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Android tablet gives rare glimpse at North Korean tech

Martyn Williams | July 31, 2013
Thanks to a tourist, a detailed look at one of North Korea's latest tablet computers is possible.

The version of Android on the device doesn't include Google services such as YouTube and Gmail, but the other familiar Android icons are there, including the browser, image gallery, calculator and camera. That's probably because the Google services would require a license, and in any case the Internet is scarcely available in the country. Instead, there's a nationwide intranet that has many of the same services, such as email and video streaming, but that's tightly controlled and doesn't extend outside the country's borders.

The browser has four bookmarks pre-installed, for the country's main news agency, its major daily newspaper, a portal run by the Korea Computer Center and state television. The first three have websites that are accessible on the global Internet, though the addresses stored on the Samjiyon are different, pointing to sites on the country's intranet.

Despite the browser and bookmarks, Michael hasn't been able to get the Samjiyon online. Configuration files deep in the tablet suggest there is Wi-Fi hardware installed, but there's no apparent way to activate or control it. The hardware is either not present or has been configured to connect only to certain networks.

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

There are also several domestic programs. They include a multilingual dictionary, a dictionary of IT terms, a Korean history app, a Korean chess game and a collection of books for studying "juche," North Korea's founding principle of self-reliance.

The Samjiyon has been hailed by state media as a useful tool for students, and there are several learning apps. One opens a virtual bookshelf with books on music, computers, mathematics and revolutionary studies, such as the childhood of Kim Il Sung, the country's founder.

One of the notable features is a TV tuner. It's compatible with North Korea's analog TV broadcasting system and comes preset to tune VHF channels 5 and 12, and UHF channels 25 and 31. That will get users two channels in Pyongyang, according to transmitter data from the country. It isn't possible to retune the channels, probably to prevent users from accessing broadcasts from neighboring China or South Korea, which is forbidden by the government.


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