The Gole1 is a tiny computer that’s hard to categorize. It’s basically a compact desktop computer that you can also use as a tablet. Or maybe it’s a tablet with a really small screen, a bunch of ports, and a kind of thick case.

Either way, it’s a small device that you can plug into a TV or monitor to use as a computer, media streaming device, or video game system. There’s a five inch touchscreen display on top that you can use to either mirror what’s happening on the big screen, or set up to use as an extended desktop. And the Gole1 has a battery, which allows you to unplug it and keep using the little computer even when it’s not connected to a display or power source.

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Oh yeah, and it dual-OS device: it runs both Windows 10 64-bit and Android 5.1. You have to reboot to switch operating systems, but it gives you the option of choosing the environment that works best for the task at hand.

Gole unveiled the little computer in May and raised nearly $300,000 through a crowdfunding campaign. The first Gole1 computers should be shipping to backers of the campaign by the end of the month, and Gole sent me one to test.

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If you missed out on the Indiegogo campaign, you can still order a model with 2GB of RAM and 64GB of storage through Indiegogo InDemand for $99 or request a 4GB/64GB model for $129.

Gearbest is also taking orders for both versions, although Gearbest charges $144 for the model with more memory and storage.

Overview

If you ignore the touchscreen, the Gole1 is a lot like many other mini-desktop computers that have come out of China over the past few years.

in the box

It measures 5.3″ x 3.6″ x 0.8″ and weighs about 8.5 ounces. The little PC is powered by an Intel Atom x5-Z8300 quad-core Cherry Trail processor.

There’s no fan in the case, so the Gole1 is perfectly silent when it’s running, but even though there’s a heat sink over the CPU, and ventilation on the bottom of the device, it can get rather warm under heavy use.

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The Gole1 features dual-band 802.11b/g/n WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0 and has four USB ports. Three are USB 2.0 ports, but there’s also a single USB 3.0 port. There’s also a micro USB port.

It’s nice having this many ports on a mini PC. I’m tired of having to plug in a USB hub if I want to use a keyboard, mouse and USB flash drive.

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There’s a full-sized HDMI port for connecting an external display, and Gole ships an HDMI cable with the computer. There’s also a 3.5mm headset jack, a microSD card reader, and an Ethernet jack.

While the Indiegogo campaign promised “Gigabit Ethernet,” the Gole1 appears to have slower 10/100 Ethernet.

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Now let’s talk about what makes the Gole1 unusual: it has a touchscreen, battery, and speakers. Basically you can use it like a tiny tablet… or use the built-in display as a second screen when connecting the Gole1 to a TV or monitor.

The 5 inch, 1280 x 720 pixel display is on top of the case, and underneath it there are two speaker grills and a few buttons: a power button on the right, a Windows/Home button in the center, and volume buttons on the left.

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The capacitive touchscreen recognizes multi-touch input and seems reasonably responsive when you’re using Android. But it can be a little tricky to navigate Windows 10 using your fingertips on such a small display: the icons, text, and menu items are all very small, even if you’re using tablet mode. But while you can use the Gole1 as a tablet, it’s really pretty clearly designed to be plugged into an external display — it’s best to think of the touchscreen as a second display.

First, the screen seems to be recessed a bit. While the glass or plastic covering the screen is nearly edge-to-edge, it seems like the display is a millimeter or two below the top of the device. So when you put your finger on the screen it doesn’t quite seem like you’re actually touching whatever it is you were trying to tap.

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Combined with the small size of the screen, that makes it difficult to do things like type using the Windows 10 on-screen keyboard.

The built-in speakers are also pretty lousy. It’s nice to have the option of hearing something when you’re not using headphones or speakers. But you probably wouldn’t want to listen to music or watch a movie using just the internal speakers.

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You’d also probably run out of battery life pretty quickly. Gole only promises that the computer’s 2,600 mAh battery will last for up to 2 hours, and the demo unit I received is a pre-production model with an even smaller 1,800 mAh battery, so I can’t really even test that claim.

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Opening the case is pretty easy. Just remove the four rubber feet on the bottom of the Gole1 to a set of tiny screws. Once those are removed, you can pry off the bottom panel. But there’s not actually that much you can do once you’ve gotten inside.

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The RAM and eMMC storage are both soldered to the system board, which means there’s no easy way to upgrade either. If you want more than 2GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, then you should just buy the 4GB/64GB model. Or you could use the microSD card slot or USB ports to add removable storage.

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Note that while the battery in the image above says 2,600 mAh, this is a pre-production model with an 1,800 mAh battery. The final hardware should have a battery that matches the label.

In terms of software, the Gole1 is one of a number of Chinese devices to ship with both Android and Windows pre-installed. The first time I turned it on, I saw a menu asking which operating system I’d like to load, but I haven’t actually seen that menu since. Now when I want to switch operating systems I either launch the WinToAnd app from Windows to reboot into Android, or pull down the Quick Settings tray in Android and choose the “Switch OS” option to reboot into Windows.

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Note that while the computer is sort of positioned as a desktop, Windows 10 thinks it’s a tablet and the default user interface will be tablet mode. But you can switch to desktop mode in the settings. You have to do it manually though. Windows 10 does have a feature called Continuum that works with some 2-in-1 tablets, allowing you to automatically switch between tablet and desktop user interfaces when a keyboard is detected. But the Gole1 doesn’t seem to support Continuum.

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It should be possible to receive both Android and Window system updates, and since Microsoft pushes Windows 10 updates to users automatically, it should be pretty easy to keep that operating system up to date. But Gole would have to release any Android updates, and since this device is shipping with Android 5.1 at a time when Android 7.0 is about to launch, I wouldn’t really hold my breath waiting for Gole to update the Android software.

You’re not limited to running Windows 10 or Android 5.1 though. I was able to load both Remix OS for PC and Ubuntu 16.04 from a USB flash drive. Not everything worked perfectly out of the box, but it’s good to know that it’s at least possible to switch to a different operating system.

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I’ll have more details on that below.




So what can you do with the Gole1?

A lot… it basically has all the features you’d expect from a Windows PC and those you’d expect from an Android tablet. But it’s cheap, small, and honestly not really great at being either thing.

It doesn’t have the horsepower for really heavy-duty Windows tasks like serious gaming or heavy multitasking (the Google Chrome browser starts to feel sluggish if I have more than four or five browser tabs open at once). And the built-in touchscreen is a bit too small to make the Gole1 a particularly useful Windows tablet.

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Meanwhile, as an Android device it has a display that’s about the same size as the one on my Nexus 5 smartphone. But thanks to its full-sized USB and HDMI ports, among other things, the Gole1 is much bigger than a 5 inch phone and thicker than just about any other phone or tablet on the market.

That said, the Gole1’s unusual form factor does open up some interesting possibilities. For example, you could use it as a media center device:

  • Plug the computer into your TV with an HDMI cable.
  • Fire up the Kodi media center app (which is available for Windows, Android, Linux, or other platforms).
  • Choose the Estouchy skin (or another touchscreen-friendly skin).
  • Unplug your keyboard and mouse because now you can navigate your music, movies, photos, and add-ons using just the Gole1’s touchscreen.
  • If you only plan to use the device for an hour or two at a time, you don’t even need to plug it into a power source.

Here’s another nifty way you can use this touchscreen device with HDMI output:

  • Load up an Android game that supports either touchscreen or gyroscopic controls.
  • Connect the Gole1 to your TV.
  • Pick it up and use it as a game controller for games like Asphalt 8: Airborne or Riptide GP2.

Sure, you don’t need a tiny desktop PC with a battery and touchscreen to do those things. You could also use an Android or Windows tablet that has HDMI output or support for wireless displays. But the Gole1 is a cheap enough device that you might want to just leave it plugged into your TV all the time, while a tablet might be something you move around the house with.

In a pinch, you could also use the Gole1 like a regular PC. It can run just about any software you’d normally run on a Windows computer… Just don’t expect stellar performance from a device with an Intel Atom x5-z8300 processor and eMMC storage.

I’ve written several articles for Liliputing, including much of this review, on the Gole1 with a keyboard, mouse, and 1080p display connected. For the most part that means I’ve used the Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge browsers a lot, and the Irfanview image viewer and editor a little bit.

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But I’ve also tested LibreOffice, streamed some videos from YouTube and Netflix, and played a few games in both Windows and Android.

Like most Intel Atom-powered computers, the Gole1 performs best when you’re only doing one thing at a time. Open a word processor or spreadsheet app and spend some time working and you’d never know that you’re using a $99 PC rather than a $999 model. But if you want to watch a video while you’re working on that document and need to constantly open web browser tabs to look things up at the same time, you can expect things to slow down considerably.

As for gaming, Windows was able to recognize an Xbox-style controller I connected, and that’s what I used to play games in Windows 10. But when I rebooted to Android, the game controller was not recognized, so I could only play games using the touchscreen, motion sensors, or a keyboard and mouse.

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In Windows, I tested  SuperTux, an open source platformer in the style of Super Mario Brothers. It worked beautifully and suggests to me that this system would be just fine for playing less demanding games. You could probably use it as a MAME system or install emulators for classic console games without much difficulty. Just don’t expect to play Crysis on this system.

I also installed the Windows Store version of the racing game Asphalt 8: Airborne, and had mixed results. When I tried running after the computer had been on for a while, graphics got very choppy, to the point where it was difficult to control my car. It’s possible that this was due to the CPU getting warm and throttling speeds until it could cool down. When I rebooted the computer and loaded Asphalt 8 before running any other programs, it ran much more smoothly.

When I tried the Android version of the same game, it ran perfectly every time… although as I mentioned above, I had to use touchscreen or motion controls, since Android didn’t recognize my game controller.

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Since the Gole1 has a touchscreen and a battery, you could also use it as a standalone Android device without plugging it in to a display or wall jack. But the battery will die after just a few hours and the device has fairly large screen bezels and a thick design which make it less than ideal for use as a handheld.

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I think it’s more likely that the battery will come in handy if you want to move the Gole1 from room to room without rebooting it. For example, you could keep it in your office or bedroom as a media player or light gaming machine. But when you encounter a cat video on the internet that’s too good not to share, you could take it into the living room to show your friends and family, either on the small screen or on your TV.

Or you could load up presentations on the little computer from your desk at work and carry the system into a meeting room, hook it up to a projector, and start a PowerPoint presentation.

Notes on that whole dual OS thing

Gole sent me a demo unit with 64GB of storage. Windows reports that the C drive has 50GB of storage (about 29GB of which is free after installing a few very large programs), and Android says the system has 4GB of storage space available for apps, media, and other data.

That leaves about 10GB unaccounted for, although I suspect some of it is used as system storage by Android.

Another things to keep in mind is that the two operating systems treat HDMI output differently. Android will simply display the exact same thing on both the built-in screen and an external display. Windows gives you more options.

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You can mirror your displays with Windows, choose to only use one display or the other, or extend your desktop so that you can show different items on each screen (and drag a mouse cursor left to right so that it exits one screen and appears on the other).

The extended desktop option can be useful if you have two screens that are roughly the same size. But I found it kind of awkward to try displaying some items on a 5 inch, 1280 x 720 pixel display lying flat on a table and others on a 24 inch, 1920 x 1080 pixel display. So I mostly used the mirror mode with Windows.

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Other operating systems may handle dual display setups different. For instance, Ubuntu does have a screen mirroring option, but I wasn’t able to check that box when using the Gole1 for some reason, so my only option was to use the Gole1’s screen as an extended desktop.

Ubuntu also identified the display as a 720 x 1280 pixel screen in portrait orientation, so I needed to into the display settings and rotate the screen manually to change it to landscape mode (automatic screen rotation is another thing that isn’t supported out of the box with Ubuntu 16.04).

Notes on running Linux or other operating systems

You can get into the computer’s UEFI/BIOS settings by hitting Esc or Del on your keyboard during startup. Once there, you can disable quiet booting if you want to see a reminder about the Esc/Del option every time you turn on the computer, change the boot device priority order (which didn’t seem to actually work for me), and make other changes.

The most useful option I found was a sub-menu for “boot override” options that lets you immediately choose the device you want to boot from.

So I plugged in a USB flash drive, entered the settings menu at startup, and selected the drive. Voila! I was able to boot from the drive.

I tried a few different versions of Ubuntu, but the only one I tried that would fully load was the default, 64-bit desktop version of Ubuntu 16.04 that I downloaded from Canonical’s website.

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Once it was loaded, I noticed that the computer didn’t detect any WiFi networks. So I plugged in a USB WiFi adapter that I know works with many Linux distros, and that did the trick. It was recognized almost instantly and I was able to get online.

Then I noticed that I couldn’t hear any audio coming from either the Gole1’s speakers or from my TV. I tried plugging headphones into the jack in the back of the mini PC and that didn’t work either.

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Fortunately I have an $8 USB audio adapter. I connected it into a USB port and plugged in a pair of headphones, and suddenly I could hear sound from the YouTube video that was playing.

There may be workarounds for audio and WiFi that don’t require connecting external devices, but since I had the hardware and the Gole1 had the spare USB ports, I figured this was the simplest solution for my brief experiment.

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I also tried running Remix OS for PC on the Gole1, and it also failed to recognize the computer’s WiFi adapter but worked just fine with a USB adapter. Audio worked fine in Remix OS for PC.

Should you buy one?

If you really want to spend $129 on a tiny desktop computer that’s also a small (but thick) Android tablet, then who am I to stop you? It’s not a lot of money and it’s a kind of neat toy.

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But think about what you plan to do with it before pulling out your wallet. If you just want a cheap, low-power media center there are plenty of other options, ranging from a Chromecast or Amazon Fire TV Stick to small, cheap Windows PCs that don’t have touchscreens.

And if you just want a portable Android device, you can certainly do a lot better than the Gole1.

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What this little computer has going for it is just how odd it is. Honestly, while I tried to outline a couple of potential use cases above, I’ve spent most of my time with the Gole1 trying to figure out what I could do with it that wouldn’t be easier with a different device like a phone, tablet, or desktop. I didn’t come up with much.

But for some reason, I still kind of enjoyed testing the little PC. There’s something charming about just how odd it is.

And it’s nice that there’s a 4GB/64GB option. While the $99 price tag of the cheaper model is tempting, I’m not sure I’d recommend getting the cheaper model, since 2GB of RAM is the bare minimum I’d suggest using for Windows these days and 32GB of storage won’t get you very far when divided between two operating systems.

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