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The market for miniature flash drive-sized Android PCs is really taking off, and these devices are growing more powerful with each new release. For about $50, these petite computers plug directly into your HDTV, and provide web connectivity while also acting as a game console, workstation, and set top box that can stream movies, TV shows, and music. Basically, an Android mini PC can be whatever you want it to be, so long as you download and install the appropriate Android apps or games.
If a recent deal on the Android MK809 is any indication, the mini PC trend is quite popular amongst dealnews readers. This model (pictured) sports Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean), a single-core ARM Cortex A9 1.6GHz processor, 1GB RAM, 4GB flash storage, HDMI output, and a microSD card slot. Although PC World had some difficulty initially setting it up, the publication describes the MK809's functionality as "a surprisingly fun experience" and praises it for having more common usage over the other mini PC on the block, the Raspberry Pi.
However, while older models like the MK809 are getting cheaper all the time — our deal saw it knocked to $48 (it's currently available for $49.99 with free shipping, a low by $6) — there are some big incentives to spend a little more on the latest release, the RK3066. Pictured below, the newest iteration boasts similar specs in a sleeker package, but with the addition of a dual-core ARM Cortex A9 1.6GHz processor, DLNA support, Bluetooth, and extra ports in the shape of USB, micro-USB, female HDMI, and a 3.5mm audio jack.
The verdict from Laptop Mag is that the RK3066 "is small enough to fit in your pocket, yet powerful enough to be your portable Android game console or workstation." Meanwhile, Engadget calls it the "MK802's younger, smarter, cheaper brother" and highlights the inclusion of an audio jack and Bluetooth support; these features mean that it's not a problem if you want to use the mini PC with a TV that doesn't have built-in speakers, and it also makes it easy to wirelessly attach a mouse and keyboard. Currently, the best deal we could find on the RK3066 prices it at $60 (with $5 s&h, a low by $5).
From our deal archives we've found that the first batch of mini Android PCs now consistently drop below $50, but they make use of single-core processors, which results in noticeably slower performance. You'll also find that some of these early models lack useful ports, or they cram too many into a small space, which makes it very tough to realistically use them all at once. If you want something the size of a flash drive that you can plug directly into the TV, then these early models will certainly provide it, but you may have trouble adding a mouse and keyboard, for example; the RK3066 model circumvents these issues.
Whatever mini Android PC you choose, you'll have full access to the Play Store and all of Google's services. That means you can install programs like Skype, Angry Birds, or Netflix. You can also use Google Now — a digital butler complete with voice commands — if you hook up a Bluetooth headset, which is also handy for gaming. For these reasons, plugging in a mini Android PC is a great, cheap way to make your TV smart.
Interested in adding an Android Mini PC to your home theater setup? Sign up for an email alert now to receive notification as soon as we list a deal.
Photo credit: PC World