Thin clients aren't very exciting, and for a reason: they're designed to allow remote access to servers, usually with a Citrix, Microsoft, or VMware client. The folks at Dell WYSE have spiced up the category by building a thin client on top of Android, and getting it down to a form factor only slightly larger than a USB memory stick. 

The result is a cool combination of technologies with interesting potential -- and a few important limitations. Network managers who have been unhappy with typical thin client solutions should consider the WYSE Cloud Connect, which brings the flexibility of Android and wireless connectivity into their cloud computing or VDI deployment. 

What is it?

The WYSE Cloud Connect looks a lot like a USB thumb drive, except that the connector sticking out of the side is an HDMI plug. Connect it to the HDMI port of your monitor, feed it some power, and that's about it. If the monitor has an MHL (Mobile High-Definition Link) HDMI port, this will power the device. Otherwise, there's a USB connector on one side for power. 

WYSE Cloud Connect also has a MicroSD slot that can be used to bump up the internal 8GB of storage to 72GB (with a 64GB microSD card), useful for some (but not most) applications of the device, such as digital signage. Spec-wise, Dell told us that the WYSE Cloud Connect has a Cortex-A9 ARM CPU with 1GB RAM, draws less than 2.5 Watts, and is running Android 4.1.2. With a list price of $129 (not including keyboard, mouse, and display), it's an inexpensive piece of hardware.

The first time the WYSE Cloud Connect boots, it displays instructions on the HDMI display and walks you through the process of pairing a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard (although these are not required for operation), then it checks in with Dell's Internet-based Cloud Client Manager service, which is required to manage the WYSE Cloud Connect.

Connectivity is via 802.11 wireless: both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands are supported, offering a better and more predictable wireless experience in enterprise environments. Wireless communications using Enterprise WPA2 (username and password) worked fine, although the configuration dialogs were unnecessarily complicated and would be confusing to non-IT professionals. Fortunately, Wi-Fi is one of the configuration settings available in Cloud Client Manager, so enterprise secure Wi-Fi settings can be pushed to the device centrally -- once it's connected to some kind of Wi-Fi.

Once booted, the WYSE Cloud Connect acts a lot like a typical Android device because, well, it is one. Users can launch any loaded Android application, including the built-in Citrix and Microsoft Terminal Services (RDP) clients and the Google Chrome browser. However, there is a big gotcha: any Android application that requires a touch display, microphone, or some other device attributes can't be loaded from the Android App Store, even if it doesn't need some of those attributes. 

Thus, we weren't able to grab either the Juniper or Cisco VPN client for our testing, because the Google Play Store wouldn't allow us to download them, claiming they were incompatible with our device. (Dell's own SonicWALL client and Check Point's VPN client both were available).

Having only a limited set of applications available greatly restricted our testing and the overall flexibility of the WYSE Cloud Connect -- at least until Dell figures out how to resolve this issue. They told us they were working with Google as well as some application developers. For now, if you want a full Android tablet to connect to a big monitor, WYSE Cloud Connect isn't that device.