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Make a Handy Little Android PC for Light Lifting

By Patrick Nelson TechNewsWorld ECT News Network
Oct 4, 2012 5:00 AM PT

As many of us are gearing up for Windows 8's imminent release, it may well be worth considering some alternatives. I don't know about you, but after XP to Windows 7, via Vista, the idea of another OS from Microsoft, while not yet causing night sweats, is engendering some trepidation.

Make a Handy Little Android PC for Light Lifting

For one, there are its networking quirks -- XP didn't talk to 7 at the Windows network level in my case. There are also expensive driver and program compatibility issues for older programs and equipment.

I'm thinking I've got better things to do with my time than spend days migrating from one MS OS to another -- even if the interface in this incarnation does look rather seductive.

Here's an idea then: Get rid of Windows forever -- and I'm not talking about switching to Mac or Ubuntu.

In this case, I'm suggesting a potentially satisfying act of rebellion with a mini-PC stick running Android, hooked up to spare parts. Total cost including cables and bits is as low as 55 bucks -- less than a Windows 8 upgrade.

Here's how to approach this sedition:

Step 1

Be realistic -- it's a tiny PC, the size of a memory stick. The device I've been using, the CX-01, runs a 1 GHz Cortex A5 ARM processor -- like the chip you'd find in a phone -- and only supplies 512 MB of RAM, so you won't be performing molecular modeling or quantum physics.

However, this setup could be perfect for kids' homework, kitchen counter-top menu research, workshop manuals display and such -- in fact, anywhere you need light word processing, Web and video.

Plus, you get all of the Ice Cream Sandwich apps you want from the Google Play store.

Step 2

Gather the parts. You'll need the Chinese-sourced mini-PC stick-like device, which I found on Amazon in the U.S. There are a few of these sticks to choose from. Search with the terms "Android" and "Mini PC."

Look for the most processor and RAM for the money. Mine has 4 GB of storage, enough for a shop manual PDF or 20. Some devices have been appearing very recently with 8 GB storage.

Purchase or find a monitor, keyboard, mouse, micro-USB power supply and USB hub.

Old monitors can work, but you need one with an HDMI input. Built-in speakers are a must for any audio. Likewise, older keyboards and mice are fine if they are USB-driven.

Tip: My monitor, although it had HDMI in, couldn't handle the physical characteristics of the stick. The monitor's case had protrusions that obstructed the device from seating properly in the monitor's HDMI port -- the CX-01 has a built in male HDMI plug. I had to find an HDMI cable and buy a female to female HDMI adapter for about six bucks.

Step 3

Make the hookups. Your stick will have built-in WiFi . There will be HDMI, micro USB power and one USB port. Power the device with a standard smartphone wall adapter -- the CX-01 is supplied with the cable.

Run the USB hub to the stick and then plug a mouse and keyboard into the hub. The device will find both mouse and keyboard. You will have to go into "Settings" and tweak language and input settings.

Step 4

Download software. Google's Play store is pre-installed and works splendidly on the CX- 01. At a minimum, you'll need Adobe Acrobat or an Office-like product -- I chose paid QuickOffice Pro. Both are available in the Play store.

Set home printers up as Google cloud printers from within a regular desktop PC's Chrome program. Then print from the CX-01, or similar, using the Cloud Print app. I've written about Android cloud printing before. The app is available in Play.

Want to Ask a Tech Question?

Is there a piece of tech you'd like to know how to operate properly? Is there a gadget that's got you confounded? Please send your tech questions to me, and I'll try to answer as many as possible in this column.

And use the Talkback feature below to add your comments!

Patrick Nelson has been a professional writer since 1992. He was editor and publisher of the music industry trade publication Producer Report and has written for a number of technology blogs. Nelson studied design at Hornsey Art School and wrote the cult-classic novel Sprawlism. His introduction to technology was as a nomadic talent scout in the eighties, where regular scrabbling around under hotel room beds was necessary to connect modems with alligator clips to hotel telephone wiring to get a fax out. He tasted down and dirty technology, and never looked back.

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