USB Stick Contains Dual-Core Computer, Turns Any Screen Into an Android Station

FXI Cotton Candy

Is that a USB key in your pocket or a dual-core computer? Today, Norwegian company FXI technologies showed off a USB stick-sized portable computer prototype, complete with a dual-core 1.2-GHz Samsung Exynos ARM CPU (same as in the Galaxy S II), 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, HDMI-out and a microSD card slot for memory. Codenamed Cotton Candy because its 21 gram weight is the same as a bag of the confection, the tiny PC enables what its inventor calls “Any Screen Computing,” the ability to turn any TV, laptop, phone, tablet, or set-top box into a dumb terminal for its Android operating system.

Update: Detailed Hands-On with Cotton Candy Running Android 4.0, Ubuntu

The Cotton Candy has a USB 2.0 connector on one end and an HDMI jack on the other. When connected to an HDTV, it uses the HDMI port for video, the USB for power, and Bluetooth to connect to a keyboard, mouse, or tablet for controlling the operating system. The device can output up to 1080p so even a full HD screen can display the Candy’s preloaded Android 2.3 operating system at its native resolution. The dual core CPU is powerful enough to play local 1080p video or stream HD clips from the Web. Learn more and see our hands on video below.

Cotton Candy on HD Monitor

When you plug the Cotton Candy into a Mac or PC, the Windows or OS X operating system recognizes it as a USB drive. You can then launch the software and run the Cotton Candy’s Android environment in a secure window while you use your desktop OS outside the window. You can even transfer files between your notebook’s native OS and the Cotton Candy’s Android environment by dragging them off or on the USB stick’s memory. 

We watched as FXI CEO Borgar Ljosland popped the Cotton Candy into his MacBook Pro and, within seconds, had the device’s Android OS running in a full screen window and, though we didn’t get to play with the device ourselves, we were impressed with how quickly it started up. Borgar told us that Android developers can use this environment to test out their apps while they work on code in another window. 

FXI Cotton Candy on Mac

HDTVs, monitors, and computers are just the tip of the iceberg for the Cotton Candy. Borgar told us the device will be able to connect to tablets, smartphones, and even set top boxes via USB or Bluetooth. He says that he expects the device to be able to turn even an iPhone or an iPad into a terminal for its environment. Imagine an iPhone running Android!

Because the Cotton Candy is a full-fledged computer, it should be able to plug into a USB hub and connect directly to a monitor, keyboard, and mouse to launch its OS. Offices or schools could set up docking terminals to support users who carry it in their pockets. 

Sideview of Cotton Candy

Cotton Candy’s purpose is to provide a computing experience that users can carry with them and replicate anywhere they go. Imagine walking into an Internet cafe or a business center, popping your Cotton Candy into a USB port, and having your own operating system and applications take over the device.

Though the current prototype runs Android 2.3, Borgar told us that the ARM-based hardware can run Ubuntu Linux currently and future versions should be able to run the ARM version of Windows 8. Future versions of the device will have a USB 3 connector and faster processors.

From developers to students to mobile workers, there are a number of groups that could find innovative ways to use a computer the size of a USB stick. However, you won’t see a consumer product shipping anytime soon from FXI. The company plans to sell the Cotton Candy to developers and let OEMs license the technology and turn it into something that can appeal to a wide audience.

Borgar does not expect these future “any screen” products to replace your primary PC or smartphone, but says they could become popular secondary devices. With Ubuntu installed, the Cotton Candy can even be turned into a mobile file or web server!

FXI hasn’t set pricing yet for the Cotton Candy, but expects it to cost considerably less than $200 per unit. That’s not bad for a full-fledged computing device the size of a cigarette lighter. 




AUTHOR BIO
Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of Laptopmag.com since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master’s degree in English from NYU.
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  1. PiFan Says:

    In contrast, the Raspberry Pi (http://www.raspberrypi.org/) – a 25$/35$ embedded ARM device (size: about credit card) will be available for everyone. The hardware won’t be that beefy, but it will be able to play 1080p video thanks to embedded hardware decoding.

  2. Phh Says:

    Major problem with such thing for a non android use is RAM size, and it doesn’t seem to be specified. That’s rather annoying

  3. Yodhe Says:

    Nice device, but personally I like the look of the Raspberry Pi, especially as the price is so much sweeter, and it appeals to my User mentality. Maybe if it was $50 it would be worth it, but $200 seems like a gimmick rather than a gadget.

  4. eJaN Says:

    wow… ţђāţ’ş vęŗy çool…

  5. JT SpectreWriter Says:

    Nobody’s mentioned connectivity.

  6. JohnP Says:

    http://www.fxitech.com/products/
    Has more detailed specs for this device.
    1GB DRAM, for example.

    The photo seems photoshop’ped. 2.5cm x 8cm are the dimensions on the page, but a full-sized USB flash drive is about 1.8cm x 7.2cm. I’m not complaining at all, I still want 3 of these. I think the 1080p playback statement is highly suspect. A high-powered dual core Android tablet can’t handle 720p at good quality due to bitrate limits. Sure, at low quality, 720p will play with lots of dropped frames, but I’d rather have higher quality for a lower resolution instead of seeing frames filled with artifacts, stuttering or worse.

  7. Nemo -- N'rn WI Says:

    > Borgar does not expect these … products to replace your primary PC…
    Um… Seeing as you need a computer to run this computer, I would also not expect it to replace your computer.

  8. cnxsoft Says:

    The raspberry pi is a cheap platform and it will be fun to play around this. However, it may be sluggish for many applications such as web rendering and you can forget about multi-tasking. It won’t be able to run Ubuntu, Android ICS or Windows 8.

    Android 2.3 and Fedora might also run on it, but it may not be a very smooth experience.
    So as a geek, I love the raspberry pi, but as user the cotton candy sounds more promising.

  9. deusdiabolus Says:

    It sounds like an awesome idea, but I’m kind of surprised that it’s only USB 2.0. It seems like a 3.0 connector would mean a faster transfer response time where required, and it would still be backwards compatible. Enh. Thinking out loud.

  10. Art Says:

    $200 really? Dual core tablets are coming out for $200 and include obviously more hardware. Cool idea but way overpriced. If they want it to be a success, keep the price closer to $100.

  11. Shadowww Says:

    JohnP.. ever heard of hardware decoding? :/

  12. LaX Says:

    That can be the ultimate presentation tool, when coupled with a remote control like the Keyspan PR-US2
    http://www.tripplite.com/en/products/model.cfm?txtSeriesID=847&txtModelID=3904

    It just needs to run PowerPoint for Mac!

  13. ken Says:

    A bag of cotton candy??? You need to get out of the office more.

  14. larsivi Says:

    PiFan: The Raspberry Pi don’t have HDMI.

    JohnP: the Mali GPU in the Exynos is fully capable of the claims.

  15. Mytob Says:

    I like the concept. Price is a bit much though and as mentioned above the PI seem a more atractive option.

  16. njrabit Says:

    Awesome device! Considering that much of the cost of a tablet is in the screen, I hope they end up selling this for under $100. Android is a terrific alternative environment to Windows as a desktop platform so it’s very exciting to see things like this. Actually, I’d be very happy to have Android/Kubuntu integrated in a single distribution.

  17. Anonymous Says:

    Do my eyes deceive me or does their actual website list it as a QUAD Core?

  18. Puzzled Says:

    All this accomplishes is establishing Android as the schist in low end computer technology.

  19. Avram Piltch, LAPTOP Online Editorial Director Says:

    @deusdiablous, They are planning to come out with a USB 3 version, but they say USB 2 provides enough bandwidth to transmit the 1080p video signal back to the PC.

  20. Avram Piltch, LAPTOP Online Editorial Director Says:

    @Nemo, Actually you can run the Cotton Candy attached to a screen without a computer as long as it is hooked up to a USB power source.

  21. Lucien N. Says:

    @larsivi

    Raspberry Pi does have HDMI…it says, and shows it, on their site…….

  22. cello622 Says:

    the rasberry pi is a linux tool meant to teach anyone simple programming by turning any hdmi tv into a linux computer with removable storage…this is something different, seems rather suspect considering the tech its using is copyrighted by samsung(the dual core processor) who just had a huge lawsuit war with mighty big brother aka apple…doubt this will be anywhere near the low price of the pi usb but def interesting to see if it actually hits the market

  23. brian Says:

    @larsivi: The Raspberry Pi *does* have HDMI. At least, the current incarnation in development does. Along with the currently proposed final specs.

  24. Zeno Arrow Says:

    @larsivi
    “PiFan: The Raspberry Pi don’t have HDMI.”
    Uhh, what? Yes it does. Take a look for yourself:
    http://www.raspberrypi.org/faqs
    “What display can I use?
    There is composite and HDMI out on the board, so you can hook it up to a digital or analogue television or to a DVI monitor.”

  25. Doc Says:

    Might run into problems with Windows licensing since MS doesn’t approve of Windows on a stick. You’d have to use it inside a Virtual environment, I believe… There are ways to do that, however.

    Otherwise, a fantastic development. Could make life a lot lighter and “sweeter”.

  26. Robin Majumdar Says:

    Very interesting, but needs to break the $100 price point… Or better; $49.

  27. Firdaus Says:

    @njrabit Agree with you. Linux integrated are most welcome.

    Btw, it its an awesome device!

  28. Jeff Carr Says:

    Yet another example of the press reporting on hardware that does not exist. Can we stop doing this please. It really does damage to real startups & engineers that actually make REAL devices.

  29. Kishorerupa Says:

    Wah….really super……

  30. shan Says:

    very useful post. welcome to FXI technologies

  31. SuperJohn Says:

    Rasberry Pi for me – this is just overpriced and has been released too late – you can get web enabled media playing TV’s for not much more these days.
    Besides – how many ordinary people are going to pay 200 bucks for a ‘usb flash drive’ :-)
    Just wait for the Chinese versions – they’ll be going for around $20 a piece.

  32. NeatoMonstewr Says:

    Hey, that’s awesome.. Now,, does it also contain a cigarette lighter with it?

  33. Joshi Moshi Says:

    So according to the guy in the video I can hook up a keyboard and mouse to it and suddenly I’ll be able to run Word and PowerPoint on it? Cool, they’ve figured out how to get Office for PC (or MAC?) running on Android.. Oh wait, maybe on Ubuntu + Wine? Oh wait… FAIL

  34. Wingspan Says:

    I just did read about this, and I can´t wait to own one of those”Candy”. To some negative comments, Homepage state Quad-Core. What tablet or Cell has a this as of 12/12. I like the Idea to run Android and market alongside Win7 on my Acer Aspire One D257. To use all the Android apps I have on a small PC great, I will go for it. Others will start something similar and price will come down.
    Great future.

  35. jonny rocket Says:

    DON’T USE ANDROID!!!

    google software cannot be trusted. too invasive and too much “answering home”.

    fail.

  36. PINGALI SIVA SESHU BABU Says:

    INTERSTING.

  37. Wolfwalker Says:

    Wow. I’ve been doing something innovative for years and didn’t know it. I install Ubuntu (or lately more like Linux Mint) to a flash drive instead of a hard drive. In fact that’s what I’m running from now. Whatever computer I stick this flash drive in, it becomes my computer – my programs, my settings, my files, my setup on any box. And I only paid about $30 or so for this 32 gigabyte flash drive, and zero bucks for Linux Mint.

  38. John4Carter Says:

    Sorry, but I am not too impressed with a “computer” that needs a lot of external gadgets slung onto the side to make it work… Just not my thing… Also, knowing human beings, so many of them will be left in a monitor somewhere until some dirtball snatches it without telling someone they found it. Ever leave a calculator on a desk in a library? EXACTLY :0)

    I will say, for vending machines, kiosks, simple rack mounted devices, or any metal box with a user input this is good. Single board computers ( google the term if you don’t know what that is ) tend to be very expensive and too limited. This will make a great exception. My quesiton, will this work with a touch screen TV of some type? What about a USB hub? That would give it power and allow any other USB devices to talk to the computer? Anyone who can answer this gets a free date with my virtual supermodel :)

  39. freedumb2000 Says:

    No network connectivity???

  40. why Says:

    My Samsung galaxy player 5.0 was $190 something and it does everything and has a built in screen, wifi etc.
    obnoxious companies redoing what already works but their version makes them money, instead of helping users.
    200 for not so great. Try a virtual machine on a stick.
    Takeover a computer and use it then leave no trace. See shadow protect.
    Only the uninformed will use.

  41. Susan Says:

    > what its inventor calls “Any Screen Computing,” the ability to turn any TV, laptop, phone,
    > or set-top box into a dumb terminal for Android

    Really? It can turn *ANY* tv into an Android device?

    Any TV?

    Even a TV without a USB port… and absolutely no way of even accessing this gadget?

    Wow…. that’s amazing!!!!

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