Computers come in various shapes and forms: portable laptops, monstrous desktop or gaming PCs, and miniature HDMI dongles, or even some that are integrated into a keyboard or a wall power plug.
Online Chinese retailer, Gearbest, sent us the sample and sells the Beelink A1 (opens in new tab) for just under £47 (around $64) at the time of writing. Note that, while this price includes delivery, it is exclusive of any taxes that may be levied by HMRC or the courier companies on behalf of the vendor. Want to buy tech from online Chinese retailers? Read this first.
The Beelink A1 is sold as a TV box, as the name indicates, but is just as useful – if not more – as a thin client, especially for small and medium-sized businesses that may want to move away from expensive and complicated Windows-based setups to embrace the cloud.
The A1 is absolutely tiny and will comfortably sit in an adult hand. Its dimensions (76 x 76 x 17mm) mean that it can be hidden almost anywhere, but the lack of a VESA mount means that you won’t be able to fix it securely to a monitor.
The manufacturer opted for a white finish all round except for the base which is bright orange. The device’s plastic shell means that the bill of materials can be kept to a minimum while ensuring adequate heat dissipation thanks to an aluminum heatsink just under the surface.
The front is adorned with a white LED display which provides the time and system status at a glance, which can come in handy. Despite its size, the A1 manages to cram in two full-size USB ports (one of which is USB 3.0), one microSD card reader, one full-size Gigabit Ethernet port, a full-size HDMI port and an audio jack.
Here is the Beelink A1 configuration sent to TechRadar Pro for review:
CPU: Rockchip RK3328
Ports: HDMI, Ethernet, microSD, USB 2.0, USB 3.0, audio jack
Connectivity: 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0
OS: Android 7.1
Size: 77 x 77 x 17mm (W x D x H)
Bearing in mind that this is a sub-£50 box, we were surprised to find that it had 4GB of RAM (albeit DDR3), something that will definitely be helpful for future versions of Android, or if you intend to run more memory-hungry applications.
Beelink opted for a quad-core CPU – a Rockchip RK3328 – clocked at up to 1.5GHz. It supports 4K at 60Hz, H.265 and VP9 formats as well. The choice of the Mali-450MP2 remains unexplained as it is a GPU that is nearly six-years-old, and doesn’t come with architectural improvements found on later models.
The small storage capacity (16GB) is probably the only worry, although the presence of a microSD card slot mitigates our concerns – note that the thin client also sports 802.11ac Wi-Fi connectivity and Bluetooth.
As expected, the A1 is powered by a 5V2A (10W) power supply unit with a proprietary connector. We’d have preferred a microUSB affair as it would have allowed portable battery chargers to be hooked up to the device.