Closer look at FXI Cotton Candy’s $199 any-screen computer (video)

The FXI Cotton Candy is a tiny computer that’s about the size of a USB flash drive. One one side is a USB port, and on the other is an HDMI connector. And in between there’s a 1.2 GHz Samsung Exynos 4210 dual-core processor, 1GB of RAM, and ARM Mali 400 graphics.

It’s been a little over a year since FXI first introduced the Cotton Candy, and in that time we’ve seen dozens of cheap Android devices that you can plug into a television, some costing less than $50. But FXI charges $199 for the Cotton Candy.

I caught up with FXI CEO Borgar Ljosland recently and had a chance to ask him what sets the Cotton Candy apart.

Surprisingly, Ljosland actually seemed excited when I brought up the competition. That’s because they’re helping to popularize the idea of a portable device that you can plug into any TV to run Android apps on a big screen.

But the Cotton Candy does a few things that most of those devices don’t.

First, FXI calls its device an “any screen” computer. That’s because it doesn’t just work with televisions or monitors. You can also plug it into a Mac, Windows, or Linux computer to run Android apps on a PC. Sort of.

What actually happens is that the computer treats the Cotton Candy as a standard USB drive. But on that drive there are apps for OS X, Linux, and Windows that launch virtualization software, letting you basically login remotely to the Cotton Candy without leaving your desktop environment.

In other words, it’s still that Exynos processor and Mali Graphics chip that’s doing the heavy lifting, not your computer’s processor. Any apps you’re using are runnin on the stick. But you’ll see them in a window on your computer. The process is pretty seamless and Android apps looked pretty responsive in the Mac and Windows computers Ljosland showed me.

Another thing that helps set the Cotton Candy apart is that it’s not limited to running Android. We’ve seen plenty of independent developers port Ubuntu and other Linux distributions to run on cheap mini PCs like the MK802. But FXI officially supports Ubuntu as well as Android 4.0.

So if you buy an FXI Cotton Candy stick, you have a choice of using it to run Ubuntu or Android. Right now that means Android 4.0 or Ubuntu 12.04, although FXI could release updates for either operating system… or independent developers could do the same.

Right now, Ljosland says there are 160 different companies trying out the Cotton Candy, either to see if they can use it in their businesses or to develop applications that run on top of it.

At this point, the company is targeting the device at developers, which is another reason for the $199 price tag. Anyone can pick up the stick-sized-computer and use it for non-development purposes, but it’s not really meant to be a consumer device just yet.

On the other hand, if you’re a company with a large number of employers that may need to use different computers at different locations, this sort of solution would let you give each user a computer that they can fit in their pocket. It would store all of their files, settings, and apps, and they could pick up where they left off by plugging the device into any PC or display.

FXI Cotton Candy

Ljosland also seems convinced that the Cotton Candy offers better performance than many of the cheap Chinese sticks we’ve seen, but that’s probably a matter that’s up for debate. It basically has the same guts as a Samsung Galaxy S II smartphone, which is a bit dated at this point.

The stick features WiFi and Bluetooth support and FXI ships it with an 8GB microSD card — which is the only storage the Cotton Candy has. There’s no built-in storage space.

Here’s a recap of what you get with the $199 Cotton Candy stick:

  • 1.2 GHz Samsung Exynos 4210 dual core ARM Cortex-A9 processor
  • quad-core ARM Mali 400 graphics
  • 1GB RAM
  • microSD card slot for up to 64GB of storage
  • 802.11b/g/n WiFi
  • Bluetooth 2.1
  • USB 2.0 male port
  • HDMI port
  • micro USB port

You can keep up with the software development, and see more of what people are doing with the Cotton Candy in the FXI forums.

  • ldrn

    Hurrah, another way to run netflix on desktop Linux. :D

  • strider_mt2k

    I’m really digging these teeny tiny computers these days.
    Lots of fun to be had with ‘em!

  • fwupow

    Samsung Galaxy SII performance is nice and the onboard Bluetooth is a good choice, but the Chinese HDMI sticks with the Rockchip RK3066 have on par performance for a lot less.

    After spending a few weeks with the MK808, here is what these devices need:

    1. Onboard dual-band WiFi (b/g/n 2.4 GHz is just not enough for streaming video nowadays AND because there is way too much interference from the plethora of devices running on the 2.4 GHz frequencies, unless you live in single dwelling house in the country. Who does?)

    2. Onboard Bluetooth for wireless game controllers and better USB & BT support for such controllers

    3. Some way to get the damn onscreen virtual Android Touch keyboard to stay off the damn screen damnitt! Oh that has me frosted over like a Kelvinator on Nox.

    4. Better./ faster DivX decode playback. Stuttering and framerates are bad especially when there’s a lot of motion or camera panning.

    5. Samsung Galaxy S3 or better performance for 3D graphics. The SoC in the S3 uses Mali-400 quad core but because of the die shrink it’s overclocked. It’s time to move beyond Mali-400 though.

    • http://www.facebook.com/greg.huddleston Greg Huddleston

      RE: Some way to get the damn onscreen virtual Android Touch keyboard to
      stay off the damn screen damnitt! Oh that has me frosted over like a
      Kelvinator on Nox.

      BTW: there is a way to do this as I shut this off on my Mk802 II), google search for mk802 disable on screen keyboard (if memory serves, you go into settings -> apps -> all -> Android keyboard & set to Disabled) but first make sure you have a usb kbd that works else you will have ‘trouble’. Good luck GH

  • http://www.facebook.com/greg.huddleston Greg Huddleston

    Did these folks ever get X11 accelerated through the GPU (it was coming soon at launch time) but ’0′ info on their website re: this…

  • Great Wahl

    So the USP of the Cotton Candy is: Portable Apps versions of Virtualbox (or similar) with a bootloader that loads the right one for the host OS???

    • http://www.liliputing.com/ Brad Linder

      Nope, there’s no bootloader. You have to launch it manually. This is still being sold as a device aimed at developers.

  • Nick

    Are there any apps that can offer this in the usual Android sticks, or would we have to look at something like VNC/RDP to achieve a similar effect?
    I’m sure that could work and would be relatively cross-platform – just need to use the USB connection as a network port, ideally…