The MINIX Neo X7, powered by the latest quad-core Rockchip RK3188 ARM Cortex A9 chipset, is arguably, one of the most anticipated Android set-top boxes.
Are you sure it’s not an Apple TV?
At first glance, the device appears to have attained the perfect balance between classic and trendy by opting for the simple and classy “black box” design. This is a definite change in design from the initial reveal and the current design is very much reminiscent of the MINIX Neo X5, not to mention the Apple TV or the G-Box Midnight. In terms of appearance, the MINIX Neo X7 won’t look out of place in a well coordinated media room consisting of high-end equipment.
The device comes fully stocked with an HDMI port, 2 full sized USB ports, a digital TOSLINK audio port and an Ethernet LAN port, located in the back of the unit. On the right side of the unit, a 3.5mm audio jack, full-sized USB port, power button and an SD card reader. In addition, the device also contains a micro USB OTG port.
Design and Accessories
One notable addition is the connector for the WiFi antenna (included with the device). WiFi issues on earlier Android mini PCs were so common that many manufacturers have begun to include external antennas in their newer models. Accessories include a basic IR remote with a few custom Android interface buttons. Navigating a touch based Android OS can be quite frustrating. The remote only comes with a Home, Back and Menu button along with four-way directional buttons. The device contains an IR receiver that can work with a multifunction remote should the need arise. A Radio Frequency enabled “air mouse” can be used for more functionality. For most users, this is the preferred option for users who are accustomed to operating Android Mini PCs.
The quad-core RK3188 chipset, by Rockchip, is used by many set-top box manufacturers because it can provide excellent performance on par with the popular Nvidia Tegra 3. The MINIX Neo X7 is powered by an RK3188 chipset and comes with a DDR3 RAM of 2GB. In addition, it comes with 16GB of internal storage while additional storage of up to 32GB can be added via hard drive, SD card or flash drive.
Set-top boxes are all about wireless connectivity. The MINIX Neo X7 comes with dual band 2.4/5.0 GHz 802.11 b/g/n along with a surprisingly sturdy removable external antenna. Most users complain about Android mini PC devices is sub-standard WiFi connectivity. The WiFi connectivity on the Neo X7 is backed up with the Ethernet port to ensure faster and interruption free sharing.
With Android 4.2.2, Jelly Bean, the Neo X7 is capable of supporting videos up to 1080p although it has a 720p kernel. To put it simply the device produces an actual internal output of 720p is up-scaled to 1080p.
All this and brains too…
The release of two firmware updates for the X7 only three weeks after its launch received mixed comments from users. Some thought the product was rushed to market before it was entirely ready. Others looked on the bright side by praising the manufacturers for offering speedy solutions to its users.
Although the Rockchip processor is a definite winner in terms of performance, the firmware update process is not necessarily their strongest suit. Android mini PC device users have to work with firmware updates however complicated the process may be. Rockchip’s process is not necessarily the easiest. It lacks a proper tool for operating systems other than Windows. Most users find this to be one of the main drawbacks for the Neo X7. A system such as the one employed by Amlogic, where users can simply download the firmware into a storage device, plug the device in and start the update process is highly recommended for a more streamlined user experience.
The MINIX Neo X7 offers two different launching options after booting up: the stock Android experience and a customized grid launcher – designed for the IR remote controller. However, be prepared for pixelated and blocky icons. Remember, Android was designed for smaller screens. The remote control is functional but not necessarily adequate for controlling the device. For example, you will be able to easily use the device as a video streamer or a music player. However, if you have to type something for some reason, you may find yourself cursing the remote. We recommend using an air mouse, wireless keyboard or a mini keyboard with a touchpad.
Most people use an Android mini PC to watch videos. And the MINIX Neo X7 handles that with ease. Streaming video apps such as Netflix run well on the device and plays video in full screen mode with a large enough subtitle font.
The Neo X7s 2GB of RAM and the speedy quad core processor come into play during web browsing. It offers great web browsing with no issues on Flash videos. It almost makes you forget that you’re not browsing the Net on a PC, especially if a mouse and keyboard are connected. The only slight drawback is the fact that the 720p kernel results in the images appearing larger than normal.
The device includes the Google Play Store and the majority of apps are listed as compatible. This is a definite advantage for the Neo X7 as many competing devices only offer limited compatibility and often require custom ROM updates to enable the apps. However, Android gaming app fans will have to opt for an external controller. Since almost all Android games are designed with touch screens in mind, the lack of one in the Neo X7’s remote will make the overall experience a little strange. As for the gaming graphics, expect a good level of quality, but one that’s a couple of notches below that of standard gaming consoles such as a PS3 or an Xbox 360.
MINIX Neo X7: The Verdict
The MINIX Neo X7 is several steps ahead of its predecessors and competitors. Something most users complain about Android mini PC devices is the fact that they offer poor WiFi reception. With the Neo X7’s dual band WiFi, external antenna and Ethernet cable, connectivity really is no longer an issue for a great experience.
The Rockchip RK3188 does a great job at offering multi-tasking and 3D gaming up to a satisfactory level to ensure a smooth experience. In comparison to older devices, the X7 offers fast responses and no lagging. In addition, problems such as freezing screens and unexpected reboots are also a thing of the past.
Android mini PC’s are more like mini computers as opposed to media players or game players. If you are on the lookout for a more user friendly option for a single function, then the Neo X7 would not be an ideal choice. Even for someone who is familiar with the Android OS, the lack of a touchscreen may be a definite deal breaker.
All in all, the MINIX Neo X7 is a solid device that has made many improvements to provide the user with a highly satisfactory experience. While the firmware update process might be intimidating to some users, we still recommend the Neo X7 as one of the best streaming media players on the market.