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, 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.