Up till now, the latest Android TV Box devices have been dominated by the Amlogic quad core S802 chipset based players. However, lately we are seeing both announcements and launches of the new Rockchip RK3288 quad core players. The Rockchip RK3288 is of course the successor to the very popular RK3188 chipset that powered many popular devices including Minix Neo X7/Neo X7 mini, Rikomagic MK802 IV, Ugoos MK809 III, Tronsmart MK908 and many more similar devices. Therefore, it is not surprising that many manufacturers are quickly jumping into the RK3288 band wagon now that the new chipset has been released and the Cloudnetgo CR13 Quad Core RK3288 Android TV Box is one of the many.
Most people will be interested in the performance of the ARM Cortex-A17 based RK3288 compared to the ARM Cortex-A9 based Amlogic S802. The ARM Cortex-A17 architecture has been designed to replace the aging Cortex A-9 architecture which has been around for quite awhile. On paper, the improvement is supposedly as high as 60% plus improved energy efficiency. The energy efficiency is not a huge concern for non-battery powered devices like the Cloudnetgo CR13 but we are all curious about the performance improvements.
Cloudnetgo has kindly supplied us with a sample unit for this review.
After reviewing so many Android TV Boxes that has the standard black box with rounded corners design ala Apple TV, it is refreshing to see a different design for the Cloudnetgo CR13 although it is still made of shiny plastic and it is still black. The Cloudnetgo CR13 also has the now standard WiFi antenna. While you can always fall back on wired Ethernet, it is worthwhile to note that the new Android TV boxes have all taken a cue from the Minix TV box designs and included a high-gain antenna to help with improving WiFi reception.
Included in the nondescript white box is the Cloudnetgo CR13 player itself, an IR remote, HDMI cable, USB power adapter and cable, USB cable and a quick start manual. The Cloudnetgo CR13 player has an analog AV out port but no cable is included. This is hardly an issue as we doubt that there are any users who plan to use the player with an old CRT TV.
At the front of the unit, there is a camera, a microphone, an LED power indicator, an IR receiver for the remote control and a power button. The camera is a surprising but welcome addition. Android TV boxes with built-in camera are not common and an additional add-on USB webcam is required if you wish to use the player for video conferencing. The power button cycles between on, stand-by and off status. In stand-by mode, you can turn on the player by using the included IR remote.
At the back of the unit, there is a 5V power port which the included power adapter plugs into, an Ethernet LAN RJ45 port, HDMI port, analog AV out, Optical S/PDIF port, 2 USB host ports and 1USB host/OTG port. On the left side of the player is a reset button and a micro-SD card reader slot.
The IR remote is the standard remote with the standard Android buttons but interestingly, it also has a numeric keypad with T9 function so it can also be used for text input. While using T9 to key in search terms or long URLs is far from ideal, it is still far better than using the on screen keyboard and the directional pad on the remote.
Note that there is no 3.5 mm analog audio jack. This can be an issue for users who plan to connect the Cloudnetgo CR13 to a flat screen monitor instead of a TV. If your monitor has no speakers or a way to pass through the audio to external speakers, you will have no sound.
Cloudnetgo CR13 RK3288 Android TV Box Hardware Specifications
The Rockchip RK3288 chipset is powered by a quad core ARM Cortex-A17 CPU paired with a Mali-T624 GPU. On the Rockchip website, the GPU for the RK3288 is given as a Mali-T764 but there is no information to be found on such a GPU! Even on the ARM website, the highest end GPU is the T760. Therefore, we suspect that the GPU in the RK3288 is actually the Mali-T624 and this is also reported by CNX-Software. GPU confusion aside, the Mali-T624 is quite a powerful GPU. It is a quad-core chip and supports 4K and 2K UHD decoding.
The Cloudnetgo CR13 has support for dual band WiFi (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz). RAM is 2 GB DDR3 and storage memory is available in both 8 GB and 16 GB versions. The player has support for Bluetooth 4.0. There is also some confusion on the camera resolution as some product specification listings list it as 2 MP while others list it as 5 MP but test video is quite grainy and as with all built-in cameras on such devices, the MP rating really means nothing. The camera is good enough for video conferencing but that is about it. You wouldn’t want to use the camera for any other purpose.
Cloudnetgo CR13 RK3288 Android TV Box Performance
Firstly, there is definitely a significant improvement in video performance and overall responsiveness when compared to the older Rockchip RK3188 devices. Everything seems much smoother and responds much quicker. There doesn’t seem to be any lag at all. Boot up is also quite speedy at about 20 seconds. This is a far cry from the 1 minute boot-up of the old dual-core devices.
The Cloudnetgo CR13 runs on Android 4.4.2 (Kit Kat) and there is no customized user interface designed for an IR remote as is quite common with most other players. First time users might get a bit turned off by the lack of a more remote friendly interface but for power users, this probably won’t matter as they would have probably thrown out the IR remote long ago and replaced with a keyboard-mouse combo or an air mouse.
It is also interesting to note that the Cloudnetgo CR13 has very little bloatware. In fact besides the default browser and the Google Play app, you don’t even see your usual array of Google apps like Chrome and YouTube. Again this is good news for power users and beginners will probably consider this a negative point.
However, XBMC (Ver 13 or Gotham) does come installed on the player. XBMC has come a long way since its early forays with the Android OS. It is now a very stable app with full support for hardware video decoding, something that was sorely missing for many years. It is definitely a plus that XBMC already comes installed and working right out of the box instead of just a “XBMC supported” logo on the box. XBMC runs well on the Cloudnetgo CR13 and within minutes and some additional settings, we were watching movies on 1 Channel.
Video playback is smooth through a variety of video apps and video streaming services like Netflix and Plex. However, we could not get the YouTube app installed via the Google Play Store to work. YouTube videos play just fine via XBMC. If you have a ripped collection of BD-ISO, you will be happy to note that they play fine on the Cloudnetgo CR13. BD menus and 3D movies are supported.
One area that the Cloudnetgo CR13 really shines is 3D games. Although performance cannot match the latest top-of-the-range smart phones, 3D games are definitely very playable on the player. It even comes with a game controller setup app so that you can plug in your favorite USB controller for playing controller supported games.
Overall, the firmware seems quite stable. The only time we encountered problems is when installing some of the add-ons in XBMC. We had the player freeze a couple of times and required a reboot but other than that, the firmware seems rather bug free.
Performance wise there isn’t much that separates the RK3288 from the S802 based devices. We believe that while the ARM Cortex-A17 gives the RK3288 an advantage over the S802, the Mali T624 GPU is holding it back. Nonetheless, 3D gaming performance does seem better on the RK3288. This does not mean that the RK3288 is superior or inferior but just that most users probably wouldn’t notice the difference.
The Cloudnetgo CR13 is definitely better suited for more experienced Android TV box users. The lack of a user friendly interface may prove to be too disorientating for inexperienced users.
For those whose primary reason to get an Android TV box is to run XBMC, the Cloudnetgo CR13 is a good device that fits that need very well.