Using your Fire Tablet as a Controller

I’ve written previously on the Amazon Fire TV Stick and several other of their home devices, including the Echo Dot. Although this blog is about Stick Computers and TV Boxes, as any owner of these devices can tell you, there’s plenty of opportunity to interface with your mobile devices. A phone or tablet paired with a TV Stick is a powerful combo.

Like many early adopters, I can get stuck with equipment that is rapidly obsoleted as companies rush to resolve first gen issues. I have a first generation Fire TV Stick, and aside from the abysmal control the navigation ring provides, it’s also lacking voice control input. Since it leaves a lot to be desired, I’ve tried various controllers and hybrid solutions to manage the Stick.

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H96 Pro Plus Amlogic S912 Octa Core

The engine that drives the Mini PC market is the same one that drives all consumer electronics, faster and cheaper. Although only a few years old, the Stick and Box market has already gone through generations of technologies. Starting with humble dual core processors, 2D GPU and limited memory, they’ve blossomed into full blown powerhouses with up to eight core CPU’s, 3D graphics and three to four times the memory of their predecessors.

During that time we’ve seen significant price drops in the cost per cpu cycle. While the overall product prices remain nearly constant, we’ve quadrupled or better the performance. The most recent of these Mini PC’s incorporate Octa-core processors from makers like Rockchip and Amlogic. They are engineering marvels, stuffing the latest audio and video advancements into tighter spaces, while providing ever-growing price/performance benefits.

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MINIX NEO U9-H Octa-Core Media Hub for Android

My passion for having the ultimate in home entertainment electronics goes back to when I was in high school many years ago. In those pre-Internet days you had to spend a lot more time researching your purchases. If you were an audio enthusiast, like I was, chances are you had a subscription to Stereo Review magazine. Each issue was like Christmas morning. I poured through that magazine, hungry for the latest news.

Since there weren’t specific home electronics TV shows or other sort of information media, the only other way to get good information was to experience it first hand. Growing up in a small New England town, this was no easy task. My friends and I would routinely make the hour plus trip into the “big city” of Burlington, VT to check out the newest hardware (and albums) from our favorite audio store. I’m sure the staff at that particular store grew tired of our endless testing and questions. Especially because we seldom made purchases until we were sure it was what we wanted. That could take weeks or months.

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Raspberry Pi 3 Kit

When it comes to computers, I’ve always been a do-it-yourself kind of buyer. I’ve been building my own PC’s for many years, and while I can’t claim that I’ve ever saved a lot of money doing so, I’ve always been able to get exactly the components I want and thoroughly enjoyed the process of putting it together. When it comes to builds, shopping for parts is half the fun.

In the Stick Computing category, there’s not much room for DIY in the systems themselves. You have to rely on external expansion possibilities to get your home-brew fix. Thankfully the USB port gives us a highway to Mini PC upgrades. If you add a USB hub to your Stick, you can add nearly anything that you can to an ordinary PC. I look forward to the day that even memory, processor, and graphics upgrades are possible. After all, with Thunderbolt interfaces, we’re nearly there.

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Lenovo Ideacentre Stick 300

I write about a variety of home electronics. Sticks are just one of the things I write about, even though they are the focus of this particular blog. The challenge with writing about one category like this is finding new things to say about the same product. I combat this by doing extensive research into whatever I’m reviewing so that I can find at least the grain of something that’s different about a product so I can pass that on to you. Hopefully, in the end we’re both better educated.

When researching this latest Mini PC, I really had to dig to find something. I poured through the spec sheet, but there’s not much that hasn’t been said about Atom-based Windows Sticks. The stats are pretty similar and from a performance standpoint, nearly identical. In fact, this PC is pretty much the first generation of the Intel Compute Stick.

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Intel Compute Stick

It’s been a few years since I’ve taken a look at the Intel Compute Stick. Quite frankly, the original version didn’t hold up too well to scrutiny.  First, it came with Windows 8.1.  While that was certainly better than if it had shipped, with Windows 8, only marginally so.  I’ll say this for it, the boot times were good.  If you go back through the reviews for the product you’ll see that it was riddled with issues, including reliability (strange for an Intel Product), slow application response time and general WiFi issues.

On top of that it was really pretty big and clunky for a Stick Computer.  Compared to the Android Mini PC’s shipping around the same time, it was nearly twice as big.  That’s not a huge factor, but when you’re counting the benefits of Stick Computers, and chief among them is portability, it does become an issue at some point.

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Echo Dot Wireless Smart Device

Voice enable devices is one of those things I had a hard time warming up to. It probably didn’t help me to see movies like “Her” or 2001:A Space Odyssey; “I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.” The whole technology just seemed creepily inadequate to serve any useful purpose in my daily life.

On the other hand we have benevolent (and useful) voice enabled computer tech in shows like Star Trek and Knight Rider. Back in the day, I would have bought a Trans Am if I could have gotten it with Kitt. Sadly, the reality never came close to the science fiction hype.

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Flirc Universal Remote Control Receiver

Sometimes there are minor annoyances in our lives that we allow to grow, rather than doing something about it.  I can think of plenty of personal examples.  When it comes to home entertainment media, one of those minor annoyances that I’ve allowed to percolate is my uncontrollable remote control collection.

As I mentioned in another post, I have a variety of media devices in my living room and I’ve somehow managed to ignore the fact that they each have their own controller.  My coffee table is no longer a coffee table, but a repository for electronics controllers.  I finally decided to get in control of the situation and find the best solution to consolidate them all.

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Wireless Bluetooth Speaker

I like to listen to music while I work.  I don’t know what I’d do if I ever had to work in an environment where I couldn’t listen to music all day.  My tastes have changed quite a bit over the years, and while I still enjoy a variety of music from Classic Rock to Jazz to Classical, for my working days I prefer to listen to what the broadcasters refer to as “Chill”.

My favorite Chill artist, and the one whom I’ve built my listening channel around is David Arkenstone.  Many gamers know Arkenstone for his contributions to Blizzard Game’s World of Warcraft and Starcraft.  He’s recorded a variety of other styles of music, including the Ah Nee Mah albums he created with then-wife Diane.  His haunting Celtic music is among my favorite.  If you don’t know about David Arkenstone, you should check out his work on Pandora or Spotify where it’s plentiful.
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MINIX NEO Z83-4 Fanless Mini PC

This post is going to seem strange to Stick Computing readers for two reasons: First, it’s not about a Stick Computer, or even an accessory for a Stick. Secondly, it’s a post about a device that runs neither Android or Linux, the two cornerstones of Stick Computing. With my reviews lately, it’s going to seem that I’ve gone completely to the other side. But before you hit “Next”, hear me out. This is a great little product.

After a few years of complacency, the Mini PC market is changing rapidly. While the Stick Computer is still the king when it comes to the three P’s of price/performance/portability, there are new and larger formats coming into the market that are evolving and expanding the place of Mini PC’s in the home and in business.

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