Buying a cheap desktop PC doesn't mean being stuck with a charmless plastic box or sacrificing ports and usability in something as deconstructed as a "stick" PC. In the same under-$300 price range as anor a so-basic-it-hurts desktop box from Dell or HP, you can also get the charmingly quirky Endless Mission One, which starts at $249. (Endless isn't selling this model outside of the US right now, but that works out to around £205 or AU$330.)
This thoroughly mod-feeling desktop looks more like athan a computer, with a bamboo shell surrounding a white plastic base. The bamboo is sourced from sustainable wood supplies, naturally. This looks like the kind of computer they'd sell at Whole Foods.
There's a catch, of course. Although to some it may be this system's most important feature. Rather than Microsoft's Windows 10 ($155.99 at Amazon.com), Apple's or even Google's Chrome OS, the Endless Mission One runs its own custom operating system, the Linux-based Endless OS. For everyone who's asked us to include Linux PCs in our reviews, you finally have one, although it's a highly customized environment with a UI designed to be very user-friendly, with an almost Android-like look.
That means there's a different bucket of available software to choose from than you might be used to, and for the non-Linux-savvy, that can be intimidating. Fortunately, two things work in your favor. The built-in web browser is Chromium, the open-source version of Google's Chrome browser. That gives you a very familiar interface to work with, plus access to most of the cloud-based tools we use everyday. That includes Gmail, Netflix, Amazon, Facebook and all the other things that make up most of what we do on a computer. And, there's already a ton of preinstalled software, including useful information and education apps that will work even when the system is offline.
That feature is a holdover from the original, this system's 2016 predecessor. That was intended for use in developing countries where dependable internet service wasn't a given, so it included an encyclopedia and educational apps packed with all sorts of how-to information. Also included is Libre Office, a very good free productivity suite that works with common Microsoft Office file formats, and even a few games, but don't expect too much from those. Unfortunately, you're restricted to the preinstalled software or whatever you can access as an online cloud-based app through Chromium. There's no easy way to install your own apps.
Interestingly, if you just like the look and feel and functionality of Endless OS, that's available as a free download to install on your own hardware. Also, coming soon is Endless Code, a suite of training tools for teaching young people to write computer software, which will be available for the Endless Mission PCs as well as other platforms.
Endless Mission One
|Price as reviewed||$249|
|CPU||1.58GHz Intel Celeron N2807|
|Memory||2GB DDR3L 1,333MHz|
|Graphics||Intel HD graphics|
|Networking||802.11n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0|
|Operating system||Endless OS|
There's a lot to admire in the simple design of the Mission One. The contrast between the bamboo and the white plastic has a very high-design feel, and even the strategic use of vent holes in the bamboo looks very deliberate and aesthetically balanced.