This fourth edition of the Top 10 Linux Gift Guide has presented some tougher choices than last year’s guide. Despite the fact that Android-only devices are again omitted from the list, there are plenty of tuxified consumer electronics out there to choose from, from mini-PCs to home automation hubs to drones.
The list is intended to be more representative than absolute -- I have not tested all these products -- but it should provide an overview of what’s available with Linux for under $350 while perhaps helping to fill in your last-minute gift list. Click on the Gallery link below to see the slideshow.
The 10 products listed here all began shipping this year, and can be bought now in the U.S. with shipments within two weeks. They either run Linux as the sole OS or are available with Linux as a preloaded option, typically dual-booting alongside the Linux-based Android.
While some of these products appeal more to hackers than others, many if not most, could be safely bought for people who had never heard of Linux and don’t much care. Open source is considered a positive attribute here, not a prerequisite.
Some categories have been omitted to ease the selection process. These include industrial, enterprise, and vertical-market equipment, as well as single board computers like this year’s Raspberry Pi 2, BeagleBone Green, or the recent, $5 and up Raspberry Pi Zero.
PCs and laptops are allowed, but the $350 limit keeps those in check. Here we include a touch-enabled, convertible Chromebook and a smattering of Linux mini-PCs and media players, all of which are faster and cheaper than in previous years.
High prices, limited availability, and lack of maturity have conspired to disqualify Linux phones and tablets. The first Tizen and Ubuntu based phones shipped this year, and the Ubuntu phones in particular look intriguing, but there are no under $350 models available in the U.S. In any case, the phones are still rough enough around the edges that they are not recommended as gifts. (The same goes for puppies.)
Connected devices are precisely where Linux is seeing the greatest growth. We’ve only included one home automation product in here, as they generally require too much of a commitment to make them suitable as gifts. Yet, almost all of the hubs and many of the smart devices controlled by them run Linux.
Tuxified drones and robots were also big this year, but most are priced well above the $350 cutoff. I couldn’t resist one of Parrot’s latest Linux-based toys, however: The Hydrofoil Orak is a hackable quadcopter that also can hydrofoil across water. This year’s list also includes a Linux-based NAS device that doubles as an Android media player, a speedy OpenWrt-ready WiFi router, and one of the coolest gizmos you can buy for under $50: Google’s $35, Chromecast Audio, which turns any dumb speaker into a smart media streamer.
There have been plenty of announcements and crowdfunding campaigns this year for intriguing new Linux-based products that ship in 2016. Products that could make next year’s list include the Dojo home security gateway, the Amazon Echo-like, Ubuntu Snappy Core based Mycroft wireless hub, and the 3D depth sensing Orbbec Persee camera computer, just to name a few.
Top 10 Linux Gifts for 2015
Aside from the novelty of the touchscreen, convertible design, and Rockchip RK3288C CPU, Asus’ 10-inch Chromebook Flip tempts with a $249 price, superior keyboard and IPS display, and 11+ hour battery life.
With Google’s $35, audio-only version of the Chromecast, you can turn any speaker system into an Internet radio that can play Spotify, Pandora, and Google Play. You can also stream from an Android phone via WiFi without Bluetooth pairing.
This $110, Kodi-ready media player and mini-PC dual boots Ubuntu and Android on a Rockchip RK3368 with 2GB RAM. Remove the mainboard and plug it into a $30 carrier board to turn it into an open spec hacker SBC.
Parrot’s $160, Bluetooth-controlled Hydrofoil mini-drone can’t shoot video like the BeBop, but it can fly acrobatically for nine minutes, taking still photos, and you can attach it to a hydrofoil to navigate on water. There’s even a Linux SDK.
Belkin’s major upgrade to the AC router moves to a faster dual-core SoC with 512MB RAM, and adds an open source OpenWrt Linux stack. This latest Linksys offers dual-band 802.11ac, four GbE ports, plus eSATA and USB.
The $295 Mini is a Linux Mint version of CompuLab’s Fitlet mini-PC. The 10.8 x 8.3 x 2.4cm device features a quad-core AMD A4 with 4GB DDR3, a 64GB SSD, five USB ports, plus GbE, WiFi, HDMI, microSD, and mSATA links.
Yeah, it’s pricey at $130, and it’s not open source, and it’s bigger than other Rokus, but the Roku 4 adds 4K support and faster access to Roku’s excellent, 3,000+ channel lineup. The 802.11.ac media player also adds microSD and optical audio.
The $249 SmartThings home automation kit boasts easy installation, extensive device support, and a faster, second-gen hub. You also get a discounted smart electrical outlet and mix of ZigBee-linked motion, door, and window sensors.
Qnap’s latest home NAS device has dual SATA bays for up to 12TB storage. The $249 TAS-268 runs Qnap’s mature, Linux-based QTS NAS stack, and when you connect the HDMI port to a display it turns into a Kodi-ready Android media player.
Ugoos’ latest media-oriented mini-PC supports 4K video, and runs Ubuntu and Android on a quad-core Rockchip RK3288 with a Mali-T764 GPU. The $149 UT3S ships with 4GB RAM and 32GB flash, plus microSD, GbE, WiFi-ac, and more.