In my quest for the perfect home theater I have thrown lots of time and money at media players and streaming devices, trying to find the best balance of quality and convenience. An HTPC hits that sweet spot for many enthusiasts - offering the convenience of an all-in-one web connected device which can be configured to offer very high performance. The most devoted gadget geeks will prefer to spec and build their own PCs with very specific expectations and performance requirements. The thought of designing and building an entire PC will turn away many average hobbyists though, limiting them to existing solutions. Purpose built, off-the-shelf HTPCs have the advantage of often being more economical than custom built solutions, and many have been designed to be compact and/or portable and very quiet.
InFocus has designed the Kangaroo Pro Mobile Desktop for customers looking for those exact requirements. It is a portable entertainment hub with the full capability of Windows 10, plus some special features that make it pretty handy beyond your custom home theater or home entertainment space. The Kangaroo is about the size of a web streaming set-top box, with the convenience of an internal battery, but with expandable storage and an upgradeable OS.
Let's start with the hardware. The Kangaroo has two parts. The computer itself is a pocket-sized device, which contains the processor/OS, storage, and an internal battery. A micro USB port, micro SD card slot, finger print reader, power button, and dock connection port can be found on the outside of the compact case. Infocus has designed two docking solutions for the Kangaroo system. The Kangaroo and Kangaroo+ use a basic dock with HDMI out, 2 USB ports, and a power connection. The Kangaroo Pro uses a larger dock which offers VGA out, ethernet, and analog audio out, in addition to the connections on the standard dock. The Pro dock can also hold a 2.5" hard drive for expanded storage. The Kangaroo slides into a pocket in the Pro dock, resulting in a compact footprint and a nice clean look. And I'd bet a Chipotle burrito that's where the "Kangaroo" name came from.
Processing duties are handled by an Intel Atom X5-Z8500, with Intel Processor Graphics gen 8 handling video. Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, a 32GB hard drive, and 2GB of ram are all baked into the main unit. Windows 10 is pre-installed. InFocus has also developed a utility call OSLinx, which allows it to be controlled by, and viewed from an iOS device such as an iPad or iPhone. This can be done via lightning cable or wirelessly on supported Apple devices.
Setup and Connections
The Kangaroo can be integrated into the simplest or most complex entertainment systems. Although it is designed to be compatible with common displays that pretty much any household should have, this should still be treated as any other PC in terms of connections and accessories. It works with HDMI displays, such as the TV in your living room, but you will still need a mouse and keyboard to get through the initial setup. Once your display and input devices are connected, give it power and you're ready to rock.
Like any other Windows-based computer, you will be guided through some basic options and configuration the first time you power it up. If you're familiar with Windows, this will be a breeze. If not, it's still pretty simple. You will create a user name and password, choose which security options you want to enable, and determine your privacy settings. From there you'll set up Wi-Fi (unless you use a wired connection), and start installing all the software you want.
An alternative method for interacting with the Kangaroo is an app (and companion server) called OSLinx. This allows users to connect to and control their Windows desktop from an iOS device. The OSLinx server can be downloaded from the Kangaroo website, and must be installed on the Kangaroo first. The iOS app is available for free on iPad. With the iPad connected to the Kangaroo via USB cable, user can view and navigate the Windows desktop from the iPad touchscreen. Options for wireless connection and on-screen keyboard are available for a fee. I tested it with a wired connection and it worked ok, with no noticeable input lag. The two touch interface options offered minimal functionality. The fee for wireless connectivity and keyboard is an annoyance in my opinion. There are free remote access utilities available for Windows and iOS that offer much better functionality in my opinion. OSLinx has potential, but it's not a game-changer.
Also keep in mind the form factor offers the potential for any input device supported by Windows. This includes USB and Bluetooth remote controls, game controllers, and even some home security and automation devices. If you're concerned about having to pull out a keyboard and mouse to use this, there are some DIY-heavy solutions as well as some plug and play devices that can streamline your entertainment experience.
Impressions and Observations
To be honest, it is an impressively compact and flexible system. I was able to take my small laptop out of my HT rack and plop the Kangaroo down in its spot and be up and running within minutes. It looks and feels well engineered and constructed. While I would generally not care much about the surface finish and texture of a desktop computer, it's more critical here since the Kangaroo is designed to be moved from place to place. It is more like a laptop in that sense. They gave some attention to the aesthetics of the device, but didn't go overboard. Design and packaging is just right for the price point.
It has enough connection options to make it pretty flexible without being overly complex or clunky. I have it connected to my A/V receiver via HDMI, hard-wired to my network, and controlled by a Logitech wireless keyboard/trackpad combo with USB receiver dongle. The Kangaroo docking system allows users to install docks with peripherals and displays in multiple locations and transport the PC itself from one place to the next, simply plugging it in at each location. For example, one could have the basic dock in their office with a display and keyboard/mouse connected, and a Pro dock in their home entertainment system, with a hard-wired internet connection, external storage, DVD/Blu-ray drive and game controller connected. The PC can be transported from one to the other without being powered down, thanks to the internal battery. It's a nifty system that could work nicely in most modern homes.
In terms of speed and performance, it is in the neighborhood of a budget laptop. It's no powerhouse, but it will handle many day-to-day duties nicely. Web browsing, Youtube streaming, and iTunes function nicely. Internet/download speeds are more than sufficient with a wired connection. We use Plex to view our movie collection on our Fire TVs, so I gave the Windows version a try to see how smooth streaming was. The majority of our collection is straight Blu-ray rips at 1080p. Unfortunately they would not play smoothly on the Kangaroo. While I realize not everyone streams video at such a high bitrate, this was still a disappointment for me.
On the other hand, apps like Plex, iTunes, or Spotify would do an excellent job for music streaming. Paired with a decent stereo system, it would rival or even beat a multi-speaker Sonos system for less money, and with more options to customize.
I tried the XBOX streaming (a Windows 10 feature) and it worked nicely for an older game (i.e. not the most graphics intense). Since the processing is still done by the XBOX One, the Kangaroo is essentially getting a video stream, and transmitting controller commands. I did not detect any lag. For reference, I tested it with Portal 2, which is actually an XBOX 360 game made playable on XBOX One via an update.
I also briefly played around with Steam and an SNES emulator with an XBOX 360 controller. Although I didn't spend a lot of time with it, the Kangaroo seemed to be able to handle the SNES emulator well enough to play a good variety of games. I was able to play some older games on Steam, but with very low resolution and detail settings. InFocus does not necessarily advertise the Kangaroo as a gaming computer, but I was curious to see how well it could do.
It's hard to comment much further on the PC itself, as the majority of its functionality is based on Windows features, which are not exclusive to this device. Options for tweaking and customizing will make it attractive to those who like to tinker and personalize their experience. You could utilize other type of remote controls, explore home automation, and task scheduling. The possibilities go beyond just entertainment. Again, much of that is Windows dependent, but the convenience of the Kangaroo package is definitely a plus.
Conclusion and recommendations
Overall, the Kangaroo Pro Mobile Desktop is a nice little system for the money. It would make a great entertainment hub for those looking to do a little bit of everything. I think it will work well for most people in terms of video streaming, but more demanding users will probably find it struggles with very high quality media files. There is good potential for casual gaming, or even a secondary system for XBOX users. As a general use PC, the Kangaroo is great, and the portability is excellent. Since HTS is a home theater site, I have to consider its applications in that context. While I like the Kangaroo Pro, if there was an opportunity, I'd be willing to pay more for a model with higher performance. As with any PC, there must be a compromise between performance, size, and cost. The Kangaroo is a good balance with an emphasis on convenience. Paired with the Windows platform, I think the Kangaroo offers incredible potential for integration with just about any entertainment or streaming service out there, along with increasingly "smart" home systems.