.
Entertainment-wise, it comes with various games such as Rubber Gun Shooting, North Korea’s equivalent of Angry Birds, and Airplane Game. Those games are either imitations of foreign-made popular games or homegrown games. The office software suite, including Word and Excel, is available on the Samjiyeon.