Lets face it whether you like it or not these days Android is pretty much everywhere, its in your smartphone, tablet, watch and even in your car and with it you can control your home heating & pay for your take-away, but Android in your home computer? The humble home desktop PC has always been the domain of Windows the behemoth from Microsoft with a smattering of those using OS X computers and various Linux distributions. But now there is a new upstart joining the fray in the form of Jide Tech a small start-up based in China with a record breaking Kickstarter campaign that created the Remix Mini, a (very) small form factor desktop PC which runs the latest iteration of RemixOS an operating system bringing Android to the desktop. Jide Tech claims that the Remix Mini is ‘the worlds first true Android PC’. Lets see if those claims are justified.
Tech Specs & Benchmarks
Firstly lets look at what is under the hood, according to the Jide Tech website the Remix Mini is powered by a 1.2 Ghz Quad Core Cortex A53 processor with 2GB RAM, has a 1080p HDMI output with support for H.265 4K hardware decoding and multichannel audio, along with 2 USB 2.0 ports, a Micro SD card slot, an ethernet port & a 3.5mm headphone audio out socket. As for wireless connectivity we have Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n along with Bluetooth 4.0.
As with any review before we talk about what the Remix Mini is like to use lets look at some performance benchmark tests. Each test was run directly after a cold boot to ensure that the computer had the minimum of software running to maximise its performance
GeekBench 3 Single Core - 430, Multi Core - 1084
Quadrant Standard 6078
Looking at these results we can see that the Remix Mini isn’t setting the world on fire, in fact I found these results quite disappointing even for a low cost device that runs a mobile operating system, I expected somehow that the Remix Mini would perform better than it did, I ran the same tests on a 2014 Moto G and the scores were very similar which helps put the results into perspective but benchmarking scores only tell one side of the story as we will discuss a little later. One thing that the benchmarking tests revealed (that Jide Tech kept quiet) was that the Remix Mini’s GPU is a rather ancient Mali-400 MP2, this chip has been around since 2008 and can only be described as entry level. Compared to most ‘normal’ PC’s this computer is very under powered yet as we move on to the next part of the review it seems to have just enough horsepower to get the job done.
Lets get down to the nitty gritty of what the Remix Mini is like to use. The Remix 2.0 operating system (which is built on Android 5.1 Lollipop) is lets say ‘inspired by’ elements of both Windows and OS X along side the usual features of Android, the parts of Android that make Android good, there is a Windows style start button which opens an Android style app tray along with a task bar that Windows users would be very familiar with. One addition to the task bar is the notification icon which opens the notifications area in a very OS X like manner and the File Manager again looks and feels like the Finder application in OS X. Another area that is ‘inspired by’ OS X is the settings app. This means that the OS is not only familiar to new users but is also very easy to use and users will be up and running in no time. Remix OS is more than a simple overlay such as Samsung’s Touchwiz or a custom Android Launcher such as Nova or Solo, Jide Tech have got right in there and designed a very attractive operating system that would feel at home on a computer ten times the cost of the Remix Mini. Add that to the fact that there are thousand upon thousand of apps available as it has the Google Play Store pre installed. This makes this PC suddenly very attractive to someone who lives in the Android eco-system.
Jide Tech promote the Remix Mini as a productivity PC and with using apps such as the included Google Doc’s suite or Microsoft’s offerings (Word, Excel & PowerPoint which are free from the Play Store) for day to day office type documents the Mini performs very well. As the apps run in a windowed format rather than full screen as they would on a tablet or smartphone this makes multitasking a breeze and switching between apps and having the ability to move apps around and see data from different apps at the same time is a breath of fresh air on the Android platform. When using the Mini for productivity you could forget that this computer is running Android.
Surfing the web on the Remix Mini wasn't the best surfing experience I've ever had, performance was on par with that on a low to mid range tablet device and that wasn't very surprising, after all I was using web browsers (Chrome & Dolphin Browser) that were designed for a tablet device. Using Social Media apps however was a better experience, all the twitter clients I used worked well (except Twicca which lost its Menu icon) and Facebook worked faultlessly.
Playing media on the the Remix Mini was a generally positive experience, I tested a range of UK streaming services such as BBC’s iPlayer, both of Sky TV's offerings (SkyGo & NowTV) along with Netflix and YouTube. All of these performed reasonably well and despite all of the apps being designed for a touch screen interface I was able to navigate and watch programmes without too many issues. There were a few niggles here and there but that was more often due to the poor design of the apps rather than the Remix Mini not performing. Jide Tech claim the Remix Mini can play 4K video which given the specifications I started to doubt it could but I’m glad to say my fears were unwarranted. I was able to play a 4K MP4 file without a single glitch or stutter. Using the Remix Mini as a living room media computer the experience was somewhat different experience. Hooking the Mini up to my 32” TV was simple enough but in order to read any text to navigate around the in-app menus I had to drop the screen resolution from 1080p to 720p as there is no way to upscale the size of the text within the apps which was way too small to read whilst sitting back on the sofa.
When it comes to running games this is where the Remix really starts to show its limitations, playing casual games such as Candy Crush Saga, Angry Birds or Badlands the Remix Mini copes reasonably well but give it something more graphically challenging this is where it struggles, I tried playing Real Racing 3 & Despicable Me Minion Rush and the frame rates plummeted to the unplayable! One real positive however was that you can use a hand held gaming controller (the Remix Mini recognised my AfterGlow Xbox 360 / PC USB controller) in place of on screen controls which made playing games that did run much easier
So has the Remix Mini from Jide Tech lived up to the billing of ‘the worlds first true Android PC’? Yes I would have to say it has, It will do most of the things a low end budget PC will do, it will run productivity apps, you can stream films, watch 4K videos, play music and you can even play games as long as you're happy playing titles that aren't requiring a higher end GPU. The only thing it can't do (that a normal PC can do) out of the box is join a local network and browse shared drives.
However my testing time hasn't been smooth sailing, in the 2 weeks of testing I have had quite a few system freezes and when the system was pushed hard did get a bit slow however the same could be said of any low end Windows PC. The Remix 2.0 operating system despite doing a fairly good job felt like it isn't quite ready, not quite complete, it felt like a mid Beta release and couple that with the low spec hardware then the Remix Mini seems like a bad proposition, but then remember the price, it only costs $69 (£45.66 + taxes) then suddenly I can forgive the Mini for all its flaws. Jide Tech have promised there will be software updates so I would imagine the OS will improve. One frustration you will have to endure is that all the apps available in the Google Play Store are designed for touchscreens rather than mouse & keyboard input, this means it can be a bit hit and miss as to how well the apps will work within the desktop environment. Another is that when you unplug the Remix Mini from the mains power the clock defaults back to its original programmed time as there is no CMOS battery to keep the clock running which caused my router to reject the computer from accessing the internet.
I really wish that Jide Tech would consider making a much higher specified version with hardware comparable to that used in flagship tablets then we will see what Remix OS can really do. I do see this computer as a bit of a concept computer, much in the way a car manufacturer will make a concept car. The concept of using Android to run a desktop PC has been proven and it can do it quite well. Maybe in the future Android can be the one operating system for all devices that (despite the rhetoric from Microsoft) Windows so far has failed to do. Could Remix OS be a prophecy of what Google means when they said they are converging Android & Chrome? Only time will tell.