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Qooq: The tomato-proof tablet

There's a strange Linux-powered tablet coming to the States. It's for cooks.

The Qooq tablet can help you choose wine to go with the meal it helped you cook. Paul Sloan/CNET

LAS VEGAS--$399. Linux. Designed for the kitchen. The Qooq is one of the weirdest tablet computers we have seen in a while. It's selling respectably well in France, we are told, and it's coming to the United States soon.

Qooq (that's "cook," get it?) has unusual specs, sports a too-high price, and is an outlier in the app economy. But it's not a bad product and it may actually have a niche. A small one, though.

The hardware: a 10.1-inch display, powered by a Cortex A9 processor running at 1 GHz. The enclosure: splash-, spill-, and drop-resistant. It looks nice, with its modern-art corner spikes that will keep it elevated off the counter and with a flip-out easel stand on the back, too.

The real weird starts in the software. The Qooq runs Linux. Not Android, not Windows 8, not even Web OS. Just Linux, customized by Qooq for easy set-up and intuitive operation. In the quick demo I got, it appeared to deliver on that.

A slightly-more-expensive iPad, or even a much-cheaper Kindle Fire, can also run cooking apps and live in your kitchen behind a protective book stand. You might not be able to actually control an iPad behind a stand, though. Whereas you can mash on the Qooq's screen with gravy-smeared fingers without worrying about it. Still, it's a big premium to pay for a hyper-specialized product.

That specialization, though, is also what might make the Qooq work. It's not a sure thing, but there is a hope here. Like Amazon's Kindle Fire is really just an Amazon store-front and content-consumption gadget, the Qooq is designed to display Qooq's own subscription-supporterd cooking content. If Qooq can sell into a luxury channel, through Hammacher Schlemmer (they'd love it there) or a high-end cook's outlet like Sur La Table, the company could move some units.

But we maintain that the smart purchase is a more general-purpose tablet and a cook book stand. There are plenty of cooking apps for the major operating systems. And when you're not cooking, your expensive tech investment can be used for something else.