The quest for living room domination is accelerating, yet every company has a different strategy. Microsoft has shifted its focus from Windows (via Media Center) to the Xbox 360 and Xbox ONE. Others, like Samsung and Sony, make TVs, set-top boxes, and other devices that integrate their own apps and services. Amazon, Roku, and Apple each have their own boxes - and the list goes on. In other words, there is no shortage of things you can plug into a TV to get access to apps, games, and online services.
Recent times have also seen the rise of smart sticks, which vary in strategy and functionality. Products like Google’s ChromeCast and Apple TV (via AirPlay) let you shift content from your phone or tablet to the big screen. Others, like Roku’s stick, are front-ends to a variety of online streaming services via custom apps.
BiggiFi, a new Android based smart stick, takes a slightly different approach. I expected something very similar to a ChromeCast, where I could broadcast the image or video on my device to a big-screen TV. What I ended up with was actually the polar opposite – a complete Android PC on a stick that is controlled by a smartphone or tablet. The result is a mixed experience that's too complex for most, but significantly more flexible in a way many other set-top devices aren’t.
When I first unboxed the BiggiFi I knew next to nothing about it - only that it plugged into a TV and needed a tablet or smartphone with iOS or Android. Its size is slightly larger than a USB thumb drive, but from a distance it could easily be mistaken for one.
For a small device, there are actually a number of things to notice. On the bottom is a full-size USB port. One side sports a micro USB jack, and the other a slot for a microSD card. Remove the cap and you’ll see a full-size HDMI connector.
The physical connections are straightforward, thanks to the included directions. The large HDMI connector plugs into the display, but the unit needs external power heading into the micro USB port to function. It ships with an AC adapter, which is recommended, but it can be powered by any USB port – which my TV also has. I had no problems using either option, but it’s worth noting that many TVs power down the USB port when turned off, requiring a long wait for the BiggiFi to power up each time the set is powered on.
Getting a tablet or phone talking to the BiggiFi can be problematic, and somewhat confusing to those who aren’t technically savvy. First, you download the BiggiFi app from the respective Play or App store. Next, BiggiFi creates a wireless access point for your device to connect to since it won’t know the credentials to connect to your main network. Once connected, you configure it with your Wi-Fi network settings. This gets BiggiFi access to the web, and also lets you connect to it over the network.
I had serious problems getting an (admittedly crummy) Android device to connect to BiggiFi's ad-hoc nbetwork, and I can’t say for sure if it’s due to the device or the Android BiggiFi app. Dusting off my 4th gen iPod Touch fixed the issue (no Windows Phone support at the moment... sniff...), which allowed me to get connected and BiggiFi configured.
BiggiFi tries hard to guide you as best they can through the process, but networking isn’t always the simplest thing for a newcomer to figure out.