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Dell's Android Dongle Dare

$129 Cloud Connect, a wireless network card, turns any modern display into a computer; use with Android apps, virtualized PC desktops, and Dell cloud services.
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Dell on Wednesday said it has begun shipping Dell Wyse Cloud Connect, a small wireless network card that can make Android apps, virtualized PC desktops, and Dell cloud services available on any HDMI- or MHL-capable display.

Initially known as Project Ophelia -- what better symbol for the health of the PC market than the young noblewoman from Shakespeare's Hamlet who goes mad and drowns? -- the Cloud Connect device is about the size of a candy bar. First shown at CES 2013, it is designed to provide IT organizations with a way to offer familiar applications in a manner that's more cost-effective, manageable, and secure than equipping employees with laptops that can be lost or stolen.

The device provides Dell with a way to expand its revenue beyond the sale of personal computers, a market that has been contracting as affinity for mobile devices has grown. Dell is quick to point out that unlike the declining PC market, the smart connected-device market grew 30.4% in 2012, at least as IDC measures it.

Cloud Connect is Android-based and provides full access to Google Play apps. It works with Citrix, Microsoft, and VMware environments, which are widely used in IT organizations. And it can provide remote access to OS X and Windows files through Dell's PocketCloud service.

It's also easy to carry around, making it a potentially more appealing option than traveling with a laptop. In a way, it offers convenience similar to that of a Google Chromebook without the keyboard, trackpad, and screen.

The absence of input devices and a display helps keep the price down; Cloud Connect sells for $129. But Cloud Connect customers face the burden of bringing the necessary peripherals -- Bluetooth or USB via Cloud Connect's UBM mini port -- or ensuring the presence of the required hardware at the intended work site.

The device includes a micro SD card slot that can accommodate up to 72 GB of extra storage, and that comes with 8 GB of onboard flash memory and 1 GB of RAM.

Dell says Cloud Connect is well-suited for mobile workers, students, digital signage, kiosks, and environments with limited space. The device could also appeal to those looking for a secure way to do personal computing away from home.

In an interview last March, Jeff McNaught, Dell's executive director of marketing for cloud computing, described the device as "a secure solution for travelers," noting that hotel guests might prefer to plug their Cloud Connect into their hotel TV to stream movies or access apps instead of purchasing a pay-per-view movie through the hotel's entertainment system.

If that becomes commonplace, expect hotel managers to raise the cost of WiFi access.

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