Jide brings the Android ecosystem to the desktop with the Remix Mini. Andy Wolber puts the computer through its paces.
The Jide Remix Mini packs an Android-based computer inside a device a bit larger than a deck of cards (or, for Canadians, about the size of 1.5 hockey pucks). It comes with a 64-bit, 4-Core Cortex processor, 2 GB RAM, and 16 GB of SSD storage.
The device sports two USB 2.0 ports, an Ethernet port, 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, a headphone port, and a microSD slot for extra storage. Jide sells the Remix mini for $69.99, and includes an HDMI cable (about 20" long) and a power adapter in the box.
You need to connect the Remix Mini to a display, a keyboard, and a mouse. Pretty much any HDMI-capable display will work. I hooked my unit up to a 50" TV first, then later connected it to a 24" monitor. The Remix Mini requires a USB keyboard and mouse for the initial configuration. After setup, though, you can add a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, then unplug the USB devices.
The device auto-boots the first time you plug it in. The setup process is pretty much like any Android device setup: Connect to Wi-Fi, enable various settings, and login to your accounts. The Remix includes official Google Play store access, so you can install Android apps.
Remix OS starts with Android 5.1 (Lollipop) and adds several desktop-like features.
First, there's a taskbar at the bottom of the display. In the lower left, menu buttons offer access to apps (from a Jide-logo menu button) and the desktop. In the lower right, you'll find links to system features such as settings, Wi-Fi, and screenshot options.
Remix also provides both a custom file manager and control panel. The control panel offers a view of system settings that looks similar to a Mac OS X control panel, with a few horizontal rows of icons. The file manager provides one-click access to documents, pictures, music, and movies, in addition to the file system.
Remix adds windowing, too. Many apps run not only in full-screen mode, but also in re-sizable windows. Gmail, Google Docs, Chrome, and the Microsoft Office apps all support windowing. However, some apps, such as Google Hangouts, only work full-screen (as of mid-November 2015). Jide continues to update Remix OS to fix bugs and improve functionality.
Multi-tasking works surprisingly well, too. I watched a YouTube video and edited a Google Doc within a Chrome browser window with no problems. The Octane 2.0 benchmark in Chrome consistently returns scores above 2,500. For comparison, a 2013 model Nexus 7 upgraded to Android 6.0 scores a little more than 3,000. The Remix Mini isn't fast, but for the price, it performs adequately for basic tasks.
Still, I experienced a few reminders that both Android and Android apps are mobile-first.
Web browsers sometimes displayed mobile, not desktop sites. Take, for example, the CNET site www.news.com. In Chrome, I saw the mobile CNET site, even when I requested the desktop site. However, Firefox delivered a desktop-like version of the CNET site. My work-around was to experiment with different browsers and settings. (Hint: Try Firefox, which supports plug-ins on Android.)
The lack of a touch screen sometimes impairs usability. On touch devices, the Feedly RSS reader app responds to a swipe-up feature, which clears a set of articles and displays the next set. I couldn't replicate this motion in Feedly with either the mouse or keyboard, which made the app unusable for me. Fortunately, Feedly did work well in a browser. Other apps do allow mouse motions to replace a swipe. In Google Docs, I moved my cursor to an open area, clicked and held the mouse and moved it toward me. Google Docs interpreted that as a pull-down-to-refresh motion.
Not all Android apps scale well. The Google Docs app displays text extraordinarily large, so I wrote this article with Google Docs inside the Chrome browser. The Microsoft Word app scaled text perfectly well. The Microsoft Office apps look great on the Remix Mini, no matter what size window you choose.
To be fair, the items above may be outside the direct control of Jide and the Remix OS team to address. But, anyone who attempts to use the Remix Mini as a desktop replacement might encounter any--or all--of these issues.
An Android desktop for work?
If your organization uses Google Apps, you can add and manage the Remix Mini as you would any other Android device. That means you can remotely erase either Google account information, or the entire device. Google Apps device management might make the Remix Mini an appealing alternative to any device that requires an annual license fee to manage. A budget-constrained school lab, for example, might find the savings helpful.
The Android as a desktop operating system may not work for everyone, yet. However, if you can adjust to the quirks of a mobile ecosystem modified to run on a desktop, then the Remix Mini offers an affordable Android desktop experience.
- Remix: An Android ultra-tablet (TechRepublic)
- Could an Android desktop replace your Windows PC? (ZDNet)
- 4 mobile device management decisions for Google Apps admins (TechRepublic)
- Best practices for an enterprise Android deployment (TechRepublic)