2015's most exciting Linux devices

2015 devices
Credit: Swapnil Bhartiya
Year of Linux!

2015 started with an impressive showing of Linux at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES). And now the year is closing, having delivered some great Linux-powered devices. Here are the 9 that I found most exciting.

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MyCroft
Credit: MyCroft
1. MyCroft

MyCroft is an open source artificial intelligence device. Based on Raspberry Pi 2 and Arduino hardware, MyCroft is seen as an alternative to Amazon’s Echo. The project ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to raise $127,520 to fund the project.

According to its Kickstarter page, “Mycroft is the world's first open source, open hardware home A.I. platform.”

Being an open hardware platform, there are immense possibilities with MyCroft. Third-party developers can connect it to online services like Facebook and users can update their Facebook status by talking to MyCroft. Developers can connect it with hardware like Philips HUE smart lights, Roomba vacuum cleaners, and more -- and control these devices with voice commands.

Pi Zero
Credit: Raspberry Pi Foundation
2. Raspberry Pi Zero

Raspberry Pi is nothing short of a revolution in itself. The project has created a new breed of DIY enthusiasts who have immense computing power at their disposal and they are doing exciting things with it. But the organization behind the device,  the Raspberry Pi Foundation, is not slowing down. After launching an even more powerful Pi 2 this year, they shook the market by launching a $5 Raspberry Pi Zero.

Pi Zero is half the size of Pi model A+, but is almost twice as powerful as the first generation Pi. It has a Broadcom BCM2835 application processor with 512 MB of LPDDR2 SDRAM. It comes with a mini-HDMI socket, a microSD card slot for operating system, a micro-USB socket and 40-pin GPIO plus composite video header. All of this is at 65mm x 30mm x 5mm form factor.

Chromebit
Credit: Google
3. Chromebit

Chromebit is Google’s ambitious and extremely promising device that turns your HDMI enabled monitor into a Chrome OS powered desktop PC. Chromebit is basically a PC on a HDMI stick.

It’s powered by Rockchip Quad-Core RK3288C Processor, the same CPU found in Chromebook Flip. It has ARM Mali-T624 GPU and comes with 2GB of RAM. The built-in wireless and Bluetooth chips make it easier to connect peripherals with it. Despite the small size the device is powerful enough to handle average PC workload.

Nvidia Shield Android TV
Credit: Nvidia
4. Nvidia Shield Android TV

Nvidia Shield Android TV is a powerhouse device that sits between high-end game consoles like PlayStation and Xbox and set-top boxes such as Apple TV.  Nvidia Shield Android TV is powered by the 8 core Nvidia Tegra X1 CPU and a 256 core Maxwell based GPU.  The device has a microSD slot that allows you to expand storage. It also has USB ports to plug in your hard drives and watch movies using media players like VLC. Thanks to its networking capabilities you can also access files stored on your PC via shared folders. Just like an Android device you can install supported apps, including a web browser, from Google Play Store.

When it comes to gaming, Nvidia Shield Android TV is a monster. You have complete access to Google Play games in addition to Nvidia’s Shield Games and the subscription based GeForce Now service. That’s not all. You can also stream high-end PC games like Crysis from your computer to your Nvidia Shield. Yes! Crysis. The device supports 4K and integrates Google voice search. After using it for a while I found it to be a more compelling and useful device than Apple TV 4.

Samsung Gear S2
Credit: Samsung
5. Samsung Gear S2

Samsung has been working on its own Linux-based operating system, Tizen, for quite some time. This year Samsung launched a high-end smartwatch called Samsung Gear S2 that is running Tizen.

The device is powered by Samsung’s own Exynos3250 processor and comes with 512MB of RAM and 4GB of onboard storage. The device has a crisp 360x360 (302dpi) display and uses the dial for navigation. The device has been praised for its innovative interface and design. The best thing about Gear S2 is that, unlike other Samsung smartwatches, it’s not locked to Samsung smartphones; it will work with any supported Android device.

Erle-Copter
Credit: Erle-Copter
6. Drones

Love them or hate them, drones are here to stay. And there is nothing better than a Linux-powered drone. This year Erle-Copter launched a smart drone that’s powered by Snappy Ubuntu Core. Canonical, the sponsor of Ubuntu, said on a company blog that Snappy enables the drone to"stay secure automatically and can be upgraded with additional capabilities from the app store." What sets this drone apart  from others is that users can install drone apps on it.

Ubuntu got a major lift (pun intended) in the drone space when Chinese drone maker DJI announced Manifold, an embedded computer for drones that offers more powerful hardware and runs on Ubuntu Linux. That was not all. Chip giant Qualcomm also announced a reference platform called Snapdragon Flight for high-end drones. The platform is using Linaro Linux, which is based on Ubuntu.

Samsung Tizen TV
Credit: Samsung Tizen TV
7. Smart TVs

With the arrival of devices like Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV stick and Nvidia Shield, I don’t see any point in having an expensive smart TV. But TV manufacturers are not giving up so easily. The good news  for Linux users is that most of these smart TVs are now using Linux based operating systems. This year at CES, Samsung showcased its 4K smart TVs running Tizen. And electronics giant LG will be bringing its smart TVs powered by Linux-based webOS 3.0 to CES 2016.

Chromecast Audio
Credit: Google
8. Chromecast Audio

Chromecast Audio turns your basic speakers into ‘smart speakers.’ Unlike the regular Chromecast, this one doesn’t come with an HDMI port; instead it has a 3.5mm audio port. Just plug your speakers into it and you are all set.

Unlike bluetooth, where you have to pair and unpair individual devices, Chromecast allows you to stream music from any device on the same local network. No fiddling with bluetooth -- and I love it.