Thursday, July 14, 2016

What’s the Best Media Center Mini PC for Under $100?

Media center PCs used to be impractical — you needed to hook an expensive, full-size desktop to your TV. The mini-PC smashes down all barriers to entry, with small size and low-cost.
You can get quality mini-PCs that run great media center apps for under $100 (best media-streaming sticks)! Whether you want one that runs Windows, Linux, or Android, we’ve done the research to find 5 of the best choices under $100. If you’ve been meaning to get a PC, but you don’t want to break the bank, now is the perfect time!

Kangaroo Mobile Desktop ($99)

If you want a Windows-based mini PC that can handle pretty much anything you throw at it, all accounts point to the Kangaroo Mobile Desktop being the king of the castle. It’s a bit bigger in terms of physical stature than some of the stick PCs we’ll get to later, but don’t let that fool you. Its dimensions are 0.52″ by 3.17″ by 4.88″, which essentially means it’s not much bigger than a smartphone! And to top it off, it weighs less than half a pound!
(Note, it costs more at Amazon since it’s from a third-party seller. It’s $99 atNewEgg.)
It also comes packed with some pretty serious specs, especially when you consider that it will only set you back $100. Here’s what you’ll find under the hood:
  • Intel Atom X5-Z8500 1.44 GHz processor
  • 2GB RAM
  • 32GB onboard storage
  • Intel HD Graphics
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • Built-in battery to run without power cable for up to 4 hours
  • Fingerprint reader
The reviews are in, and everyone seems pretty happy with Kangaroo’s PC. The folks over at TomsGuide gave it a 9/10, citing it as “one of the best bargains in tech, this $99 Windows 10 mini PC combines solid performance with a host of unique features…” PC Mag gives it a 4 out of 5, saying that it “is a unique device that turns a monitor, an HDTV, or even an iPad into a Windows 10 PC.”

Matricom G-Box Q² ($97)

The G-Box Q² is another mini PC with a slightly larger form-factor. The big difference is the OS, as you’ll be trading out Windows 10 for Android TV.
What makes this particular device stand out from the crowd in the Android TV space is the degree to which the OS is open. It has full access to the Google Play Store, so you can do pretty much anything with it, from downloading media playing apps (Netflix, Hulu, etc.), to playing games. The creators also promise that it’s meant to work with Kodi (how to configure Kodi/XBMC), which makes it really solid for all kinds of media consumption.
The specs are quite solid. Have a look:
  • Amlogic s812 Quad Core 2GHz processor
  • Mali-450 octa-core 3D iGPU
  • 2GB RAM
  • 16GB onboard storage
  • Android Lollipop 5
There are not a lot of critic reviews out there for this, but user reviews are solid, with a 4-star rating on Amazon from over 2000 reviews. If you want an Android mini-PC, this one definitely seems like the most flexible, and its specs are quite impressive for a bit under $100.

Lenovo IdeaCentre Stick 300 Computer ($99)

When it comes to PC makers, Lenovo is one of the more respected brands on the market, and with good reason. Whether laptops, desktops, or in this case, stick PCs, the company tends to deliver pretty solid devices across the board.
In the case of the IdeaCentre Stick 300, you’re getting a pretty powerful Windows PC that isn’t much bigger than an Amazon Fire Stick or an original Chromecast. It plugs right into a TV’s HDMI port, and features a USB 2.0 port, as well as microSD slot for additional local storage. You can always hook a USB hub to this (a powered one is best) for more ports.
The specs on this are pretty comparable to most other stick PCs (like the Voyo V2) out there, although its older Atom processor makes it compare less favorably to the Kangaroo Mobile Desktop):
  • Intel Atom Z3735F 1.33 GHz Processor
  • 2GB RAM
  • 32GB onboard storage
  • Wi-Fi and Bluetooth support
  • Onboard graphics
As for the reviews, WindowsCentral says, “Overall, at just $99, it’s really hard to complain about the IdeaCentre Stick 300.” It has a 4.2-star rating on Google’s user review platform, and 3.9-star rating on Amazon. In pretty much every way, it’s on par with the Intel Compute Stick, except that it’s cheaper!

Azulle Quantum Access Mini PC Stick ($89)

Going down a little further in the budget, we have the Azulle Quantum Access Mini-PC Stick. When I list the specs, you’re sure to notice some pretty serious similarities between it and Lenovo IdeaCentre. They’re identical. But with the Quantum Access, you shave $10 off the price, but lose the more recognizable Lenovo brand name. Technically, the launch price of both this and the Lenovo are $130, but with time the prices have dropped, and the Quantum Access has come out in terms of value.
Here’s a look at the aforementioned specs (I’ve bolded the spots where they differ from the Lenovo):
  • 1.33 GHz Atom Z3735F Processor
  • 2GB RAM
  • 32GB onboard memory
  • Bluetooth and Wi-Fi
  • Onboard graphics
Would you look at that, nothing is bold! Like I said, they’re basically identical as far as what’s under the hood.
As for the reviews, I actually wrote about the Quantum Access for MakeUseOf — and I quite liked it! My overall impression: “the Quantum Access Mini PC Stick is highly recommended if you want more than just a simple streaming device.” I rated it a 7/10.

Raspberry Pi 3 ($35)

Is there a mini-PC in the world more recognizble than the Raspberry Pi? It requires more tinkering than the devices above (you’ll need to install an OS and all that good stuff), but it costs about a third of the price (granted, with the Windows PCs, you’re paying a bit extra for that license).
The latest Raspberry Pi comes with some pretty solid specs, especially when you consider its low cost:
  • 1.2GHz 64-bit quad-core ARMv8 Processor
  • 1GB RAM
  • 4 USB ports
  • Bluetooth and Wi-Fi
  • No onboard storage, microSD card slot
As for reviews, PC Mag gives it a 4/5, and says, “The introduction of wireless connectivity and a boost in performance over its previous iteration make the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B appropriate for a wider variety of projects—and it still costs just $35.” Android Authority says, “If you haven’t bought a Pi until now then there really hasn’t been a better time to get one.”

What’s the Best Mini-PC?

That’s a lot to take in, huh? In short, if you want a mini-PC with Windows, you should get the Kangaroo Mobile Desktop. If you need the smallest form-factor, go with the Quantum Access stick (only because it’s $10 cheaper). If brand names matter, get the Lenovo.
Tinkerers, go with the Pi — but keep in mind its limitations and be ready to jump over some hurdles to get it all up and running.
And last, if you want Android, go with the Matricom G-Box Q². While it was the only Android device featured, it’s also really the most feature-packed one on the market, under $100. However, for those of you who enjoy installing your own operating system, there’s the Remix OS 2.0, Android-based installable image.
Do you use a mini PC-to watch your favorite movie and TV shows? Any particular devices you want to recommend? Let us know in the comments!

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