Power to the parents? The MiiPC doesn't quite deliver

This low-cost Android-powered PC lets parents remotely control their kids' computer use. It's a nice idea, but it's not quite ready for prime time.

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If you've got kids, then you know exactly how scary a place the Internet can be. Managing where they go and whom they meet online is an unending struggle. Keeping your progeny from wasting their brains on addictive games and/or silly videos is a full-time occupation. It can be a privacy, security, and parenting nightmare.

I should know; I have two digitally savvy teenagers and the gray hair to prove it. So when I heard about ZeroDesktop's MiiPC – a low-cost Android computer whose motto is “Power to the Parents” -- I was keenly interested.

For $129 to $149 you get a CPU smaller than a Chinese takeout box running Android 4.2.2 in 2GB or 4GB of RAM. You'll have to add your own keyboard, mouse, and display. The key selling point, though, is that the MiiPC allows you to remotely monitor what your kids do on the big bad InterWebs, as well as the amount of time they spend doing it.

It's a nice concept, and so universally appealing that ZeroDesktop CEO Young Song managed to raise $175,000 on Kickstarter – or more than three times the initial goal -- to fund it. The first MiiPCs to roll off the assembly line began shipping to Kickstarter supporters earlier this fall.

Unfortunately, the MiiPC as it currently stands is not quite ready for prime time. I'll start with the good points before I get into the bad and the ugly.

The Good: Fast-n-easy

Startup is nearly instantaneous – just hold your finger on the power button for four seconds and you're in. A helpful tutorial guides you through the process of setting up profiles for each member of your family. Using the admin (parental) account, you determine which apps your kids can access. MiiPC offers its own list of some 40-odd kid friendly apps to choose from, like Seussville, The Khan Academy, or Kidszearch.

(You can also add apps from the Google Play market, but you'll have to jump through some hoops.)

You can then decide how much time your little nubbins are allowed to spend in front of the screen, either on a daily/weekly basis or app by app. So, for example, little Jimmy can watch videos at Khan Academy all the livelong day, but gets only 30 minutes to play games or watch videos of adorable kittens. His big sister Heather can LOL her friends on Facebook, but only for 3 hours a week. And so on.

If you want to know what Jimmy or Heather are doing at any point in time, you can check the app on your Android or iOS device, or log into your MiiPC account on the Web. If you decide that Jimmy has wasted enough time playing Candy Crush Saga, you can remotely close the app, log him off his account, or even disable it with a few taps.

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