Hands-on with MiiPC, the $99 kid-safe Android PC (video)

It was only two days ago that ZeroDesktop launched MiiPC, a $99 kid-safe Android PC, and the Kickstarter campaign's already surpassed its $50,000 goal. To jog your memory, MiiPC is an attractive 4.7 x 4.7 x 3.1-inch desktop computer running Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean). It's powered by a 1.2GHz dual-core Marvell New Armada SoC with 1GB of RAM, 4GB of flash storage, WiFi b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.0. The system features an SD card slot in front, a power button on top and a full array of ports in the back, including two USB 2.0, HDMI, analog audio I/O, Ethernet and power.

What makes this device so unique is the software, which is optimized for use with a large screen (up to 1080p), keyboard and mouse. It provides a desktop-class web browsing experience with Flash and runs standard Android apps. MiiPC supports multiple user accounts which can be controlled and monitored remotely in real-time using a companion app for iOS and Android. The idea is for parents to create a safe online environment for their kids by managing their access to the web and to apps. We got the chance to play with a prototype MiiPC yesterday -- read our impressions and watch out hands-on video after the break. %Gallery-183957% %Gallery-183993% %Gallery-183994%

In terms of hardware, MiiPC looks and feels very much like a finished product. We saw two versions of the system, one made of white plastic, the other clad in brushed aluminum. Both machines use black plastic for the top and bottom surfaces and for the area surrounding the ports. The white unit was closest to production, with a proper power button and green LED lighting in the base. Build quality was on par with other similar devices in the same price range (Roku boxes and Apple TVs) -- no complaints here. This prototype features Marvell's current Armada chip (shared with most Google TVs) instead of the next generation processor. It's air cooled with generously-sized heat sink.

Things are more rocky on the software front -- it's clearly a work in progress, at least when it comes to the user experience. We're not talking about the core multi-user functionality or the companion app here (more on that later), just the basic desktop environment. During our demo, the prototype MiiPC was running Ice Cream Sandwich. While the company's custom WebKit browser loaded the full version of Engadget without issues and played our Flash videos just fine, it was less responsive than surfing the web on an older Chromebook, and that was just with one tab open. There's still much to be sorted-out, from basics like right-clicking to more complicated stuff like support for Android apps that run only in portrait mode.

We were pretty impressed with the iOS companion app which was significantly more polished than the MiiPC's software. Chief Product Officer Richard Sah gave us a compelling walkthrough of the app's various features and showed us how to control and monitor a user's access to apps. It's possible for parents to close apps remotely, log their kids out and even prevent future logins, all by tapping a few buttons. From our time spent with the MiiPC, it's obvious that there's still a lot of work left, but judging from the quality of the hardware and companion app, we have little doubt that ZeroDesktop can deliver a solid product when it finally ships this Android PC to its backers.