Thursday, October 31, 2013

MiiPC Kid Friendly, Family Android Desktop Computer Review

The MiiPC is a Kickstarter funded Android PC designed for families.  After a long wait, I finally got this in. Like with many Kickstarter projects, expect delays. It is now finally in my hands.



What is it?

It is a desktop PC running Android. It has a similar form-factor to the Ouya. The idea behind this is to empower parents to control their kid's computer activity with a simple computer. Apps and website usage can be controlled remotely by parents using their smartphones.

Spec-wise, MiiPC is SFF (small form factor) Android 4.22 Desktop PC measuring 4.7 x 4.7 x 3.1-inch.
It's powered by a 1.2GHz dual-core Marvell New Armada SoC with 1GB of RAM, 4 to 8 GB of flash storage, WiFi b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.0. The system features  front SD card slot in front. In the back, it has two USB 2.0, HDMI, analog audio I/O, Ethernet and power.







Basically, the guts of an Android HTPC you often see floating in the marketplace. Except, this looks much nicer than those no name Chinese imports and it comes with some compelling software.

I connected it to my Motorola Lapdock and took it for a spin. I also used it on my 27" Dell via HDMI and it works just the same.







Parental Controls

The main gist of this device is the ability to control it as a parent. They modified the OS and provided a launcher that supports multiple user accounts. Hence, each child can have their own profile of apps. 

Parents can control the computer usage through  smartphone apps found on both iOS and Android. With the Parent App, you can control the time limit, quit/close apps,  remotely install or uninstall applications, and log your child off. In short, have complete control over the MiiPC device.




Here are some of the options you can set. You can set time limits by day, week. Here, I am using the iOS app on an iPhone.




You can monitor which apps your child is currently running.




There is even granular control on which apps can be accessible per user.


Performance and usage

I haven't had time to benchmark this. Moreover, this wasn't design to win any speed races. In my use, I found it rather snappy but there was an occasional lag here and there. At the price point, I can't really complain.

My needs have changed since I originally backed this Kickstarter project. I envisioned it for my son but he now uses a Chromebook. With very a small desk, I don't know if I can fit this in his arrangement. So for the time being, I will be using it as a PLEX media client. Running PLEX or XBMC was fun. It was able to handle most of my files.

Next, MiiPC does not support Google Play. However, there are work arounds to that problem.
Here is a statement from MiiPC on their Facebook page regarding that issue.





The major and only real drawback to this device is the fact is that Android is a touch-based operating system. When you use this in the manner of a desktop PC, you won't be able to run touch optimized apps. Furthermore, games that require gyro controls won't work either. For web browsing, multimedia and simple apps, this won't be an issue.

Conclusion

I'm still trying to wrap my head around this. So far, it is a pretty cool little device. The lack of Play Store access might be an issue for some. However, the company, ZeroDesktop does provide a curated alternative app store. Moreover, I was also able to download Amazon App Store. In the end, I got the apps I wanted installed.

I'll play with it some more before giving a definitive appraisal.

Here is a size comparison to an AppleTV 3 and iPhone 5. It is fairly small and easily fits in the corner of my crowded desk as I did my evaluation.






Link: http://www.miipc.com/




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