Updated: 12/1/2014: New Firmware improves the benchmark scores. Check it out in the Setup and Benchmarks section.
MINIX has been a favorite of ours here at AndroidPCReview.com ever since we first got our hands on the NEO X7. So, we were very excited when MINIX unveiled the NEO x8 back in April at the 2014 Hong Kong Electronics Fair.The NEO X8 and NEO X8-H have been out for a few weeks now, but we haven’t had the opportunity to give our review sample the attention it deserves. Well, it’s time to fix that! Here’s our in-depth review of the MINIX NEO X8.
NEO X8 or NEO X8-H?
Nope, you’re not seeing double. There are two new versions of MINIX’s flagship Android TV box: The NEO X8 and NEO X8-H. What’s the difference, you ask? It’s actually fairly simple. The spec that’s going to jump out at you is that the NEO X8-H has 16GB of eMMC flash storage – double that of the NEO X8. But that’s not the important part. The real advantage to the NEO X8-H is that it includes the Amlogic S802-H CPU which supports hardware decoding for Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD Bypass audio formats through HDMI.
The Amlogic S802 is the quad-core replacement for the dual-core MX chip found in popular streaming boxes like the G-Box Midnight MX2. The S802 continues Amlogic’s solid history of XBMC support, but increases performance dramatically. The average Amlogic MX based chip will report Antutu benchmarks of around 10,000. We’ll show the Antutu score from the MINIX Neo X8 a bit later in our Setup and Benchmarks section. But, let’s just say you’ll be impressed. It will be interesting to see how this player stacks up when the Rockchip RK3288 based devices, including the rumored NEO X9, come out later this year.
Specs: MINIX NEO X8-H
|Processor||Quad-Core Cortex A9r4 Processor|
|GPU||Octo-Core Mali 450|
|Internal Storage||16GB eMMC|
|Wireless Connectivity||802.11n Dual Band Wi-Fi (2.4GHz/5.8GHz), Bluetooth 4.0|
|OS||Android™ KitKat 4.4|
|Video Output||HDMI™ 1.4b, up to 4K @ 30fps|
|Audio Output||HDMI™ 1.4b, 3.5mm stereo jack, optical SPDIF|
|Peripheral Interface||RJ-45 Ethernet jack (10/100Mbps)|
|SD/MMC card reader (SD 3.0, MMC V4.41), Support HDMI-CEC|
|USB 2.0 port x 3, OTG port x 1|
|Microphone jack, Headphone jack,IR receiver (remote included)|
|Power||DC 5V, 3A adapter included (CE, FCC, CCC certified)|
|Supported Video Format||DAT/MPEG/MPE/MPG/TS/TP/VOB/ISO/AVI/MP4/MOV/3GV/FLV|
|Supported Audio Format||MP2/MP3/WMA/WAV/OGG/OGA/FLAC/ALAC/APE/AAC|
The NEO X8 and NEO X8-H offer support for Ultra High-Definition (UHD) 4K video playback right out of the box. This means you get up to four times the detail as in regular 1080p televisions – eight million pixels compared to two million pixels. Without the techno-speak, this means you get an incredibly clear picture, better image texture and less pixelation than on regular high-definition signals.
Both new NEO models include a dual band Wi-Fi connection with an external antenna to allow for maximum network flexibility and stability. There is also a signal analyzer application which will allow you to fine-tune your network to get the best performance. As with the NEO X7, firmware updates are available Over The Air (OTA), so you don’t need to manually download and install new releases on your own. Of course, there is also Bluetooth 4.0 as well.
The ports on the NEO X8 are the same as those found on the NEO X7. There are 3 USB 2.0 ports, a wired Ethernet port, an optical audio out, HDMI, two 3.5mm jacks for headphones (like the MINIX NT-II) and microphone, and a micro-USB OTG port. Finally, the MINIX NEO X8 supports Ultra High Speed (UHS) SD cards which allow file transfers at up to 104 MB per second.
As far as the design of the NEO X8, MINIX decided to stick with what works. I really can’t say enough about the design of the entire NEO series. The casing is matte black, with the MINIX logo in recessed gloss black. The rounded off corners are reminiscent of the Apple TV, except larger. The Apple TV is a tiny 3.9 inches square and just under an inch high. The NEO X8, in comparison, is a considerably larger at 5 inches square and just over an inch tall – not including the antenna. The antenna will add another 5 inches to the height, so be sure to account for that when planning out your entertainment center.
As with most Android streaming boxes, the NEO X8 includes a basic IR Remote. The NEO series includes an internal IR sensor, so you won’t need to string an unsightly wire to the front of your TV. The remote is basic in terms of functionality, but it doesn’t feel cheap. The buttons and D-pad have a satisfying feel when pressed. The remote works best when navigating the NEO’s Metro interface, but it does have some limitations. I found it impossible to navigate the Netflix app successfully and had to resort to my wireless HTPC keyboard combo.
There is an alternative, though. The NEO M1 Remote was introduced along with the NEO X8 and is the perfect combination. We’ll have a more detailed review later, but this USB GyroMouse (flymouse) will give you the freedom to access the NEO X8 just like you were using a touchscreen phone. Of course, if you wanted something with more functionality, you could always try the NEO A2 air mouse as well. We definitely recommend an Air Mouse and you can check out our Air Mouse Buyer’s Guide here!
The included accessories with the MINIX NEO X8 and NEO X8-H are the basic IR remote, power adapter, dual-band antenna, HDMI cable, micro-USB cable and OTG cable. I have to say that it’s always a nice surprise when a manufacturer includes an HDMI cable. It’s a $5 cable, but so many manufacturers don’t think enough of their customers to include this necessary accessory. Kudos to MINIX for taking care of your customers.
Setup and Benchmarks
The days are over when setting up an Android streaming box is difficult. Most players will boot straight up to the familiar Android desktop and away you go. MINIX decided that they wanted to take that off your hands too.
When you first turn on the MINIX NEO X8, you’re greeted with a Windows 8\Windows Phone type interface, appropriately called the Metro interface. Don’t worry, though – MINIX knows Windows 8 sucks too. They took what worked, adapted it for a living room environment and threw out the rest. But we’ll get more into the Metro interface in a bit.
Now to what you’ve all been waiting for: The benchmarks.
Our standard battery of video files all played without a hitch. The NEO X8 played avi, mov, mp4 and mkv files perfectly. There was no loss in picture or sound quality. I tried to push the hardware a little harder, so I tried to stream a 2GB mkv over my network and play it using XBMC. The large file size, coupled with the network transfer caused some stuttering in the playback. That was the only hiccup in an otherwise stellar video-watching marathon.
We also ran our standard battery of tests – CPU-Z and Antutu Benchmark. As you can see, the Antutu score was a very impressive: 22032, which is over double the performance of our previous favorite player, the G-Box Midnight MX2.
UPDATE: 12/1/2014: MINIX released new firmware for the NEO X8 and NEO X8-H. The results are pretty impressive. It boosted the AnTuTu score to 28442!
MINIX Metro Interface
The MINIX NEO X8 comes installed with Android 4.4 KitKat, but as we mentioned before, that’s not the normal home screen. MINIX included the Metro interface to make it simple for anyone to sit down on their couch and watch movies. Don’t worry, if you don’t like the Metro interface, you can always revert back to the familiar Android UI.
There are pre-defined buckets (folders) where you can separate your favorite apps by category. Looking for Music? Click on the musical note. Want to play a game? Click on the game controller. Everything is quite intuitive.The only drawback is that none of these buckets are populated the first time you turn the device on. But, this gives you the ability to add only the apps you want, and not have to clean out the bloatware.
There are several utilities and cool extras included right out of the box. I’ve already mentioned the Wi-Fi Analyzer. There is also CloudTV, AirPlay Pro (normally a $5 app), ExpressVPN which is a VPN for Android devices, and SOPCast, just to name a few. MINIX also includes native Miracast support in the NEO X8.
The NEO X8 ships with XBMC 13.2 Gotham, XBMC 13.2. This isn’t your normal, run-of-the-mill version of Gotham, though. This is the world’s first 4K XBMC. I wasn’t able to test the 4K capabilities, unfortunately. However, the majority of our video testing was done through XBMC and it performed perfectly.
MINIX NEO X8: The Verdict
I can’t say enough good things about the MINIX NEO X8 and NEO X8-H. The performance is amazing. The Metro interface is incredibly powerful and flexible while still being simple enough for anyone to use. It has a sleek design that looks sophisticated enough to look at home next to the newest 4K TVs. Couple it with the NEO M1 motion-sensing remote and you have the makings of an awesome home entertainment system. If it sounds like we have a new favorite streaming TV box – we do!