There's been a concerted effort industry-wide to push into the living room, something we saw in force at CES in January. A major part of the living room trend is getting a smaller screen (i.e., your phone or tablet) onto a bigger screen (i.e., your TV).
I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that no company has completely nailed it yet, but many are trying, including Analogix. Analogix is a semiconductor company, but it's behind SlimPort, a technology designed to pump audio and video over a single cable from your phone or tablet to TVs, projectors and monitors.
SlimPort has a handful of dongle adapters, which are simple and easy to use -- you just connect your device to an external display via the dongle and away you go -- but Analogix recently developed a new product, something it calls the Nano Console.
Simply, the SlimPort Nano Console takes the idea of connecting your device to a big screen and inserts a little box in the middle of the setup and includes a handy remote control.
Specs, Design, And An Adorable Little Remote
The Nano Console is small (61 x 61 x 45 mm [LxWxH]) and colorful, and it has a number of I/O ports that let you connect a phone or tablet, connect to a large display, and connect to a power source. There's another HDMI port into which you can plug another video device (like an Amazon Fire TV stick).
|microUSB (male)||-charging-video out up to 4K UHD-only supports SlimPort|
|microUSB charging (female)||-5V input-up to 1.5A if device supports BC 1.2 spec|
|HDMI (in, female)||up to 4K UHD|
|HDMI (out, female)||supports other video device input|
Despite the diminutive size, once you start connecting all the cables, it gets a mite hairy. For the basic setup (more on that shortly), there are three cables sprawling out from the console, and then of course there's the connected phone or tablet taking up space, as well.
In terms of OS support, your device needs to run at least Android 4.4.2, but it's only optimized for Android 5.1 or later.
One of the chief features of the Nano Console is a small, red square of a remote control. It sits on top of the console when it's not in use (so you're less likely to lose it), and it connects to your device via Bluetooth. However, "remote control" doesn't really do it justice. It does control the device remotely, but it has a touchpad, the three default Android buttons, and a volume rocker. It uses Bluetooth Smart (BT LE) with a range of up to 10 meters (so, more than sufficient for your living room), and it's powered by two CR2032 3V batteries.
Without the remote, your device's touchscreen would be the only input device, which would obviate the ability for any sort of lean-back experience.
SlimPort's foremost limitation is one that I bumped into immediately when dealing with the Nano Console; that is, it is not supported on an especially wide range of devices. (You can see the full list here.) It's a somewhat odd assortment of supported devices; for example, a single Chromebook (the HP Chromebook 11) supports it, as does the YotaPhone, a couple of BlackBerry devices, and a surprising number of LG devices, among others. (One intriguing entry that is not yet posted on this online list is the Acer Predator 8 tablet -- and maybe the Predator gaming smartphone, too.)
In short, I don't have any SlimPort-supported devices in-house at present -- except for my kids' Amazon Fire HD Kids Edition tablet. But that, actually, presents an appropriate use case.
I have two kids and one tablet, so you can do the math on how that can be problematic at times. Putting that tablet's content up on the big screen is a simple way for them to share the device with no quarrels or quibbles. For this -- watching videos, flipping through digital books, or playing "lite" games -- the SlimPort Nano Console is an ideal solution.
Setup And Play
Here's how it works:
-Connect the Nano Console to your TV (or monitor, or projector) via the included HDMI cable.-Then connect your device (in this case an Amazon Fire HD Kids Edition tablet) to the Nano Console via the microUSB cable that is permanently attached to the console. -Plug the Nano Console into an electrical outlet using another included USB Type-A to microUSB cable and the device's power connector.-Then, you just select the correct input on the TV, wake up or turn on the tablet, and you're ready to go.
It really is that simple, so Analogix gets points for that.
What really separates the Nano Console from Analogix's SlimPort dongle solutions is the little red remote control. To conserve its battery, it will go to sleep after three minutes of inactivity but will wake back up as soon as you grab it. You pair it with your device via Bluetooth -- a painless process with the Kids Edition tablet, in turns out, with no frustrating inability to "find" each other.
The remote is a hard plastic square, but it's a clickable touch surface. When paired with your device, it gives you a mouse cursor on the screen. I found the responsiveness to be quite active -- maybe a little too active, honestly -- with hardly any lag. Most of what you're doing with the remote is navigation anyway, so regardless, it's not as if you're in danger of getting fragged in a first person shooter or something.
Accurately controlling the cursor takes some getting used to. The remote is light and small, and I found myself using my thumb to control the input. It's an odd experience, though not unpleasant, but I wish that Analogix offered a way to adjust the remote sensitivity settings as you would a mouse. Further, in order to swipe, you have to click the remote and swipe while your finger is depressed. To put it bluntly, this is a strange feeling.
For what it's worth, my five-year-old uses two hands with the remote -- one to steady the remote and one to click and drag -- and that seems to work fairly well for her (large grownup hands render this method inefficient for adults, though).
Lean Back And Don't Expect Too Much
We're back again to asking what this device does, exactly. Well, it's perfect for getting content from a little screen to a big screen, and sitting back and viewing that content and lightly interacting with it via the included remote. It also charges your device.
There's also a version of the Nano Console kit that includes a Mad Catz M.O.J.O. C.T.R.L.R. mobile game controller. Analogix sent us the Nano Console sans M.O.J.O., and therefore we couldn't test it out, but in any case, with a game controller, the Nano Console (and your device) can offer you more engaging Android gaming on your TV or monitor.
The Nano Console is not really designed for much else.
That is to say, it's tempting to see a technology like this and think of the smartphone-as-PC paradigm, but that would be a mistake in this case. Windows 10 plus Continuum it is not. This little box will not turn your smartphone into a productivity device. You can't connect a keyboard and mouse. (It would actually be ideal for a PowerPoint presentation, particularly with the remote, but that hardly constitutes "productivity" on any meaningful scale.)
All of this is completely acceptable, though. The thing does what it says it does. And it doesn't cost very much.
Want It? Fund It
The cost, actually, is a significant wrinkle in this story, because although there are several SlimPort devices you can buy from Analogix, the company is raising funds (and, we presume, gauging demand) for the Nano Console via an Indiegogo campaign.
The retail price for the Nano Console will be $59. However, via the Indiegogo campaign, there are still numerous "Early Adopter" slots available, so if you pledge $34, you can get a Nano Console and the remote. That's a fine deal.
Another limited time deal is $49, and $54 (for now) gets you the Gamer Pack, which includes the Mad Catz controller.
If you're nervous about the Nano Console being a de facto beta device (these crowdfunding campaigns sometimes have a finished prototype and little more), I can tell you that, based on my experience with the unit that Analogix sent me, this is a finished product. There are some design details that could maybe be addressed (such as the odd click-hold-drag input or the slightly ungainly cable situation), but otherwise, it seems perfectly solid.
The Indiegogo campaign will run for about two more weeks. If Analogix's SlimPort Nano Console piques your interest, throw down $34 and reserve yourself one (or $54, and snag one with that Mad Catz controller in tow).
Seth Colaner is the News Director at Tom's Hardware. He curates and edits the news channel and also writes on a variety of topics. He would have become a professional ultimate Frisbee player, but he was born 15 years too early.