Android mini PCs have become a very interesting technology segment in the last few years. The Raspberry Pi has really helped to drive innovation around small form factor computing. I became interested in them as a low cost option to replace light desktop computing such as word processing. Many Android mini PCs are about half the size of a deck of cards, making them very portable and versatile. The device can be easily attached to a HDTV and then run whatever operating system is installed; Android is the most popular and various versions of Linux may or may not be supported.
My main goal is for my younger brothers (ages 10 and 14) to be able to use an Android Mini PC to do their homework on. Currently my parents and two brothers share one desktop computer. They have a way of continually messing up their computer and so I thought that it would be good to separate the kids’ computer from the parents’ computer. My brothers really only need a web browser and access to Google Drive for documents. (The infiltration of Google Apps into education is a whole separate discussion. One time I asked my brother if he was worried about losing his data if his Android device got wiped. He just looked at me and said, "Dude, it’s all in Google, who cares?") Android should certainly be able to handle the word processing requirements, so I started researching which Android mini PCs would be a good fit.
In my search, price was very important. I certainly wanted to be under $100 and closer to $50 was my goal. There are hundreds of options if you just start searching. It is kind of hard to sort through all the mini pcs and many of them have no real brand name. Most have dual or quad core ARM processors, one USB port, a micro SD slot, and Wi-Fi. I was hoping to have Bluetooth for keyboards and mice so I didn’t have to take up the one USB port with those. Three websites to that I found to be really helpful are http://liliputing.com/, http://minipute.com/, and http://www.youtube.com/user/Somecooltech1.
In the end I really sorted it down to three main options, from what appear to be three of the more prominent vendors. (These prices are from August 2013.)
1. Minix NEO G4 $55 on NewEgg http://www.minix.us/products/NEOG4.html
2. Rikomagic MK802 IIIS $60 on NewEgg http://www.rikomagic.com/en/product/showpro_id_32_pid_19.html
3. Tronsmart MK908 $65 on geekbuying.com http://www.tronsmart.com/Item/46
The first two have dual core processors while the third has a quad core. The second two also have Bluetooth. In order to take advantage of both the better processor and the Bluetooth, we decided to go with the Tronsmart MK908.
While I can’t say from firsthand experience, many of the reviews I have read lead me to believe that WiFi connectivity can be an issue for these types of mini pcs. In addition, it seems that some apps (particularly media content apps) from the Google Play store refuse to run on non-certified devices, possibly related to licensing agreements. I plan to test both of these situations.
Overall I expect that this device will accomplish what I am looking for, but I will do many tests on it and report back on its performance in all categories in future blog posts. I plan to cover general performance, media streaming and playback, and supported apps. I am not sure how it will feel to use a keyboard and mouse with Android, so I will provide a reflection on that as well.
In the next post, I will cover the set up and user experience for this device.
Kyle Wilcox is a guest writer for TheAverageGuy.tv. You can find him on Twitter at @kylejwx