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A Mostly Impressive, Budget-Friendly Android PC
on November 28, 2015
I received this product through Kickstarter, and so have had some time to use it over the past three weeks. I wanted to disclose that information up front, but I do not believe it biased me in any way.
Jide's Remix Mini is an Android-based PC with a heavy custom skin that brings over features that are typical with desktop operating systems like Windows, OS X, and Chrome OS. This includes:
* Multitasking - having more than one app open in a window
* Resizing windows - maximize, minimize, and resize apps within windows
* Traditional file system built-in - explore the onboard storage, which is 16 GB of eMMC flash storage, and delete/copy/cut/paste files, drag and drop
* Settings menu similar to Windows 10 and OS X - allowing access to system updates, connectivity options, display, and so on
The box itself is tiny, and the top is a capacitive button used to turn on the device, as well as to turn it off or put it to sleep - the latter two can also be done through the OS, too. It has two USB ports, HDMI, ethernet, a micro-SD card slot, and a headphone jack all in the rear of the device.
Powering the device is an Allwinner A53 SoC, which is a 64-bit processor running at 1.2 GHz with a built-in GPU. It has 2 GB of RAM, and 16 GB of eMMC flash storage, expandable via micro-SD.
Jide says that "most" USB mice and keyboards will work with the Remix, and I've found that is generally true, though my K750 Logitech Wireless doesn't work. All four mice I tried worked, two Bluetooth keyboard worked, and everything wired has worked. They suggest booting up with a wired mouse and keyboard available.
So what can you do with this thing, exactly?
It comes with a number of Google apps installed as well as the Google Play store, and supports Google Play Services. If you own an Android phone or tablet, that means the Android apps you're familiar with are available. In terms of productivity, this gives you access to Google suite of Docs, Slides, and Sheets, which are very serviceable versions of Word, PowerPoint, and Excel, respectively, that save your files in Google Drive for access on any PC or phone. While MS Office power users won't find this sufficient, these are perfect for students to do homework. You also get access to Google's Chrome browser for research or for entertainment purposes. These apps all work very well.
As a video streaming box, this device is only so-so in its current form. It supports 1080p output, and originally I was able to get YouTube and Amazon Instant to work. Netflix works as of late November due to an OS update. Other streaming apps like HBO Go, however, aren't working. Still, with YouTube, Amazon, and Netflix, most customers will be able to stream the content they want with this machine. That said, a Chromecast, Roku, or Fire TV make a better true streaming machine.
For those who play games on their Android devices, you can play games on this machine, just be aware that the GPU is not cutting edge; however, it is capable of playing games including Minecraft Pocket Edition. Obviously there's no touchscreen here, so you are going to want to use a bluetooth controller, or a wired controller. The Xbox 360 wired controller works perfectly for Minecraft and in other apps too, like emulation. The Remix supports game emulation to a certain degree; while all the apps I tried work, I'd stick to 8-bit (NES) and 16-bit (Genesis, SNES, GBA) for best results. These all worked great, but, be advised that Android games were hit and miss on this device. Some, like NBA Jam, just didn't work, and plenty of others do not have controller support.
And at this point, that's my main problem with this device: app compatibility. It isn't really clear which apps will and will not work. I was happy to see the HumbleBundle app worked, and all Amazon apps appear to be compatible and functional, however even some apps that should be capable of running on this hardware may not work. There are also plenty of apps and games that just aren't really meant to be used with a mouse/keyboard or gamepad, and those may work on the Remix but just not be functional.
And, app resizing is sort of hit and miss. Many apps will work in a "phone" shaped box or fullscreen, but dragging windows into other shapes will leave you with an unusable mess being displayed in that window. And, multi-tasking with hardware this weak is an issue. You certainly *can* run two apps at once, but keep in mind performance will take a hit.
Despite some of these issues, I actually feel that for $70, what Jide has accomplished here is nothing short of remarkable. In one evening I was able to get this device set up, wrote a blog post on it in Chrome, watched a video on Amazon Instant with my son, and then we played TMNT 2: The Arcade Game using two controllers (one Bluetooth and one wired Xbox 360 controller) through an NES emulator. I think this highlights what Jide was shooting for here: a versatile, desktop PC-like experience that has access to the rich Android app library.
I definitely recommend this device, as I'm confident that Jide is committed to working on the compatibility issues, and to improving the performance of their Remix OS over time. While you need to be aware that this *is* a budget machine with hardware limitations and that not all Android apps will work, the core Google Services apps all work very well, and it can run many games as well as Netflix and YouTube. As far as I know, there's no other $70 device that gets you anywhere near this level of versatility.
For similar products, consider the Kangaroo Mobile Desktop PC, which is a full Windows 10 device at $100, or the Asus Chromebit, which turns any TV or Monitor into a Chromebox for $85.
I'll keep adding to this review as time goes on and will upload some video of it in action.