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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The Bad: A bit touchy

So much for the good stuff. A device this basic is certain to come with some tradeoffs, and the MiiPC is no exception.

The Android OS is designed for touch, not keyboard and mouse, so some features don't convert smoothly to a desktop experience. For example, some onscreen menus urge you to touch or tap, not click. To use Flipboard, you have to 'flip' through the pages by jerking the mouse sideways. Awkward.

Some screens that are perfectly acceptable on a 10 inch tablet – like Web pages – are disturbingly large on a 20-odd inch display. You can't minimize the browser and run another app alongside it, as you can with a standard desktop or laptop. Because Android typically opens a new browser instance with every link, the back button on the MiiPC Browser is often useless.

If you plan to run Facebook, Twitter, or log into your Google account on the MiiPC, you'll be in for a rude shock: Android can support only one open account at a time, regardless of which MiiPC profile you're logged into.

So if Heather signs into Facebook on her account and doesn't log out, the machine is logged into her Facebook account. The next time mom, dad, or little Jimmy launch Facebook, they'll be staring at Heather's friends and updates. (And we all know what a saucy little minx Heather is.) If you happen to be logged into Google in the browser and you decide to add that browser to Jimmy's set of approved apps, he will also be logged into your Google account. This is a limitation of Android, not the MiiPC interface, but it's still something you need to be wary of.

Apps are another problem. The iOS app worked fine on an iPhone 4S, but not at all on my iPad 2, despite multiple attempts to reinstall it. MiiPC's support team is aware of the problem but can't reproduce it; your mileage may vary. The Android app is limited to showing you what the kids are doing and blocking/disabling apps, but you can't use it to manage apps or set time limits. For a system built around Android, that's just odd.

The ugly: No Web controls

Possibly because of its Kickstarter origins, the MiiPC does not have the feel of a finished product. Its start-up screen is sparse and a bit inscrutable for nongeeks; click on the wrong icons or make the wrong choices, and you can get stuck in an endless loop. How did no one at MiiPC notice this?

In fact, whenever you use the MiiPC in any way other than the ways described in the tutorial, things start to break down. I can't imagine anyone using it to monitor kids older than, say, 10. My teenagers took one look and said 'meh.'

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