The first desktop PC we tested running Android was HP’s Slate 21 All-in-One, a $399, 21-inch touch-screen machine bundled with an inexpensive wired keyboard and mouse. While we lauded the experimentation, and considered it a workable concept, the implementation was definitely wanting—in part because Android is underdeveloped as a desktop OS. It worked, but awkwardly. It did suffice, however, as a big-screen media-consumption device, especially good for watching videos.
Here, we’re looking at an even bolder experiment. ZeroDesktop, a small Silicon Valley app maker, has recently debuted yet another Android PC, a tiny desktop box dubbed MiiPC (pronounced me-pc). The MiiPC began life as a Kickstarter project, and in its retail form it’s much cheaper than the Slate 21: $129 or $149, depending on the configuration. (Kickstarter participants got the base model for $99 if they committed to backing the project for that amount at the time.) In the case of the MiiPC, you supply the keyboard, mouse, speakers, and monitor. Also, unlike the Slate 21, the MiiPC doesn’t support touch input; it’s designed to be used with a keyboard and mouse, as it doesn’t have an integrated screen.
The MiiPC differs from every other Android device we know of—and most PCs, too—in that it provides an impressive set of cloud-based parental controls at the core of the experience. And we do meanimpressive—for example, you can kill and disable an app remotely, while your child is in it. We’ll discuss MiiPC’s parental controls and several other features unique to this product in the Features & Apps section later in this review, but know that the parental-control aspect is a big part of the appeal of this device.
As Android devices go, the MiiPC packs a list of hardware components that are lightweight relative to what’s in today’s mainstream Android tablets. It’s powered by a dual-core ARM-based processor, whereas most of today’s higher-end Android tablets run on quad-core CPUs (as does HP’s Slate 21, for that matter). Furthermore, the model we tested, the $149 version the company calls the MiiPC Premium, has only 8GB of storage—which is, frankly, not nearly enough. The $129 MiiPC Basic model has even less (just 4GB). Count on purchasing an SD card to expand the storage capacity right away.
Yet another serious shortcoming is that the MiiPC is not a Google Play-certified device, meaning, among other things, that it can’t access Google Play, the world’s largest Android app repository. Instead, it comes with access to a couple of other app stores, which we’ll discuss later in the Features & Apps section.
There’s a good bit of software on board to get you started, though. The MiiPC comes with about 80 games that ZeroDesktop has converted to scale properly onto large screens, and the company says it’s in the process of doing the same for “many” others. The device also comes with some supplemental gaming software preinstalled, the Cannonball gaming console, which allows for game-controller support to enhance Android gameplay on a large screen. (MiiPC supports several popular game controllers, including ones for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. See them all here.)
Compared to most recent mainstream Android tablets, MiiPC performed merely ho-hum on our battery of formal benchmark tests. While it’s certainly got enough oomph for everyday tasks such as e-mailing, Web browsing, and playing the simple preinstalled games, its benchmark scores indicate it doesn’t have quite the resources to run today’s higher-end games.
As we said about the HP Slate 21, the MiiPC idea appears to be a good one, but the implementation is a bit underdeveloped. With that in mind, we think it’s a bit overpriced. You’ll have to bring your own monitor, keyboard, pointing device, and speakers, which, if you shop around, you could probably find for about $200, or perhaps a little less. So, for about $350, you get a fully functional Android desktop PC with a highly comprehensive set of remote parental controls, as well as a fairly capable gaming and media-consumption device. And if the parental controls matter greatly to you, or you already own a lot of the hardware to attach to the MiiPC (such as a spare display), it can be a good deal. But know that basic Windows all-in-one PCs start at around that same $350.
Read the entire review at Computer Shopper.