And in a global economy, that's a problem. Without internet or computer access, people lack the information and communication capabilities that are key to participation. It's a problem that a startup called Endless hopes to address with their new Endless Mini (MSRP $79) computer.
The Mini is unique in that it's tailored for people in developing nations. While the company's products are available in the US, they're targeted at first-time buyers who can't afford to spend a bundle on a dedicated computer. The Mini isn't the first of such products we've seen from Endless, but it makes the price and size of this innovative concept even more manageable than before.
Only the basics
The Mini may be affordable, but that doesn't necessitate a dowdy appearance. The computer has a sleek, futuristic aesthetic that looks straight out of Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. The red-accented, spherical design is as friendly as it is stylish, and it could easily add flair to any desk—no matter where in the world that desk is located.
Even though the introductory price of the Endless Mini is only around $80 USD, it has a full array of ports. This includes a user-friendly front-facing USB 2 port, with two additional ports around the back. For video output it has the ubiquitous HDMI, but for the users Endless expects to purchase the Mini, it's hardly commonplace. That's why they've included a component video-in via an RCA jack—you can plug the Endless Mini into an older CRT television and use that as a screen if you can't afford to add a standalone display to your PC. There's also wired gigabit ethernet and a headset jack that supports an in-line microphone.
The specs of the Endless Mini may seem meagre, but as Endless has designed and optimized its own software to run on this hardware, we doubt users will care much. Amlogic has supplied a smartphone-strength quad-core ARM chip, which, along with 1 GB RAM and 24 GB of internal flash storage, makes up the specs of the low-end version. Upgrade to the $100 version of the Mini and you get 2 GB RAM, 32 GB of flash storage, and built-in WiFi/Bluetooth capabilities.
Useful with or without internet
One of the most unique aspects of the Endless PC strategy is the commitment to making computers that are useful even without an internet connection. The Mini is loaded with free software that can be used—sans web access—to great effect. For instance, there's a photo editing app, along with cached Wikipedia articles. Productivity apps for writing, making newsletters, and working on spreadsheets are also included, along with recipes and first aid information. In fact, the Mini is packed with over 100 applications, many of which don't need the internet to work.
Endless tells us that its OS is based on a version of Linux, and though it won't be able to run Windows or Mac apps like many other computers, its bespoke software is tailor-made to first computer buyers. The OS has been designed to appeal especially to folks whose primary computers are already their smartphones, and the quick app launcher that loads when you boot it up certainly looks like the home screen of a phone.
It's a smart choice, since many of the customers Endless is trying to reach haven't learned how to use a traditional operating system. Endless' custom operating system seems to bridge the gap between smartphone and desktop fairly effectively. In our brief encounter with the Endless Mini, we found the software fast enough to satisfy, and were impressed with its intuitive layout and vast array of out-of-the-box functionalities.
Making the world a better, smaller place
Internet cafes used to be the way to get online in rural and impoverished areas. But now, thanks to Endless, there may be another option: a personal computer with an extremely low price tag. No computer fanatic will find themselves drooling over these small, inexpensive devices, but we're impressed nonetheless. Designing an effective system like this from the ground up is no small feat.
It's a simple, elegant solution to a worldwide problem—which just may set Endless up for success. Since technology can be produced so inexpensively, there's absolutely no reason why we can't get even more people to join the digital age at home, and to introduce them into the global discussion.
Meet the tester
Brendan is originally from California. Prior to writing for Reviewed.com, he graduated from UC Santa Cruz and did IT support and wrote for a technology blog in the mythical Silicon Valley. Brendan enjoys history, Marx Brothers films, Vietnamese food, cars, and laughing loudly.
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