MINIX NEO X8-H Plus Media Hub Review

MINIX NEO X8-H Plus
Reviewer: Tyler DeGiacomo
Category: 
Systems
Model: 
X8-H Plus
Price: 
$159.00

MINIX has just released the next evolution of their NEO Series products with introduction of a new high-end model, the MINIX NEO X8-H Plus.

This Android-powered device transforms any conventional TV or monitor with an HDMI connection into a SMART TV / fully functional PC. Enabling you to run Apps, browse the Internet, access Google Play Store, Netflix, Skype and even comes pre-installed with XBMC Media Center (MINIX Edition) supporting 4K H.265/HEVC Hardware Decoding.

MINIX NEO Reviews

Over the past year I've had an opportunity to review several MINIX NEO products. Aside from variations in hardware, generally the experience has been very similar across all NEO devices, with the exception of software and firmware updates.

That being said, I will be modifying commentary or reusing dialogue from past NEO reviews in this document where no noticeable changes are present or applicable to experiences with the MINIX NEO X8-H Plus product.

Hardware

The MINIX NEO X8-H Plus is a direct successor to the remarkably popular previous generation, X8-H. Priced at $159, this top-tier option delivers new levels of performance and connectivity over any other in the MINIX NEO Series. Utilizing Amlogic’s latest 4K chipset, Amlogic S812-H, NEO X8-H Plus supports 4K H.265/HEVC Hardware Decoding. H.265/HEVC is the future video compression standard that provides double the compression ratio of its predecessor, H.264. Delivering improved video streaming quality even for those users on a narrower bandwidth.

Built upon Amlogic System on a Chip (SoC) ARM Cortex-A9r4 architecture featuring a Quad Core processor (CPU) clocking in at 2.0GHz and Octo-core Mali-450 GPU capable of video playback upwards of 4K Ultra High Definition (UHD).

On-board is 2GB DDR3 SDRAM, 16GB eMMC (embedded MultiMediaCard) for application storage, HDMI 1.4b, one Gigabit Ethernet port, WiFi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0, three USB 2.0 ports, one OTG port, SD/MMC Card Reader, Mic Jack, Headphone Jack and IR Receiver. Support for DTS and Dolby Digital audio is also present.

MINIX NEO X8-H Plus Retail Box Content

Contents of the retail box has everything you need to get started. One MINIX NEO X8-H Plus Media Hub, IR remote controller, WiFi antenna, HDMI cable, USB cable, multi-language setup guide and DC 5V (2A) power adapter. When purchasing, pay special attention to which power adapter type is included as there are different options. If you reside in the USA or Canada, select NEMA (North America).

Just like other NEO Series products, the matte black housing is constructed of formed plastic and build quality is exceptional. Top of the unit has their signature MINIX logo in gloss black piano finish, this of course doesn't add any functionality but is aesthetically pleasing. The detachable external WiFi (dual-band) antenna is positional which makes it easy to tuck the unit into a small vertical space.

MINIX NEO X8-H Plus Inputs & Outputs

In my MINIX NEO X8-H Review I griped about barely visible illumination of the power status LED and then later commended MINIX for addressing this hindrance in our MINIX NEO X6 Review, a mistake on my part. This was perceived as being fixed because the X6 uses a different housing where status LEDs are brighter while powered on (Blue LED) and in stand-by mode (Green LED). The X8-H, X8 Plus and X8-H Plus all use a larger housing which does NOT take advantage of brighter LED illumination. So I'll say it again, brighter status LEDs found on the X6 housing are an essential adjustment and should be pushed across the entire NEO series.

Bundled is an infrared (IR) remote control powered by two AAA batteries (not included). Conventional menu, home, power, volume, navigation and return buttons are present, along with a new settings button. Line-of-sight is required for operation, but overall the improved layout and larger form factor is a positive change.

Functionality and layout aside, this remote has an issue which needs to be addressed by the manufacture. While reviewing the NEO X6 a few months back I discovered a design flaw which makes batteries extremely difficult to remove once inserted - a small pry tool was needed to overcome this challenge. This issue is still present at time of publication.

MINIX NEO X8 Plus IR Remote

Due to incredibly low power consumption (See Energy Efficiency test below) the MINIX NEO X8-H Plus was designed to be left on or stand-by mode when not in use. However, you'll need to get up out of your chair to turn the device on as the included IR remote still cannot power-on the device while shutdown. According to MINIX this is intended function, but hopefully this impediment will be addressed in a future firmware release.

Specifications

  • Amlogic S812-H SoC
  • Quad-core ARM Cortex-A9r4 CPU @ 2.0GHz
  • Octo-core Mali-450 GPU
  • 2GB DDR3 RAM
  • 16GB (eMMC) Storage
  • WiFi 802.11ac Dual Band
  • RJ-45 Ethernet Jack (10/100/1000)
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • HDMI 1.4b, up to 4K @ 30fps
  • 3.5mm Stereo Jack, Optical SPDIF
  • USB 2.0 Port x3, OTG Port x1
  • SD/MMC Card Reader (SD 3.0, MMC V4.41)
  • Mic Jack, Headphone Jack, IR Receiver (Remote included)
  • Dimensions: 128mm (l) x 128mm (w) x 20mm (h)

Software

MINIX NEO X8-H Plus runs Android 4.4.2 (KitKat) with Kernel Version 3.10.33. On first boot you'll be presented with an initial system setup, and after some rather simplistic setting choices the device is ready to use.

MINIX NEO X8-H Plus Default Android Interface

One setup decision is that of personal preference. You'll need to select a Home Screen by keeping the default Android Launcher (shown above) or custom MINIX Metro interface (shown below).

MINIX Metro Interface

MINIX Metro takes design influence from Metro, a typography-based design language by Microsoft. The interface is straight forward and layout works great for Television format. Eight of the nine predefined categories allow for easy addition & removal of Application shortcuts to their associated sub menus. Quick launch shortcuts can also be managed and placed directly on the Home screen too.

Overall MINIX Metro has potential, but isn't polished enough for my liking. Not much has changed since we last reviewed the MINIX interface with the exception of Weather notifications have been removed. There is a lot of unnecessary clicking and user experience needs work. It would also be nice to see some configuration options such as color scheme, custom icons and button assignment. My recommendation would be try out both Launchers to see which you like best, or search Google Play for other options. For the record, I saw nearly an identical interface on a competitors Android based device, this leads me to believe MINIX Metro may not be exclusive to MINIX, rather a re-branded Launcher.

Aside from the standard Android Setting Menus, there is another MINIX branded application named settingMbox. Simplistic in nature, this App provides straightforward configuration options for networking, display, advanced control, system information and Over the Air (OTA) system updates.

Recently MINIX changed how their system updates work. The now deprecated OTA service has been replaced with a Firmware Over the Air (FOTA) update system - no more manual updates are required, all future updates are available to download from Amazon hosted servers mirrored worldwide and install automatically.

MINIX settingMbox

Noticeable improvements are present in current firmware releases, along with a lengthy list of fixes and system advancements. The X8-H Plus we received did not have the latest firmware pre-installed. Other devices manufactured prior to 2015 may require a manual update of the firmware to take advantage of newly available FOTA features. If you do not see the FOTA option under your software menu, you're most likely running an outdated version of firmware. Check the MINIX forums on how to manually upgrade.

MINIX NEO X8-H Plus FOTA

Pre-installed are popular applications such as Netflix, Skype, Gmail, Google Maps, AirDroid, Miracast and custom a build of XBMC. Complete access to Google Play is available to download all your favourite Android Apps too. There is no needless bloatware installed from what I've observed, just a clean Android environment with a good mix of the essentials. New to this software build is support for Google TV Remote and FOTA Service (System Update).

MINIX NEO X8-H Plus Default Apps

For those unfamiliar, XBMC is an Open Source home theater application which is freely available for Linux, Mac/iOS, Windows, Raspberry Pi and Android.

At the moment XBMC isn't available through the Google Play Store, but official APK packages can be downloaded directly from the project homepage. Nevertheless an unnecessary step as XBMC MINIX Edition comes pre-installed. This custom build is based upon the current stable release of XBMC 13.3 (Gotham) in partnership with the developers at XBMC. Modified to provide the optimum experience it is highly recommended keeping this installed version.

Several months ago XBMC Developers announced the media center software would be changing it's name from XBMC to KODI in future versions. On December 24th 2014 the first stable release of KODI (v14) was released and though a MINIX Edition of KODI isn't currently available, I have confirmed with MINIX there will be one in the future.

MINIX XBMC

Performance

Timing Results

  • Power on: 20 seconds
  • Power off: 4 seconds

AnTuTu Benchmark Results

  • Overall score: 32268

MINIX NEO X8-H Plus Benchmark 1

AnTuTu Video Tester Results

  • Overall score: 692

MINIX NEO X8-H Plus Benchmark 2

Graphics tests designed to stress the GPU performance and a physics test to stress CPU performance were ran with strong results. Frames per second are as follows.

MINIX NEO X8-H Plus Benchmark 3

Overall GPU performance results.

MINIX NEO X8-H Plus Benchmark 4

4K Ultra High Definition video is years away from being mainstream and unless you have a television/monitor capable of supporting 4K resolutions there really isn't any benefit. But for the sake of evaluation I've confirmed the MINIX NEO X8-H Plus is capable of 4K playback.

Performance was good over Local Area Network (LAN) to Network Attached Storage. I tested on both a WiFi and Ethernet connection with mixed results. As expected, WiFi experienced issues with buffering every 17 seconds, which isn't enjoyable viewing. Ethernet on the other hand had an initial 33% buffer and played seamless from that point forward. For the record, buffering was not present in my 1080p video tests.

My methods for screen capture on Android refuse to capture the frame buffer in XBMC so shown below is a photo taken of my TV playing 4K video. Note the 4K icon.

MINIX NEO X8-H Plus 4K Video Playback

For sake of comparison here are the overall AnTuTu Benchmark results of the X8-H, X6, X8 Plus and X8-H Plus that we have reviewed.

MINIX NEO Series Benchmarks

Energy Efficiency

Our energy efficiency test measured power consumption under heavy load fluctuating between 3.8W to 4.5W, idle fluctuation at 2.3W to 2.6W and stand-by (sleep mode) fluctuation 0.3W to 0.5W. Your results may very depending on system load.

MINIX NEO X8-H Plus Energy Efficiency

Gallery

Conclusion

The Good - Pros
  • Amlogic S812-H SoC delivers great performance
  • 4K H.265/HEVC Hardware Decoding
  • No bloatware pre-installed
  • Has a Gigabit Ethernet Port
  • Support for DTS and Dolby Digital audio
  • Offers WiFi 802.11ac Dual Band
  • A free NEO A2 Lite is included (May be for a limited time)
The Bad - Cons
  • IR Remote cannot power-on device
  • Power / stand-by indicator LED needs increased illumination like X6
The Ugly - Problems
  • Deprecated OTA options have not been replaced by FOTA options
  • FOTA confirmation button says "no", should read "ok"
  • IR Remote design flaw makes batteries very difficult to remove
  • Software power menu is frequently inaccessible via remote
The Verdict - Opinion
  • Although X8-H Plus offers a modest increase in performance and power efficiency, I believe the price differential between X8 Plus and X8-H Plus should determine which model you purchase. If you're on a budget and have no use for the premium features, perhaps the MINIX NEO X8 Plus is a better fit, otherwise spend the extra $30 and purchase this X8-H Plus model.

    I should also mention when customers purchase the X8-H Plus they get NEO A2 Lite (Not shown in this review) as a free gift. If you're not familiar with the A2 it is a wireless keyboard mouse with speaker and microphone for use with media players and gyroscope games.

Innovation: 
3/5
Performance: 
5/5
Compatibility: 
5/5
Cost / Value: 
4/5

Editors Choice Award 19/20

Overall score