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Android Tablet Gives Rare Glimpse At North Korean Tech 125

Posted by samzenpus
from the best-korean-tablet dept.
alphadogg writes "An Android tablet brought back from North Korea by a tourist has provided a glimpse at some of the restrictions placed on IT users in the famously secretive country. The Samjiyon is the third tablet to have gone on sale in North Korea. It was unveiled at a trade show in the capital, Pyongyang, last September and received some coverage on state television, but few westerners have had a chance to see it up close. The tablet was likely manufactured outside of North Korea and the hardware itself is fairly unremarkable, but the software and the usage restrictions placed on the device provide some insights about life in the country."
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Android Tablet Gives Rare Glimpse At North Korean Tech

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  • Lame summary (Score:5, Insightful)

    by master_kaos (1027308) on Wednesday July 31, 2013 @07:54PM (#44441797)
    You know, maybe it would be actually nice to list a few examples of the restrictions in the summary to see if I care to even read the article or not. (Yeah, yeah I know this is slashdot, who even reads the article.. even more reason to post examples)
    • by MightyMartian (840721) on Wednesday July 31, 2013 @07:55PM (#44441799) Journal

      It's so restricted that the submitter couldn't.

    • Re:Lame summary (Score:4, Interesting)

      by barlevg (2111272) on Wednesday July 31, 2013 @09:02PM (#44442233)
      The article doesn't actually go into too much more detail (TV tuner only has access to two channels and can't be re-tuned, can't access the internet...), so it's not really the fault of the summary.
      • by Darinbob (1142669)

        Welcome to the modern world, where page long summaries are given their own shorter summaries, because no one important wants actual details (and by "important" I mean people who aren't us). To change this would require finding journalists who know how to do journalism, and if we did find such people there would be so few of them that they'd have to focus on more important stuff.

        • by Hadlock (143607)

          People smart enough to be real journalists go in to a field that pays more than journalism. Most of the time.

          • by FluffyBob (589615)

            Or perhaps the real world doesn't actually work the simplistic way young ideology likes to think. The hard cold reality of deadlines, market, and responsibilities outside of career get in the way of producing work of the caliber that dudes on the internet without enough time to read the article demand.

            The people 'smart enough' and organized/driven enough to really shine aren't wasting their time posting on comments on Slashdot about articles they didn't read.

        • by avgjoe62 (558860)
          Go to the seventh quote down, the one by G. J. Goschen from 1894 on this page: obligatory xkcd comic [xkcd.com]

          Everything old is new again.

      • by lxs (131946)

        There was the bombshell that it has Angry Birds preinstalled.

      • The article does mention that it is only possible to connect to a hard-coded list of WiFi hotspots.
    • Re:Lame summary (Score:5, Informative)

      by evilviper (135110) on Wednesday July 31, 2013 @09:03PM (#44442247) Journal

      Wifi doesn't work (or perhaps is configured for a few preselected networks only). And the TV tuner only gets 4 channels, so you can't watch the channels being broadcast by South Korea. And it doesn't have Google's common apps.

      That's really it... TFA is super-crap.

    • Re:Lame summary (Score:5, Insightful)

      by quenda (644621) on Wednesday July 31, 2013 @10:52PM (#44442893)

      Summary:

      • * The software is locked down so that counter-revolutionaries are unable to modify the firmware, as approved by Dear Leader.
      • * Any attempt to bypass these restrictions can have you thrown in prison.
      • * All communications to or from the device are intercepted by the State Security Apparatus.
      • * Even telling people of the existence of this surveillance system can have you tortured and imprisoned indefinitely without trial .

      I'm so glad I live in an enlightened democracy, instead of that totalitarian hell hole.
       

      • by Yvanhoe (564877)
        I wonder if one could do a self-spreading malaware that would activate wifi and create a mesh network to the outer world, at least for people living close to the border...
  • TV (Score:5, Informative)

    by Dan East (318230) on Wednesday July 31, 2013 @07:57PM (#44441813) Homepage Journal

    The most interesting thing to me is that it includes an analog TV tuner, which is preset to only receive a handful of specific channels controlled by the state. I've never heard of an integrated TV tuner in a tablet.

    The only other "unique" thing about the tablet is that he couldn't get the wifi to connect to anything, yet there is a web browser with 4 bookmarks to North Korean sites. The author surmises that it will only connect to hotspots that are proprietary in some way.

    • by Obfuscant (592200)

      The most interesting thing to me is that it includes an analog TV tuner, which is preset to only receive a handful of specific channels controlled by the state.

      In a state where all the channels are controlled by the state, is it really significant that the channels that a TV bought there can tune is also controlled by the state? What difference does it make?

      • Re:TV (Score:5, Informative)

        by _merlin (160982) on Wednesday July 31, 2013 @08:14PM (#44441945) Homepage Journal

        Yeah,it is important, because in Asia you can relatively easily point your antenna across the border and get overseas channels if your TV can tune/decode them. In Vietnam you can pick up Cambodian, Thai and Chinese TV channels, and the TV sets sold there have a massive array of options to let you choose colour standard, field rate, audio subcarrier frequency, etc. to ensure that you can decode and view anything you can receive. DPKR doesn't look so kindly on such features.

        • by mjwx (966435)

          Yeah,it is important, because in Asia you can relatively easily point your antenna across the border and get overseas channels if your TV can tune/decode them. In Vietnam you can pick up Cambodian, Thai and Chinese TV channels, and the TV sets sold there have a massive array of options to let you choose colour standard, field rate, audio subcarrier frequency, etc. to ensure that you can decode and view anything you can receive. DPKR doesn't look so kindly on such features.

          You can pick up those channels in Australia if you've got a big enough dish.

          The problem for the average NRNK'er is that getting the equipment is difficult. They could probably trade some rice and eggs across the border, but minefields and machine guns are a bitch to deal with.

          • by dbIII (701233)
            There is legit trade with China and some smuggling that goes on under that umbrella so there are some North Koreans with Chinese phones and a paid up phone plan within range of Chinese towers. There isn't much getting though though since the NK government doesn't trust China, but merely hates them less than everyone else.
        • by tlhIngan (30335)

          Yeah,it is important, because in Asia you can relatively easily point your antenna across the border and get overseas channels if your TV can tune/decode them. In Vietnam you can pick up Cambodian, Thai and Chinese TV channels, and the TV sets sold there have a massive array of options to let you choose colour standard, field rate, audio subcarrier frequency, etc. to ensure that you can decode and view anything you can receive. DPKR doesn't look so kindly on such features.

          Except the tablet's TV tuner is res

      • by HJED (1304957)
        No it's significant that it has a TV tuner at all because most western tablets don't
        • by Sir_Sri (199544)

          As someone else here pointed out, it's apparently fairly common in the ROK.

        • by dj245 (732906)

          No it's significant that it has a TV tuner at all because most western tablets don't

          But many asian mobile phones DO have TV tuners. It seems a natural extension that they would put them in tablets also.

        • by AK Marc (707885)
          I bought a Chinese copy of the Note (phone). It had a tuner. So yes, the cheap knockoff has more features than the official one. That's not "significant".
      • by evilviper (135110)

        VHF TV channels can routinely travel 100miles+. That would mean at least the southern-half of the country could be exposed to TV broadcasts from South Korea from across the border.

        However, radio is probably much better. AM/MW radio can travel up to 1,000 miles, and can be received with as little as a coil of wire (see: fox-hole radios). Simple AM radio can be extremely tiny, so easy to hide, and easy to make with a handful of electronics components and some skill.

        • Analog TV broadcast service in SK shut down completely on December 2012. It's now fully digital, using ATSC signal compatible with USA.

          Therefore there is no way that the tablet in question will be able to pick up any SK TV broadcast even if it was not restricted.
          • by evilviper (135110)

            South Korea has a history of international broadcasting. If citizens of NK could tune-in the signal, the south would be only too happy to keep an analog tower transmitting near the DMZ. It's probably only because the north has locked down receivers so much that the south isn't even trying anymore.

            And besides that, you're talking about a TV tuner connected to a CPU... There's very much a possibility of custom software taking the digital signal from the analog tuner, and decoding it. There's some difficul

    • Re:TV (Score:5, Informative)

      by MichaelSmith (789609) on Wednesday July 31, 2013 @08:08PM (#44441909) Homepage Journal

      I've never heard of an integrated TV tuner in a tablet.

      Thats quite common with mobile phones in South Korea.

      • by Billlagr (931034)
        It's probably actually desirable - since streaming media is not accessible (IE YouTube and the like), the TV tuner is a sort of way of having government controlled media delivered. True it isn't on demand, and you can't pick what you like when you like, but it's probably the next best thing and can be tightly controlled
        • TFA also says the tablet has YouTube replaced by an NK state substitute on their national intranet. So you can enjoy videos of military parades and lolztastic NK propaganda.

          • Don't forget the State run knockoff Disney channel! Hooray for Comrade Mouse demonstrating glorious leadership in exceeding production quotas!
    • Re:TV (Score:5, Interesting)

      by CohibaVancouver (864662) on Wednesday July 31, 2013 @10:04PM (#44442609)

      I've never heard of an integrated TV tuner in a tablet.

      When I was in Seoul a few months ago I was surprised to learn that almost all smartphones in Korea include a integrated TV turner, complete with antenna. You could see all these people commuting on the train watching broadcast TV - Even on flip-phones.

      http://modernseoul.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/south-korea-vs-qatar-cell-phone-tv.jpg [wordpress.com]

      • by Darinbob (1142669)

        Not a bad idea. I never understood why so many music players don't also come with radio tuners.

        • by orzetto (545509)

          Not a bad idea. I never understood why so many music players don't also come with radio tuners.

          In several countries, especially in Europe, this would make you subject to a TV licence [wikipedia.org], which can be quite hefty. In Norway that is $400–500 a year, other countries vary. In South Korea [wikipedia.org], instead, it is only $30, so I guess people do not care as much. Sometimes TV licences are on a per-user or per-household basis instead of per-device, so maybe Koreans already pay for this at home.

          Also, there are additional

          • by dkf (304284)

            In Italy, the SIAE (the local branch of the MAFIAA) routinely raids weddings to levy fines to anyone playing recorded music (most people hire live musicians instead nowadays, given how expensive the licence is).

            I wonder what happens if they try raiding a (real) mafia wedding...

      • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

        Is it 1seg or analogue? I don't know about Korea but in Japan and a few other countries they have a digital system that uses "segments", with channels allocated a different number of segments based on its requirements (mobile/SD/HD etc.) All channels are mandated to have a 1seg version that mobile devices can receive. It only runs at 15fps and some low resolution but is supposed to work better in urban areas.

    • by wmac1 (2478314)

      I had a $50 Chinese dual simcard phone which had a TV tunner and an ugly small antenna in 2008 :) It looked like a ripped off Nokia phone but sometimes it was better than the nokia.

      The reception was ok if the Antena was in proper direction.

    • by Trogre (513942)

      My el cheapo Android tablet from China has an inbuilt TV tuner, complete with a decent sized antenna. It's analogue TV only, so it's no good to me but interesting nonetheless.

  • by ackthpt (218170) on Wednesday July 31, 2013 @07:57PM (#44441815) Homepage Journal

    It turns you in.

    I wonder how many North Koreans could even afford such a device.

    • TOP level government workers

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ShanghaiBill (739463)

      I wonder how many North Koreans could even afford such a device.

      Probably a lot more than you think. Try this: Use Google maps to look at Seoul, South Korea. Put it in "satellite" mode. Now pan north about thirty miles. You will see a very green strip of land devoid of any human features. That is the DMZ. Keep going north. You will soon see lots of signs of human activity again. You are now looking at North Korea. Now zoom in. You will see roads. Paved roads. With cars on them. You will see houses, not as big as in the south, but not shacks either. You will

      • by Pulzar (81031) on Wednesday July 31, 2013 @09:01PM (#44442227)

        You should follow you own advice and look at places other than the capital. It's pretty common for capitals of dictatorships to be at a significantly higher level of standard of living compared to the rest of the country..

        Pick one of the smaller cities and zoom in.. you are indeed going to see lots of randomly scattered shacks.

        • by tftp (111690)

          Pick one of the smaller cities and zoom in.. you are indeed going to see lots of randomly scattered shacks.

          That is true for most countries on the planet. Agriculture doesn't pay well, especially on small scale and when not assisted by the government. Small towns cannot support large industrial base. If you drive on county roads in the USA you will see plenty of towns that haven't changed in last 100 or 200 years - except some have a gas station.

          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward

            Small towns? Just compare Hamhung, North Korea's second largest city [goo.gl] and Busan, South Korea's second [goo.gl].

            Note that most of Hamhung's south part is fertilizer plant's territory

            Note how small it is compared to Busan - FFS, Busan's comparable in size with Pyongang [goo.gl], except one's sprawled around and another one's compact.

            Note how abruptly civilization is cut and just about 1-2km west it's randomly scattered shacks.

      • by cdrudge (68377) on Wednesday July 31, 2013 @09:33PM (#44442427) Homepage

        Parking lots for of cars? According to this several year old article, there's less than 30,000 cars for a country of 24m people. DFW airport has approximately enough parking for all of NK's vehicles.

        Regardless, a $200 LCD screen that is useless for the average citizen seem to be an expensive luxury item where a car, if they somehow got permission to own one, may be necessary just to get around. How many people in the US or Europe have a vehicle but don't have a tablet?

        • According to this several year old article

          What article?

          there's less than 30,000 cars for a country of 24m people.

          Why should I believe your "report" instead of believing Google's photos?

          $200 LCD screen

          $200?? Tablets like this sell in China for less than $50 at full retail. Probably less than half that in quantity directly from the factory.

      • Most of that was built prior to the fall of the USSR. Almost of their buildings and most of their infrastructure is in a dilapidated state. Power generation is kept at a minimum accept for the core parts of the capitol and during the great games season. For repairs that can be done, it's just the facade.

        The nation is falling a part, and so is their military hardware.

        The next famine they have, I'm willing to bet the Kim dynasty rule will be over with military infighting over who will take over. Regardless wh

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by ShanghaiBill (739463)

          The nation is falling a part, and so is their military hardware.

          Do you have any evidence to support this assertion? Or are you just parroting what your government told you to believe?

          I have no first hand knowledge of North Korea (and I doubt you do either). But I grew up in America and heard lots of stories about the terrible conditions in Communist China. Then I went to China. I lived there for years, made dozens of friends, married a Chinese woman, started a family, started a business. It was absolutely nothing like what I was told. So I am extremely skeptical w

          • by DigiShaman (671371) on Thursday August 01, 2013 @02:09AM (#44443873) Homepage

            There have been walk-through documentaries of people taking a trip to N.Korea. The before and after images of pre and post Soviet Union era is remarkable. Once the USSR fell, China was the only major supplier. Today, support is limited and N.Korea is effectively on its own. Which is ironic given the heavy emphasis on Juche philosophy of self-reliance. You've seen the NASA imagery from space showing N.Korea a virtual black hole in comparison to neighboring nations, right? There is little to no electricity being used.

            I'm also married to a Chinese woman. Actually, she prefers being identified as Shanghainese for obvious reasons. The Chinese are not monolithic in culture. Which BTW is perfectly normal given the vast history and massive size of its nation. Anyways, I've traveled the countryside with her. Not some western group tour guide, but an actual you're-on-you're-own-don't-get-lost-because-no-one-will-save-you sort of trip. The disparage in wealth in China is incomprehensible to most Americans. It's bad enough even in the major cities (pan handlers being pimped out, etc). But get out into the country side and you will haggle over the cost of using a public restroom for only a few fen. Good grief!!

            Was my government lying about China and how bad the "societal reboot" was caused by the cultural revolution? Absolutely not! Mao Zedong was something of a "Hugo Chevez" for his time. Bombastic and (most importantly) incompetent. Millions died due to the miss management in resources under the idea of Communism. It was only after the economic reforms of the late 70s did things improve; vastly so.

          • I am extremely skeptical when the US government tries to shovel propaganda in my direction.

            You should be skeptical of all propaganda, but it does tell you a lot about the country that produces it. Try reading some North Korean propaganda: http://www.kcna.co.jp/index-e.htm [kcna.co.jp] and tell me what sort of country produces something like that.

            So while I am certain that life in North Korea is nothing like we are told, I douubt that it is significantly better than it appears to be from the outside.

            • Try reading some North Korean propaganda

              I can't because I don't understand Korean. But years ago, I remember reading the same sort of ridiculous claims, in English, about China. Then I learned Mandarin, and learned to read Chinese. I went back and read some of those documents in the original Chinese. The English translations put out by the US government were complete distortions of what was actually said. They would take common idioms like "raining cats and dogs" and translate it literally, when that clearly was not the real meaning (and Chi

              • by Ottibus (753944)

                Try reading some North Korean propaganda

                I can't because I don't understand Korean.

                You make a valid point about translations provided by adversaries, but the link I gave was in English and provided directly by North Korea.

            • You should be skeptical of all propaganda, but it does tell you a lot about the country that produces it. Try reading some North Korean propaganda: http://www.kcna.co.jp/index-e.htm [kcna.co.jp] and tell me what sort of country produces something like that.

              Let's take a look at some of the current articles, shall we?


              War Veteran Delegates Leave
              Delegation of Korean War Veterans of Russia Leaves
              S. Korean Believers Slam IS's Interference in Election
              S. Korean Students Protest against IS's Interference in Election
              DPRK's Victory in War Marked in Bulgaria, Czech Republic
              Anniversary of Korean People's Victory in War Celebrated in Various Countries
              Kim Jong Un Meets Women Soccer Players
              Kim Jong Un Watches Men's Soccer Match

              Hey, it looks pretty similar to Slashdot to me!

          • Today the heavy bullshit is piled onto successful democratic leftist South American countries, particularly those in the ALBA group. They're all communist hellholes ruled by brutal dictators dontcha know.

          • The satellite photos are exactly why I believe the so-called "party line" that North Korea is backwards.
            North Korea at night [zenfs.com]

          • So you're saying that the Chinese standard of living increased drastically from when you were a child to when you were an adult?
            People remember things from long ago. You need to extrapolate on that.
            I still remember my uncle warning me about travelling on trains in Japan, because people would carry human waste in buckets for the fields. He was there in 1946.

        • by dbIII (701233)

          The nation is falling apart

          How can we tell? It was a mere basket case until the 1970s when it turned into an utter hellhole.

          The next famine they have

          It's had an artificial famine for decades that hasn't stopped.

      • A little bit of both. NK has built nice-looking dummy villages within sight of the DMZ and also likes to build unused structures in the capital for propaganda purposes (like that big ominous empty hotel tower rumored to be made entirely of cast concrete, with no reinforcement). They even have an amusement park that sits unused until a foreigner wants a visit, then they'll fire it up and bring in a few busloads of random people to surround you so the place doesn't seem desolate.

        And keep in mind that those de

      • by musicon (724240)

        I did what you suggested, spent about 10 minutes looking around.

        Yes, there are buildings, and yes there are cars. But, I saw hardly any cars (mainly buses, and only a handful of those), and I also didn't see any parking lots. So, either I completely missed it, or you're seeing something I'm not.

        Just for kicks, I looked up a list of the world's poorest countries, and picked #1, Congo. While I don't see as many industrial/high-rise buildings in the cities (definitely many more individual homes) I see more car

    • by barlevg (2111272)
      As the article says, not very many. It's $200 (USD), and the average income of a North Korean is $100/month.
      • by BeerCat (685972)

        As the article says, not very many. It's $200 (USD), and the average income of a North Korean is $100/month.

        Traditionally (at least in the west), a wedding ring was meant to cost one month's wages.

        A car typically costs around 6 month's wages (or more)

        A house used to be 3 years' salary (though with mortgage bubbles, it's common for a mortgage to be anything up to 10x salary)

        So, 2 months for the average DPRK citizen to be able to afford one of these? Makes it a pretty desirable object. Therefore, there will be many in NK who will want one of these, based purely on the price. So, in answer to "how many of them", cle

        • by Nemyst (1383049)
          Considering how electricity is considered a luxury and vast swathes of land are in darkness, I think they'd have a hard time powering the damn things, let alone affording the whole deal.
        • Traditionally (at least in the west), a wedding ring was meant to cost one month's wages.

          A car typically costs around 6 month's wages (or more)

          A house used to be 3 years' salary (though with mortgage bubbles, it's common for a mortgage to be anything up to 10x salary)

          Interesting, I hadn't seen or heard of these figures before, but a quick Google search reveals you're right in many Western cultures.

          From the looks of it, I underpaid for wedding ring (about 0.5 months salary); slightly overpaid for car (around 7 months salary); and don't own a house.

    • by number11 (129686)

      I wonder how many North Koreans could even afford such a device.

      According to TFA, it cost $200, two months' wages. Of course, that was at the hotel gift shop, and it's entirely possible that NK hotels are as good at gouging customers as hotels in other places, and that it might have been quite a bit cheaper from some other store.

      • by ackthpt (218170)

        I wonder how many North Koreans could even afford such a device.

        According to TFA, it cost $200, two months' wages. Of course, that was at the hotel gift shop, and it's entirely possible that NK hotels are as good at gouging customers as hotels in other places, and that it might have been quite a bit cheaper from some other store.

        As most NK peoples couldn't even afford the room, these are probably for sale to Chinese who go to NK on business and are stupid enough to buy one, when they could get something much better back home.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 31, 2013 @08:01PM (#44441855)

    Given the war on general purpose computing [boingboing.net] , North Korea is far ahead of us technologically. We won't get this level of responsible computing for at least a few more years.

  • Yet (Score:5, Funny)

    by Billly Gates (198444) on Wednesday July 31, 2013 @08:04PM (#44441873) Journal

    Still less restrictive than a Windows Surface

    • Re:Yet (Score:5, Funny)

      by ozmanjusri (601766) <aussie_bob@NOsPam.hotmail.com> on Wednesday July 31, 2013 @08:54PM (#44442189) Journal
      And about as common...
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I know its funny but it also kind of makes me angry to hear something so ignorant. Why is the Surface an example of a restrictive device, why not the iPad. And lets be very clear that the surface pro is actually a computer and the least restrictive device.

      • by Anonymous Coward
        Get back under your Redmond rock, moron. The reason nobody's buying them is they're not good for anything.
      • The ipad is also an example of a restrictive device. Wow, this is complicated.

    • by PPH (736903)

      DPRK smuggled one in a while back and reverse engineered it. They figured if that was all the tech we had, we'd be an easy conquest. Hence their new missile program.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I thought Apple tablets were a walled garden! This sounds even worse, except for the garden part. The TV tuner part is useful, and would be useful on North American tablets for watching local digital television, except its so much more fun to waste bandwidth by broadcasting data redundantly over limited spectrum, and not just that, but terrestrial digital tv broadcasts are free, and where's the fun in that... make people pay for what they can otherwise get for free.

  • Tourists? North Korea? Uh?
  • Among several foreign software packages on the tablet is a Korean version of 'Angry Birds.' The game's maker, Rovio, didn't respond to requests for comment on its inclusion in a North Korean tablet.

    That's because it's counterfeit, you fool! Look at the photo. It's clearly a hackjob. Pay particular attention to the failure to properly use an alpha channel around elements on the screen.

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