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David Zax

A View from David Zax

For $74, a Mini-Android Computer

The menu of low-cost mini-computer options expands.

  • May 22, 2012

Ars Technica and others report on a cool miniature Android computer that can plug directly into your TV. The whole thing is housed in a 3.5-inch plastic case, weighs in at 200 grams, and measures roughly the size of a USB thumb drive (a tiny bit bigger, actually.) It’s being sold by Chinese retailers, and you can get yourself one online for the low price of $74 (or 5% off, if you order 5 or more).

Some specs for you (get ready for some alphabet soup): an HDMI port that plugs into your TV (1080p), 512MB of RAM, a 4GB Flash drive (plus a micoSD slot that can bump you up to 32GB). For connectivity, there’s WiFi 802.11b/g. It runs Android 4.0 (ICS), and for a keyboard, you can use Android virtual keyboard or 2.4G wireless keyboard plus a fly mouse. The device has a AllWinner A10 single-core 1.5GHz ARM CPU, as well as a Mali 400 GPU. Need more specs? I doubt it, but if so, this site has tabulated them all.

A cheap, mini computer–does this sound a bit familiar? I’ve reported in the past on Raspberry Pi, the $35 mini-computer. After a lot of windup, the Raspberry Pi has finally made it out into the field, with its creator saying that 200,000 units should be out there by the end of June. Engadget just caught up with Eben Upton at Maker Faire Bay Area 2012, and shot a video of the encounter.

In addition to the much-hyped Raspberry Pi, the new Android computer will compete with the FXI “Cotton Candy,” another USB-sized offering. The Cotton Candy is expected to cost a bit more, $199 plus tax and shipping. The price difference is largely accounted for by the fact that it has a dual-core 1.2GHz ARM Cortex-A9 CPU, with 1GB of RAM.

Why exactly would you buy one of these mini-computers, given their limited capability? Their intention is eventually to get a new generation interested in coding, hardware, and what makes a computer tick. In an era when most of us view the smart phones in our pockets as working a kind of quasi-divine magic, devices like these three mini-computers, with their rough (metaphorical) edges, inspire a fascination with the nuts and bolts of computing. “The Raspberry Pi has the potential to be whatever you want it to be, just like a pile of Lego blocks,” says Adam Turner in a thought-provoking piece in the Sydney Morning Herald. 

That piece is titled, ominously, “Is the Raspberry Pi lost on the iGeneration?” Let’s hope the answer is no.

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