Seems like everybody’s getting into the miniature PC (or single-board computer) market these days, with hopes of reinventing the desktop. None have gotten the formula right just yet, with small designs and discrete styles having little viability to show for it.
InFocus, best known for projectors, joins the fray with their Kangaroo Mobile Desktop, a mini-computer that runs full Windows 10 and promises to do all the necessary stuff while still being able to fit in most pockets or purses. Stuff like office work, web browsing, or even a video streamer or HTPC. You can imagine what’s possible with a computer this tiny, it does work, with some compromises in relation to a full-on desktop.
Let’s start with looks: a 7.1 ounce aluminum body with side vents shares similar dimensions and thickness to an iPhone 6 at 4.9″ long, 3.1″ wide, and 0.54″ deep. That svelte body hosts some power inside it with a quad-core 1.44GHz Intel Atom processor (x5-Z8500), 2GB of LPDDR3 memory, Bluetooth 4.0/802.11ac Wi-Fi, and 32GB of flash storage to round out the basics. In a twist to keep connectivity broad and versatile the Kangaroo is actually a two-piece unit where the main part has a power button, MicroSD, Micro USB output, a fingerprint reader, and even an Action Switch that allows remote control and monitoring through VNC (virtual network computing) software.
The only bit of style? The logo and ring-sized hole on the top corner that doubles as a glowing LED status light that changes color; a genuinely fun touch that’s convincingly accessorized (something I don’t say a lot).
The secondary piece is affectionately known as the Kangaroo Dock, which snaps in place and is houses two full-size expansion ports (USB 2.0 and USB 3.0) and HDMI. There’s a degree of cleverness to the approach as this part can be switched out on the fly with other compatible docks. But you don’t want to misplace this add-on because the AC power port is located here too. At least the idea of future-proofing has potential and is appreciated here.
You get a full version of Windows 10 Home and this means you’ll need a mouse and keyboard to use it. Unfortunately, and there’s no getting around it, a typical mouse/keyboard setup will occupy both USB ports, a bit of a problem since that’s all you get in this configuration. You’re not totally screwed right off the bat but it’s worth noting if you intend on using a USB flash drive. I recommend getting a wireless mouse and keyboard combo with unifying receiver since typing and clicking is a requirement; you can one find pretty cheap and you’ll instantly free up an essential port too.
After everything is up and going, you’re treated to a fairly basic PC experience that’s able to handle most activities, as long as your everyday multitasking remains light. Full applications from Microsoft Office 2016, web browsing, and chat clients install and run, – albeit sometimes at a leisurely pace, in which the Kangaroo refuses to be rushed until ready. Aside from occasional lagging hiccups, YouTube worked fine when left to its automatic settings and my colleague had little issue engaging the staff over Google Hangouts. Our concern was the amount of heat dispersed under load, and made us a bit anxious after a steady 4 hours of productivity.
Things were better when we stuck to local media, mostly because Windows 10 has its act together for FLAC and MKV (H.265/HEVC) formats. To the Kangaroo’s credit though, codec latency is fine for catalogs of quality videos and rips, and is most comfortable playing HD files in 1280×720 (720p) resolution without noticeable delays or buffering solely to either the default Movies & TV app or (to a lesser degree) Windows Media Player. Of course, being aware helps since having other things open or leaving miscellaneous processes running in the background will eat up those much-needed resources.
Wireless capabilities coexist between Wi-Fi and Bluetooth with WLAN performance suffering from interference when too many things are connected; there really isn’t much leeway other than keeping your paired options at a minimum. We had no problem with range and versatility just as long as we were being mindful of the number of connected devices. What doesn’t quite work is the middling battery life, which is the weakest link in trying to appeal to the laptop crowd, we don’t know exactly why a mini desktop would need a lithium-ion unit but if they’re going to add one for work or moments of desperation, make sure there’s enough juice for more than two hours.
One feature we weren’t able to test was the OSLinx control specifically for the Apple iPad. It’s supposed to work in tandem via embedded server in the Kangaroo and the iPad acting as mobile monitor. With mouse and touch gestures fully intact, it could be a useful addition that other competitors (i.e. Compute Stick) lack for more money.
The Kangaroo enters a crowded arena for only $99, which is a feat within itself. But I won’t mince words: this mini PC works hard and stammers for your enjoyment, with the strain showing when you take ‘multipurpose’ to demanding levels. The effort is admirable since it does enough as a home entertainment decoration or a work tool in a pinch, neither can I fault it for performing adequately for its size – and concurrently thinking outside the box in unexpected ways. InFocus could have a winner on their hands if they can capitalize on its unique approach involving that dock of theirs.