How Good Is This $79 Computer?

Computers are officially dirt cheap. Yep, this one costs $79.

One reason the Endless Mini is so cheap is that this grapefruit-sized PC is sold on its own. You supply the keyboard, mouse and display yourself. The computer, built with developing countries in mind, doesn’t just hook into newer, flat-panel screens via HDMI—it also connects to older tube TVs by way of a composite video cable.

The Mini runs a Linux-based operating system which looks and works much like a tablet, with a row of app icons laid out in a grid on-screen.

Because Internet access isn’t a given (even in the U.S.), the Mini designed to be useful without a Web connection. Straight out of the box, it has more than 100 apps pre-installed, in your choice of English or Spanish. These apps span from K-12 education, to a free office suite, to games and even recipes.

Endless Mobile, the startup behind the Mini, focused most of the pre-loaded apps on education, with lessons and videos covering math, history, science, geography, animals, dinosaurs, and other subjects. There’s a massive encyclopedia and apps for editing Word docs, spreadsheets and PowerPoint-style presentations.

© Emily Prapuolenis/The Wall Street Journal

By being able to handle both school work and grown-up work, the Endless Mini is a viable option for people at any age who are looking for a low-cost, easy-to-use PC. This is a computer both children and grandparents could take to easily.

Google’s Chrome Web browser is installed too. But to use that, you need Internet connectivity. The Endless Mini comes in two configurations: a basic $79 model that relies on an Ethernet port for wired Internet access (and has 1GB of RAM and 24GB of internal storage). A $99 version adds Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity (plus 2GB of RAM and 32GB of storage).

Both versions run on a 1.5GHz ARM processor—the sort of CPU more often found in low-end phones than PCs. If this isn’t your first computer, you might be frustrated by the Endless Mini’s slow loading of apps and Web pages. In real-world use, online games like “Cut the Rope” were stuttery but playable, and YouTube buffered like it always does, but videos played fine. Only Facebook , with all its photos and videos, left me genuinely annoyed.

One other problem: a software glitch in a pre-production device loaned to the tester by Endless for this review was unable to log into the device about halfway through testing. Endless supplied a replacement and it worked fine. The company says the issue has been fixed on the devices currently being shipped. But this hiccup is a reminder that Endless, founded in 2011, is a young, unproven company. Who knows how long Endless will be around or whether or not its take on Linux will be supported for decades to come?

In truth, this isn’t a computer built to last as long as an expensive laptop or desktop. It’s a $79 or $99 PC for people who haven’t been able to afford a computer at all before. Because of its ease of use and wealth of pre-installed, offline-friendly apps, its usefulness extends to anyone of who doesn’t have hundreds to spend. For that person, a $79 PC could be life changing.

Article from Wall Street Journal

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