A Computer On Your Keychain: A Week With Android Computers Built For TVs

Senior Contributor
02.19.13 4 Comments

Kickstarter, like any company, has fads. iPhone accessories, wallets, playing cards, things like that. One of them, recently, was the thumb computer: an Android powered computer about the size of your thumb that you plug into an HDMI port. Doing so essentially turns your TV into a big tablet. I got two of them and tried them out. What I found was an interesting concept… that needs a little work.

The two I used were the Pocket TV and the Equiso. For all intents and purposes, they’re essentially the same thing: A single-core processor, 1GHz or so, with a flying mouse and keyboard in one unit and a TV-esque remote.

The Pocket TV wasn’t built to use MHL, so you’ll need a USB power source with it, making the Equiso a bit more user-friendly in that respect. Beyond that the differences are largely cosmetic, although I do have to admit the Pocket TV had a few nice touches like the HDMI connector hidden under a cap on a string, and a physical button on the side to just wipe the device back to factory specs. The Equiso is honestly the less handsome of the two, but this isn’t a looks contest: Both are designed to disappear once you plug them in.

The key question really is… how do they work? The answer is: OK, but not great.

It’s fairly consistent: Every time you tried to push either, you hit a wall, especially in casual applications this was seemingly designed for. Gaming? Configuring a gamepad for these can be tricky, especially since even the included flying mice were surprisingly unresponsive at times, the Equiso’s space key standing out in particular. Games just didn’t quite come together, especially high-end ones.

Streaming video? Neither handle it quite as well as a Roku, which is about the same price. Other apps worked quite well, but the low-power processors made it a struggle sometimes to get graphics intensive apps to work properly.

Granted, both of these are works in progress: The Equiso just had a major update that addressed quite a few bugs. And the idea itself is compelling. But it’s hard to recommend either device to anybody other than tech junkies or people who want to set their grandparents up with a computer on the cheap, and are willing to spend a few hours configuring to everything works.

So unless you’ve got a need for Android on your TV, wait for the next generation. Once the hardware is improved and the software bugs are worked out, we might have a new front in the form factor wars.

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