Check out our Air Mouse Buyer’s Guide for a list of my favorite controllers!
MINIX is no stranger to air mouses – or airmice if you prefer. In fact, there are three models in their lineup. We’ve already reviewed the MINIX NEO M1 air mouse, which offers a rechargeable battery and a small, thin form factor. But what if you want more than just basic functionality? Like, say, a keyboard?
Why two versions, you ask? I’m glad you asked.
What’s the difference between the NEO A2 and NEO A2 Lite?
As it turns out, not a whole lot. Except for two features, an integrated microphone and speaker, the two remotes are strikingly similar. Outwardly, the biggest clue that you’re looking at two different remotes is the color of the ring around the directional pad. The NEO A2 has a red ring while the NEO A2 Lite has a green ring.
I mentioned the integrated microphone and speaker. The casing of both remotes is identical, so you’ll actually have the holes for both features, no matter which model you have.
However, you will find a small microphone icon at the bottom of the A2. The microphone is adequate for most applications, although I wouldn’t want to use it for, say karaoke, or anything where great audio quality is needed. On second thought, maybe karaoke would be OK.
Seriously though, I tried the microphone with both Skype and Google’s voice search. Both applications worked well, although since Google Now is hooked up to my test account and not my daily-use account, the voice recognition was a bit spottier than I’m used to. If that’s an important feature for you, be sure to hook up your Google account to your Android TV box.
The other major difference is the integrated audio in the NEO A2. Like with the microphone, you’ll see an additional icon at the top of the air mouse, underneath the LED lights. There’s a small difference with these as well, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
The musical note icon changes the layout of the LED display slightly. On the left, you can see the NEO A2 Lite which has only one icon for power, which curiously looks like a wireless signal strength icon. Presumably this is because the command is being transmitted through wi-fi and not infrared. Understandable, but not very intuitive.
On the right, the NEO A2 has two sets of icons. The addition of the second icon means that the power icon is now shifted to the left of the display while the musical notes – seriously, that was the best they could come up with? – sits on the right of the display. All three lights on the NEO A2 are used. The unmarked light is also used to display the audio status.
Right out of the box you’ll notice something: this is not a small remote. While not as heavy as say, an older Harmony multi-function remote, both NEO A2 versions have some weight to them.
The individual keys are large, around a centimeter square, which makes them easy to hit with your thumbs. Which, by the way, is really the only way you can use this keyboard, unless you’re one of those awkward, one-finger “hunt and peck” typists. If that’s the case, then please, please put down the air mouse and get yourself a full sized keyboard. No human being should subject themselves to that just so they can watch Daredevil on Netflix.
One other little tidbit: The Function (FN) key and Caps Lock key on the NEO A2 have backlit LEDs so you you can tell when they’re activated. It’s a small bonus, but it takes a bit of the guesswork out of using the special functions of the keyboard.
On either side of the keyboard, are the battery compartments. You can see in the picture above the triangles on either side of the keys. Slide that panel off and you’ll find space for one AAA on each compartment. This is also where you’ll be able to store the USB receiver. In another curious design quirk, you can’t have both a battery and the USB receiver in the device at the same time. The only time I can see this being an issue is when you’re transporting the remote without your TV box, but it’s worth mentioning.
Both versions of the NEO A2 are compatible with a variety of devices. They are, of course compatible with all of MINIX’s TV boxes from the NEO X5 through the NEO X7 and NEO X8 lineup. Older models may require a firmware update for the NEO A2 Lite, however.
Additionally, they run on Windows, other Android devices, Linux and Mac OS X. There are no drivers included in the package, nor on MINIX’s web site, so both air mouses rely on the native OS drivers.
If you’re looking to use the remote with Kodi (and who isn’t?), there’s a useful wiki page which has descriptions of the button commands and which of those commands work out of the box. Even though some don’t, that page also has two customized mouse.xml and keyboard.xml files that you can use to enable that functionality.
One of the more important, but most overlooked benefits of having the same brand air mouse as TV box, is that the special features of the air mouse are built into the firmware of the TV box – at least for Android TV boxes. For the special commands, you’ll need to hold the FN key while pressing the secondary key. As I’ve mentioned, this is where the backlit FN key of the NEO A2 comes in handy.
FN – Function key, to activate controls and orange characters.
FN + “>” – Disables audio.
FN + “ENTER” – Command changes the orientation , vertical or horizontal,important for gaming.
FN + “P” – Re-synchronize command.
FN + “Y” – Re-position the gyroscope feature.
FN + “UP / DOWN ARROWS” – Scroll up and down when reading pages.
As with any air mouse, there are two real issues with performance that can make or break the device. The gyromouse and the battery life.
With any air mouse I test, there is always a good bit of trial and error involved to get the sensitivity right. Too high and the mouse pointer jumps around the screen for every little twitch your hand makes. Too low and you look like you’re playing a game of Wii Tennis instead of selecting what movie you want to watch on Netflix.
Once the sensitivity is dialed in you can switch back and forth between air mouse and D-pad modes by pressing the button directly above the Volume-Up button and below the D-Pad. The button looks like an arrow coming out of a circle and is named the “Function” button. Which is a bit confusing considering there is the “FN” (or “function”) button on the keyboard side of the air mouse.
All in all, the mouse works well in air mouse mode. Its strength is definitely in clicking around the screen with the directional pad, as you would with your TV remote. But its nice to have the air mouse there as an option for those apps that are built for touchscreens and may not translate well to clicking.
Let’s get one thing out of the way first. As with all electronics, when discussing battery life – your mileage may vary. We’ve all seen articles where someone praises the battery life of a product only to find another article trashing it. I can only report on my experiences with both remotes.
And that experience has been surprisingly good. Especially when coming from the NEO M1 remote with its internal, rechargeable battery. Both the NEO A2 and NEO A2 Lite are still on the original sets of batteries that I installed in them almost six months ago. To be fair, I don’t use the air mouse feature except when I need to for the app. I don’t game with them, so the majority of the time is spent in normal remote mode.
Sure, it’s nice to plug the remote in and not have to worry about whether you have a spare set of AAA batteries lying around the house somewhere. But if I can get 6 months out of a set of batteries, I’ll gladly skip the rechargeable.
What about the NEO M1?
I’ve mentioned the NEO M1 a few times already, so I should probably address one question: Who should get the M1 vs the A2 vs the A2 Lite?
Well, it turns out to be a fairly simple choice. The NEO M1 is a very lightweight air mouse. It’s got a limited feature set – no keyboard at all – and a fairly limited battery life. But, on the plus side, it doesn’t take up much space on your coffee table, and the battery is rechargeable so you can just plug it in overnight.
By contrast, both NEO A2 air mouses are solid, well made remotes that offer a full keyboard and numerous other features. Unless you absolutely need the smaller size of the NEO M1, then I would go with one of the larger remotes. Then the only choice is whether you need the microphone and speaker.
If you’ve got a MINIX TV box then this decision is a no-brainer. Get a NEO A2 or A2 Lite air mouse. It’s going to give you the best experience with your device, without a doubt and (more importantly) without any tweaking on your part. That kind of benefit goes a long way in my book.