8.5

Kangaroo Mobile Desktop Review: Better Than Any Stick PC

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Kangaroo Mobile Desktop Review: Better Than Any Stick PC

New models of stick PCs are priced from $159 and up to the more robust Core M processors for $499. The Kangaroo Mobile Desktop from InFocus breaks with the stick form factor while maintaining its spirit. It can’t be plugged directly into a TV without an HDMI cable, but it does include features you’d expect on a mid-range laptop while keeping the price at a paltry $99.

Just ten years ago, laptops in the US passed desktops in unit sales, but the definition of a PC remained simple. Computers today come in far more variety. Desktops and laptops now share the market with netbooks, tablets, phones and more. Stick PCs are fairly new to the field.

Championed by Intel, a standardized specification for first generation stick PCs was unveiled in 2014. Similar in size and shape to a pack of gum, they typically included an Atom Z3735F processor, 1GB of RAM and between 8-32 GB of solid state storage. Windows 8.1 was often included, though only the 32-bit version could live on such meagre specs. The second generation of stick PCs use the latest Atom processors and 2GB of RAM where 64-bit Windows 10 can run.

Performance


The first generation of stick PCs used the Atom Z3735 CPUs. The second generation uses the newer Atom x5 series. Most of these use the x5-8300 model which has moderate improvement over the older Atom CPUs and much better 3D performance. However, the x5-8500 in the Kangaroo PC makes another order of magnitude in performance over that. The lower price isn’t represented in the performance. The CPU in the Kangaroo PC is actually faster than almost all other stick PCs including Intel’s reference device.

Intel plans to release a more premium line of stick PCs with Core m3 and Core m5 processors, 4K support, more RAM and more storage. However, those will be released at a later date and priced 4-5x higher than the Kangaroo Mobile Desktop. The Atom x5 gets much better bang for the buck in the larger package.

Standard Features


kangarooscreenshot.jpgFirst generation stick PCs often squeezed in one lonely USB port. While they all support Bluetooth out of the box, getting Windows set up requires both a keyboard AND a mouse to be plugged in. While the Kangaroo PC has the same limitation, the two full-sized USB ports (1x USB 2.0, 1x USB 3.0) means you can dig up a spare keyboard and mouse without also having to dig up a USB hub.

It’s not as small as a stick PC, but it’s not much larger than a cell phone either. That extra real estate seems to help with cooling since it uses a fanless design. With no moving parts to speak of, it sits on your desk as silent as a paperweight. Other stick PCs have a fanless design, but Intel’s doesn’t. Under extended CPU-intensive tasks (like encrypting the drive) I found it got uncomfortably warm. Even though it’s in a plastic case, it dissipates heat well until it returns to room temperature.

Aside from the CPU, most other specs are standard; 2GB of RAM, 32GB eMMC drive for storage, power over microUSB or power adapter, and HDMI out. There’s a microSD slot for further expansion, too.

What Else Has It Got?


kangaroohdmi.jpgDespite the larger form factor, the price and comparable specs puts this in strong competition with even the best 2nd generation stick PCs. Now we start counting bonus points.

Not content to be hidden behind your TV or monitor, the Kangaroo PC has a built-in fingerprint reader. Simply searching with Windows 10 Cortana brought up the fingerprint configuration, and I was easily able to set up my device to log in with a single touch.

There’s a four hour battery built-in, and can be charged by a microUSB port on one side or via the DC power in found on the docking port. Imagine you’re working when the kids come in and want to watch the TV you’re using. The portability of any stick PC lets you move from one computer to another, but everyone knows the holy horror brought down upon you if you unplug a computer before “shutting down”. You can pop out the Kangaroo PC and find another screen to use without the process of booting up again. In the age of always-on phones and tablets, a feature like this helps you to forget that you’re running a good old-fashioned desktop PC here.

kangaroo3.pngIt also means that it can sit in your backpack and while you run a full version of Windows on a Chromebook or Android device using the built-in WiFi hotspot and VPN. Sadly, this only works in an offline environment. The minimalist documentation in the box included little more than warranty and basic product information. Searching their online documentation gave more answers, but they are long and technical.

There’s an app for iPad which lets you connect over USB and gives the illusion of running Windows 10 on your Apple tablet. Performance is a bit laggy, so it’s not ideal for intensive tasks but it does mean you can have access to a full desktop when the only screen you have available is a tablet.

The best solution I found was configuring it to use my cell phone as a WiFi (or Bluetooth) hotspot, then using remote desktop to connect. In short, the 4 hour battery is great, but the workarounds to use it as a headless PC on-the-go require a little bit of technological know-how. That said, there’s really no other device in this price range that can do what the Kangaroo Mobile Desktop can.

When announced, the InFocus Kangaroo boasted another unique feature with a proprietary docking station. By adding an extra inch to the length, the user has an HDMI port, USB 2.0, USB 3.0, and a DC power in. For an additional $29 you can buy an extra dock for faster set up. One of the original ideas behind this was enabling more options like a dock with an ethernet port or secondary display. However, all mention of that possibility has been removed from most websites and documentation. The company may have found that there’s not enough interest in a variety of docks and it could be right.

Not A Desktop Replacement


kangaroosize.jpg
The steps from unboxing to a functional desktop was short and sweet. As with any Windows machine, there were updates that needed to be installed right off the bat. The ‘version 1511’ update released a few months ago came with a lot of bug fixes and user interface tweaks. Overall, it makes the experience much more refined.

Though the updates appear minor, I was left with less than 8 GB of space on the internal 32 GB of storage. Running the drive cleaner removed the previous Windows 10 installation, but it’s an obnoxious and necessary step for such a diminutive drive. For desktops equipped with terabytes of space, 10-12 GB isn’t much space to lose. While Microsoft has tweaked Windows 10 to perform well on underpowered PCs like the Kangaroo, leaving a good chunk of internal storage with garbage feels like an oversight. Furthermore, drivers (including WiFi) didn’t work after the first boot. I needed to reboot one more time before everything worked properly again.

kangaroo2.pngRunning a web browser or most programs allowed me to forget that I was running a scaled-back desktop PC. It’s certainly up to the task to replace most desktop functions. However, I found that performance suffered while multitasking. The CPU is relatively powerful and has multi-core processing so I don’t believe the bottleneck is happening there. Previous generation stick PCs used 1GB of RAM along with the less power-hungry 32-bit Windows. The 2GB in the Kangaroo enables a more robust 64-bit Windows 10, but it feels like it’s always out of RAM. Switching from one application to the next is quick, but the new application takes a few seconds to get up to speed. For example, after enabling Bitlocker, Windows began to encrypt the drive. Even though that’s intended to be a background process, I found overall performance disappointing until it finished.

Working as a streaming device for more powerful PCs seemed to be where the Kangaroo Mobile Desktop excelled. My big-screen TV and sound system is in a different room from my gaming PC. Once Steam was installed, I could use Steam In-Home Streaming to get desktop-class gaming graphics on my pocket-sized PC. Video decoding is built into the device, and 802.11ac provided clean HD video. If your WiFi network doesn’t support a high speed connection then you don’t have Steam’s recommended ethernet to fall back on. Dropping the resolution down to 1280×720 can give a sharp image while reducing lag. If you have a powerful gaming PC somewhere on your network, Kangaroo gives you a powerful gaming experience on any screen in your home.

Verdict


kangaroo4.pngThere’s a lot here that makes you forget this is a $99 desktop. The diminutive size and portability thanks to a 4-hour battery gives the benefits of a laptop combined with most of the processing juice of a desktop. Multi-tasking knocks performance down quickly, and a lack of custom software support for configuring some of the unique features reminds you that they worked hard to keep the price under a hundred bucks.

When 2nd generation stick PCs are currently priced $50 more, the real question becomes, “what could InFocus have done better if it raised the price to be more in line with 2nd generation stick PCs?”

The processor can’t get any better without making the jump to much more expensive CPUs and that need noisy fans for cooling. The 32GB eMMC is sufficient since Microsoft made great efforts to keeping Windows 10 small, and expansion can be increased exponentially through the microSD drive.

On the other hand, boosting the RAM to even 4 GB would show great benefits in multitasking. I’d love to see more docks available with more specific use scenarios. When gaming on my big TV I’d want a gigabit ethernet port for Steam In-Home Streaming, but an extra video ports could be of more use when I’m on my desktop. It’s yet to be seen if they’ll release additional docks, but I’m not holding my breath.

It’s not a perfect PC, but at $99 it doesn’t have to be. You can get one for a few special uses where even a laptop is too bulky, run it as a streaming game or media PC on a big screen or just keep it in your backpack for when you need a Windows PC. The unique features and lower price cements that if you’re in the market for a stick PC, then this is the one to buy.

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