Thursday, 7 January 2016

Review of the Remix Mini

The Remix Mini is a small mini PC that runs Remix OS. Remix OS, while based on Android, overlays it with a desktop-like environment. This is an innovative attempt to make a mobile operating system work as a desktop PC and in different ways, it works with the right device. However, the key is that Android is a mobile operating system and no overlay can overcome inherent limitations and problems.

Remix OS doesn't offer simple multi-tasking, running two applications on the screen, there is also the ability to run applications as desktop windows, as you would, for example, in Microsoft Windows or Ubuntu. There is also a notifications panel that you can drag from the right, again similar to Microsoft Windows, handling notifications that would appear at the top in stock Android. Keeping with the desktop theme, applications appear as icons on the desktop, with a rubbish bin icon too. Instead of a Windows start menu, you have a Remix one that leads to you to all your installed application. Again, this is the best implementation of Android to mimic a desktop environment.

The drawback, as noted, is that no overlay can take away that Android is a mobile operating system. You have no choice but to rely on the Google Play store and this means running mobile based applications. Inevitably, there are significant problems and the user often looks for a workaround that leads to the question if Android, considering its infrastructure, is even feasible as a desktop PC operating system. For example, many Android applications are optimized for touch interfaces and this, expectedly, leads to some hassle. Pinch gestures don't work, for example, and utilising the mouse for that purpose is hit and miss. Simple functions like dragging across a text to highlight, to copy or cut, is possible but not with ease as what you expect from a desktop environment. At the moment, you will find in the experimental features, available through settings, the option to simulate finger gestures through a mouse and this helps, even in its experimental mode, but it is nothing like finger gestures.

There is also the problem of scaling in regards to mobile applications that don't work well in a full desktop window. Remix OS has a workaround through re-sizing the window but often the applications do not respond to this. Further, it is counter-intuitive to re-size a window to get the right scale; once again the question may be asked here - why attempt to get Android applications to work in a desktop environment if it is clearly not intended for that use case scenario? Similarly, important applications like Chrome are seriously hindered in features compared to the full desktop version of the browser. Further, much web-related content is rendered in mobile format; it is possible to request a desktop version but, in many instances, this does not work and even when it does, the device is underpowered for full desktop browsing. Other problems include interacting with images, video content embedded in websites and filling in forms.

In terms of hardware, the Remix Mini is underpowered. It scores low in Chrome Octane tests (around 2500) and you notice this when rendering desktop versions of websites. Consequently, using desktop-based versions of Evernote, Blogger or Google Docs, inside the Chrome application, is sluggish. This doesn't mean the device cannot be used for productivity, as many stand-alone applications such as Evernote or Microsoft Word offer adequate performance. Yet even with these applications, the versatility of a desktop PC cannot be delivered by the Remix Mini. This does not mean Remix OS is without its use-case scenarios - in the case of the Jide's Remix Ultra-tablet, a beefier processor and a touch optimised form factor means Android turns into something more productive than something like Google's Pixel C.

The problems identified with the Remix Mini are both hardware and software related and while hardware upgrades are always possible, in future iterations of the device, the same cannot be said with the inherent limitations of Android. Considering the good design and aesthetics of Remix OS, it might have been a better idea to develop a Linux distribution with unique features. Remix OS improves Android for the two-in-one niche but this doesn't translate well to a full-blown desktop PC.

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