I know I am a little behind with coming up with the iPazzPort Pearl Android Set-Top box review after teasing about it back in May and I apologize for it. It took me some time to really sit down and write the review but it is finally done.
The good news is that the delay has allowed me to spend more time with the iPazzPort Pearl than I normally do with my usual product reviews.
I would like to start with a little background about iPazzPort. iPazzPort are well-known for their wide range of portable or mini wireless keyboards that run on either RF or Bluetooth.
Users of these keyboards normally use them for pairing with a home theater PC as the mini keyboards allow for easy text input while its small size and wireless features allow them to be easily handled in such a setup.
When Android TV stick devices became popular, iPazzPort started selling their own brand of devices like the NC19A and they often paired them together with their line of portable keyboards.
While the iPazzPort keyboards make ideal companions to the Android mini PCs, the Android mini PCs themselves don’t really stand out from other competing products in the market. Furthermore, the Android mini PC models from iPazzPort are mainly OEM products that are also sold under different brand names.
Introducing the iPazzPort Pearl Android Set-Top Box
The iPazzPort Pearl is iPazzPort’s Android device that is fully designed by iPazzPort instead of being another OEM product. Not only did iPazzPort come up with their own Android set-top box but they came up with a brand new keyboard that is customized for the set-top box and the Android operating system.
The iPazzPort Pearl Android Set-Top box also seems to be iPazzPort’s plan to move away from being just a keyboard company and a move towards being a player in the media player market. The Pearl is also the first set-top box product from iPazzPort.
iPazzPort Pearl Specifications
Looking purely from a hardware specification point of view, the iPazzPort Pearl Android set-top box does not really impress. Quad core ARM CPUs have been powering the latest Android mini PCs and set-top boxes for the last few months but the Pearl only has a dual core Cortex-A9 1.6 GHz CPU. The rest of the specifications is also similar to dual core Android devices that were the rage last year. This includes 1GB DDR3 RAM and 4GB storage ROM, Android 4.1 OS, WiFi 802.11 b/g/n, 2 USB 2.0 host ports and storage expansion via a micro-SD slot.
Being a set-top box, the iPazzPort Pearl Android Set-Top box do support a few other additional ports like a wired Ethernet LAN port, an additional micro-USB port and a built-in 2 megapixel camera.
While the hardware specs seems a little dated compared to the new quad-core offerings, the Rockchip RK3066 dual-core SoC has proven to be a very capable chip. It has more than enough processing power for tasks such as video playback, web browsing, email and video conferencing. The iPazzPort Pearl is primarily designed for these tasks so the slower dual-core SoC should not be a handicap.
The iPazzPort Pearl comes in rather unique design that has shades of Google’s now defunct Nexus Q. It has a similar sphere shape and it is white which I guess is how the Pearl got its name. The camera is located in front and near the base of the unit. At the back of the Pearl are where all the ports are located. At the top of the Pearl is a slot where the keyboard sits in. The base unit also doubles up as a battery charger for the wireless keyboard.
As I mentioned earlier, iPazzPort’s range of keyboards are mainly designed for the PC market. Therefore they lack Android specific keys. However, the iPazzPort’s wireless controller is designed specifically for the Pearl and the Android OS. On one side of the keyboard is a TV remote layout that comes with some Android function keys like menu, home and back. It also has a directional pad with an enter key in the center. iPazzPort also added about a dozen buttons that are linked to popular apps like the movie player, music player and photo gallery. iPazzPort is also giving Facebook a lot of love as it has dedicated the biggest button at the bottom of the controller to it.
On the reverse side of the controller is a full Qwerty keyboard and a touch pad. The design and layout of the keyboard is quite similar to iPazzPort’s other touch pad keyboard models. The keyboard can either be held horizontally for typing or it can be used vertically with the touch pad oriented at the top.
The controller comes with a built-in microphone that can be used for both voice search and making calls on Skype. It also has an audio jack that can be used to plug in your own set of headphones.
More Than Just a Set-Top Box
The iPazzPort Pearl is primarily an Android set-top box but with the wide range of Android apps available today, it can be much more than that. In fact, iPazzPort has provided a long list of things that you can do with the Pearl. Besides the included apps, I have also installed some additional apps to test out iPazzPort’s claims.
Watch Videos, TV and Movies
This one is a no-brainer as we all know that Android set-top boxes excel at playing videos be it watching your own collection of movie files or watching streaming videos from YouTube or a subscription service like Netflix. The iPazzPort Pearl Android Set-Top box comes with its own video player which is quite capable of playing almost everything that I can throw at it or you can download one of the many free and paid video players on the Google Play Store.
The only issue I have is that it does not come with a user-friendly media management front-end app to make it really easy to browse through your collection. For this purpose, I usually install Mizuu which provides a really great looking front-end. It is not free but it is definitely worth it.
Alternatively, you can also try installing XBMC for Android. While it is a great app and very popular, it is still in beta and still has some bugs. I would only recommend it if you are comfortable with trawling around the net for information on how to set it up properly.
One of the features of the iPazzPort Pearl Android Set-Top box’s controller is that it has a headphone jack. This can be used to plug in your own headphones and the audio can be played back via the headphones instead of through the TV speakers. Great for watching late night movies in the bedroom without disturbing your significant other.
Make Video Conference Calls with Skype
For me, this is probably the iPazzPort Pearl Android Set-Top box’s best feature. For those of you who are familiar with Android mini PC devices, you will know what a pain it is to get Skype to work properly. Although USB webcams are generally supported by the Android OS, there is almost no information and support provided by the device manufacturers on which webcams are supported. The firmware also plays an important factor in getting Skype to work. That is why I have an entire article that deals on just which cameras are supported and which firmware you have to use.
The iPazzPort Pearl Android Set-Top box however, comes with a build-in webcam and Skype already pre-installed. One of the first tasks that I tried out when I got the Pearl was to test out Skype. I am happy to say that the Pearl is one of the few rare devices which has Skype working right out of the box. You can use Skype either by using the microphone on the keyboard and holding it like a phone handset, or you can leave the keyboard in the base unit and speak to it from across the room. The Pearl had no problems capturing the audio.
The only problem that I had was that Skype was displaying the video it was capturing with its camera as its main display and the other party’s video in the small inset. It should be the other way round. There may be a way to reverse this but I haven’t managed to figure it out yet.
The keyboard comes with a dedicated button that starts the Skype app. While I only tried out video conferencing with Skype, you can of course use any of the other video conferencing apps like Google Hangouts for example.
Facebook and Twitter
Facebook and Twitter are supported either via their dedicated apps or via the web browser. Personally I prefer the web browser as it makes better use of the much bigger screen estate on the TV. The apps tend to just blow up everything.
Surf the Web
The full keyboard and the touch pad on the controller makes the iPazzPort Pearl Android Set-Top box ideal for surfing the web. While it won’t be as intuitive as using a mouse and keyboard combo or using a touch screen, the Pearl is good enough a device to do a quick bit of surfing. The big screen TV allows for an experience that is quite similar to browsing on a laptop or desktop computer.
While the Pearl outputs video at 1080p, the actual resolution is an upscaled 720p. However, this is not a big issue as most users would sit a reasonable distance away from the TV and thus the upscaled 720p resolution is probably a better option than true 1080p.
Affordable Home Surveillance
Here is a new suggested use of the Pearl that I have not heard before for such a device. With the proper app, you can use the Pearl as a home surveillance device that can be monitored over the web. There are a few apps available on Google Play Store that allows you to use a smartphone as a surveillance camera and I tried a few of them.
AtHome Camera – Home Security for example not only allows you to record and view footage captured using the camera on the Pearl but it even has a motion detection feature that records 30 seconds of footage every time it is triggered.
While the iPazzPort Pearl Android Set-Top box has to be plugged in for the home surveillance app to work, the TV itself can be switched off.
The iPazzPort Pearl Android Set-Top box can also be used for other functions just like an Android tablet including games of course. However, most games are designed with a touch screen in mind so they may not work as well without one. Some games do work fairly well though with a touch pad as a replacement such as Fruit Ninja.
Overall, the iPazzPort Pearl Android Set-Top box is a great all-rounder device mainly thanks to the controller. The best thing about it is that it is a fairly complete package with everything that you need – the set-top box itself, cables to connect to the TV, a TV remote like controller that has a full Qwerty keyboard for easy text entry, built-in microphone on the controller and a built-in webcam. It may not be the most powerful hardware out there but it is adequate for what it is designed to do.
I would highly recommend the iPazzPort Pearl Android Set-Top box to someone who is interested in getting an Android OS based set-top box that works out of the box with no additional peripheral or complicated setup required. You don’t have to worry about incompatible hardware or firmware flashing.