Android TV boxes have always been an “enthusiast’s gadget.”
That’s OK. If you’re reading this, you probably like your gadgets just as much as I do. But manufacturers are trying to take the Android TV box and move into mainstream use. To do that, they needed to make it easy for most people to use and give it enough power to run videos at great resolution.
If you’ve been reading this site for any length of time, you’ve probably seen the name Tronsmart before. The MK908 was one of the first reviews we ever did. Since then we’ve also looked at a couple of their Android stick PCs, as well as their wireless display adapter. They were great for their time, but most of the new Android-based devices that came out in 2014 haven’t been HDMI dongles. They’ve been full-featured smart TV boxes. Tronsmart has made a couple of these larger devices before, such as the Prometheus and the A928. They were good, but didn’t exactly set the world on fire. What about the Tronsmart Vega S89? Keep reading to find out.
The Amlogic S802
Tronsmart went back to the drawing board when developing the Vega S89. The T928 is built on the older, popular Rockchip RK3188 processor. The Tronsmart Vega S89 is based on the Amlogic S802 CPU. Benchmarks on the Amlogic chip have consistently shown it to give about 50% higher power overall, and about double the graphics performance.
It’s worth noting that the Amlogic CPU also gets a boost from having a much better graphics processor. The Mali-450 GPU has eight cores compared to the older Mali-400’s four cores. This allows for a much high data throughput for the graphics processor.
In other words, more data flowing through the pipeline = a smoother picture at higher resolutions.
The next big thing is always right around the corner, though. That would be Rockchip’s RK3288 CPU. Reference boards have been out for several months already, and the first RK3288 TV boxes are being released. Initial units have had some stability issues, but that’s always the case with new hardware.
So, while you’re waiting for some stable RK3288 devices to come out, let’s take a look at what Tronsmart has done with the S802.
Tronsmart Vega S89 Elite vs Vega S89-H
Oddly enough, the Vega S89 Elite is the entry level version. Don’t ask why the Elite is the lowest-spec version of the trio. We’re still trying to figure that out too.
There are a couple subtle differences in the three devices. The Vega S89 Elite and Vega S89 Standard are essentially the same device. Both have the base S802 CPU running at 2.0GHz max. Both have a wired 10/100 Ethernet port and wireless support for 802.11 a\b\g\n on both 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies. In fact, the only real difference between the two (other than the $10 difference in price) is that the Vega S89 Standard has double the storage (16Gb) of the Vega S89 Elite.
Things get a little more interesting when you move to the Vega S89-H. Like the MINIX Neo X8-H, this device uses the newer Amlogic S802-H CPU. This gives you not only the 16Gb of storage that the Vega S89 Standard has, but the hardware decoding for Dolby Digital and DTS as well. If you’re looking to try to future-proof your Android TV Box as much as possible, I’d recommend skipping the Elite and Standard, and going straight to the Vega S89-H. At a $10 difference from the S89 Standard ($20 up from the Elite), it’s a no-brainer.
|Operating System||Google Android 4.4|
|CPU Model||Amlogic S802-H 2.0GHz (Cortex-A9)|
|Internal Storage||16G Nand flash|
|Expand Memory||1 x Micro SD Card Slot, support max 64G|
|Wifi Connectivity||AP6330,Support 802.11 a/b/g/n, 2.4G/5G WIFI|
|Video format||Support multiple video decoding, 4K*2K, H.264 ,1080P|
|Picture format||JPEG/ BMP/ GIF/ PNG/TIF|
|IR Sensor||1 x IR|
|Indicator||1 x Power LED|
|Additional Function||Built-in wifi antenna, Miracast/DLNA, Android Original UI, Support Dolby&Dolby|
|HDMI Port||Standard HDMI female|
|HDMI Version||HDMI 1.4b out, 4K*2K|
|Other Interface||1 x Power Button (physical button), control power on and off,|
|1 x Update Button (via one pin hole)|
|2 x Standard USB|
|1 x Micro USB with OTG|
|1 x DC in Jack|
|1 x S/SPDIF out|
|1 x RJ45|
|1 x RJ45|
|1 x AV port|
|What’s in the box?||1 x TV box|
|1 x IR Remote controller|
|1 x AV Cable|
|1 x HDMI cable|
|1 x USB cable|
|1 x Power adapter|
|1 x User manual|
If you hadn’t already noticed, there’s something a bit different with the design of the Tronsmart Vega S89: It’s round.
I know…I’m being a bit obvious right now, but it’s a pretty big design point.
A lot of manufacturers are stressing about whether they have sharp edges, like the Amazon Fire TV, or rounded edges like the Roku 3. Some crazy companies have even sued other companies for copying their “patented rounded edges.” Tronsmart decided to throw the whole “edges” thing out the window and go with a completely circular device.
This has a couple of benefits. All of the device’s ports are on the “back” of the circle, instead of some being on the back, some on the side. I’m sure you’ve seen devices that have so many wires coming out of them that they look like an octopus. The circular shape just gives the S89 the cleanest shape possible.
The biggest drawback I see to the round design is that in order to keep the “sleek exterior”, even the power button was moved to the back. Why is this a big deal? The way the Vega S89 is configured, the remote’s power button will not turn the device on from a powered-down mode. You need to actually hit the button.
So what, you say? Well, imagine that you’ve put your brand new Tronsmart Vega S89 in your entertainment center, nestled in between your Xbox and a stack of DVD’s. You reach around the back and…can’t really see the button or feel it out, since it fits flush with the rest of the case.
It may be only a minor annoyance, but it’s still a one of those head-scratching design choices.
The finish of the case isn’t the normal polished or matte finish you normally see. The top of the Vega S89 is almost like a lenticular picture – those pictures that change as you tilt them in different directions. You can see what I mean in our videos when you see how the light reflects off it. Again, some may like this, some may not. It comes down to a matter or personal opinion, but when you couple this with the round-design, it certainly gives the Tronsmart Vega S89 a different sort of look.
Setting up the Tronsmart Vega S89 is incredibly easy, as you’d expect. Once you’ve entered in your network login information and your Gmail account, you’re given the choice of launcher.
I like it when manufacturers who provide a custom launcher also give you the option of using the stock Android home screen. That way you have the option of easily configuring the device for your own environment. If you’re putting your Vega S89 in the living room, go with the Metro-style launcher. If it’s going to be on your desk a few feet from where you sit, the over-sized Metro icons might be too much. Best to go with the stock Android interface then.
Navigating around the Metro interface is easy. Its similar to other interfaces we’ve reviewed before, so I won’t spend too much time on it. You’ve got the important stuff right up front: Video, MyApps, Settings, and even some “nice-to-have” things like the local weather. Plus, you’ve got a kind of “quick-launch” bar at the bottom of the screen that you can configure to show whatever icons you want.
One of my favorite parts about reviewing new devices is that I get to put them through their paces with some benchmark testing. As always, just because something gives a great result in a benchmark doesn’t mean that it’s going to give great real-world performance. I like to think of benchmark scores as “directional.” In general, devices with a higher scores will tent=d to perform better than those with lower scores.
That being said, the Tronsmart Vega S89 gave some pretty impressive scores.
I teased the AntuTu and 3DMark numbers at the beginning of the article. I’ve included a video below of some of the highlights. When I look at what the Vega S89 was able to do with the 3DMark Ice Storm test, it reminded me of the kind of graphics performance that I got from a PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 a few years ago. The graphics were sharp and the motion was fluid.
When you’ve got developers putting out games like Asphalt 8 and Batman: Arkham Origins, you’re going to want something that performs like this.
Video playback was pretty amazing as well. I’m used to seeing XBMC Gotham take a little time to load on the first run – sometimes up to a few minutes. This time, I was able to open XBMC, configure my shared folders and start playing a video in less time than it normally takes devices to get to the main screen.
I was able to test mpg, mov, avi and mkv files at both 720p and 1080p resolutions. There were no dropped frames and no digital stuttering. The sound was never out-of-sync. I wasn’t able to test 4K on this particular device, unfortunately, since I don’t have access to a 4K HDTV.
The Tronsmart Vega S89 is a great performing device at a really good price point. I’d skip the Standard and Elite and go straight to the Vega S89-H. It gives you hardware DTS and Dolby Digital decoding, and is a slightly newer chipset version. At only $20 higher price than the entry-level Elite, it’s a no-brainer.
Unless you’ve got your heart set on an RK3288 box, and are willing to put up with the initial instability of the newer chipset, the Amlogic S802 based Vega S89-H gives you the performance you need without breaking the bank.