With all the choices for Android devices out there - mini-PC sticks included - it may seem hard to narrow down your choices. There are many vendors out there, most of which aren't familiar to the U.S. consumer. There are many devices out there sporting processors that aren't made by Intel, AMD or ARM. There aren't screens to check out to see if one looks better than the other - we plug these devices into our TV's after all. So how exactly do we make the best purchase?
What kind of Jelly Bean do you want?
Most of the Android devices out now run some version of Android 4.1 and 4.2. Both of these are called Jelly Bean, and are the latest versions of the Android OS out at the time of this writing. But watch out, there are still some devices which run Android 4.0 - Ice Cream Sandwich. While a lot of these devices can be upgraded to newer Android versions, it may not be as easy as hitting the "update" button. Better go with as new a version as you can find just to be on the safe side.
Memory? I forget...
Like computers and phones, the more memory you can get - the better. Computers use memory to open multiple apps and programs at the same time, or to run programs faster. If you've ever found yourself complaining that your app didn't open instantly, then that's a sure sign that you need more memory. Unfortunately, in Android PC's you can't just pop open the case and add another stick of RAM like you can in your PC. If you find an Android mini-PC with less than 1GB of RAM, move on to the next one. If you can find one with more, put a gold star next to it!
Android devices will have multiple options for storage, much like your smartphone. There will either be internal storage, also called ROM and\or a micro-SD card slot - hopefully both. The card slot will be a great way to store those pictures that you don't want on your network, or those apps that you don't need to have on the internal ROM storage because you don't use them often enough, or because you can be a little more patient when these apps load. A great example would be Google Maps - how often do you really need to be running it when you're looking at your bedroom TV's PC stick after all?
USB ports and Bluetooth
This may be the most important option of them all. While it's important to have a fast dual-core processor and a decent amount of RAM, having enough USB ports and Bluetooth to connect your devices easily is very, VERY important. Think about it this way: This unit will be connected to the back of your TV or a spare monitor that will be in reasonably plain view. The last thing you want is to have your nice, clean looking entertainment center looking like a rat's nest of wires because you needed to plug in a USB hub just to plug in your external hard drive, wireless keyboard\mouse and your webcam.
Work that core!
When it comes to the processor, the more cores the better. There are so many different types of processors available, and even when you look at the same manufacturer, the higher numbers don't always mean better performance. For example, we've seen Cortex A-7 chips outperform A-9 chips.
One thing you can count on is that the more cores a chip has, the better (in general) its performance will be. Unlike smartphones which tend to lose batter life with more powerful multi-core chips, there is no power penalty for having a dual or quad core processor. Aim high. But beware: don't sacrifice RAM for more cores. The trade-off between a lower RAM, higher core chip often isn't worth it.
There are many other considerations about Android PC's and their specs, but it often comes down to how the units are going to be used. If you're looking for a certain use out of your Android mini-PC, then you're going to want to make sure that you shop for that use in mind. But, no matter which device you choose, these minimum specs will make sure that your purchase is a smart one.