It has been awhile since we last seen any significant hardware updates on the Android set-top box and Android mini PC scene. However, we are slowly seeing new releases featuring what we anticipate as the next chipset of choice for Android set-top box and mini PC manufacturers, the Amlogic S802 range.
The Minix Neo X8-H uses the new Amlogic S802-H, the H suffix signifying that it has hardware support for Dolby Digital and DTS decoding. This is a very significant development for an Android media player as far as surround sound playback is concern.
First of all, we need to clarify that Minix has released two versions of the Neo X8. Minix has supplied us with the version that has the H suffix for this review. Besides having the S802-H chipset, this model also has 16 GB of internal storage. There is also the Neo X8 without the H suffix. This model uses the Amlogic S802 chipset plus it only has 8 GB of internal storage. Besides these 2 differences, the two models are identical as far as we know.
Minix has decided to keep to the same form factor as both the Neo X5 and X7. This is not necessary a bad thing as the design is simple and stylish. However, we do wish that Minix had gone for an update on the looks department but this is just a minor quibble.
Minix has also packed in a high quality external antenna similar to the one on the X7. We were very pleased with the WiFi reception on the X7 and we are happy that Minix has decided to keep to the same design with the Minix Neo X8-H.
Also in the box is an IR remote. This is a very simple IR remote with a directional button plus OK, back, home and menu buttons. It is also the same remote that was included with the X7. The great thing about the IR remote is not the remote itself but the fact that the Neo X8-H has a built-in IR receiver. This means that you can program your universal remote to work with it if you have one.
The other items that make up the rest of the box’s contents are a HDMI cable, a micro USB cable, a USB OTG cable, a power adapter and a simple bare bones manual.
Our review unit also came with the Minix Neo M1, an RF based air-mouse wireless remote control. Some online retailers are packing in the M1 air-mouse with the X8-H but normally you would have to buy it separately. The M1 remote cum air-mouse looks really nice with a brushed-metal finishing. It does not come with a Qwerty keyboard but it does have similar buttons as the IR remote plus a built-in rechargeable battery.
At the rear of the device are the hidden recovery switch, HDMI port, S/PDIF or optical audio port, 2 USB ports, an RJ45 Ethernet port and the power port.
On the right side are a power button, 3.5 mm speaker and microphone ports, a third USB port, an SD card expansion slot and a OTG micro USB port. On the left is only the antenna connector and there are no buttons or ports on the front.
Minix Neo X8-H Hardware Specifications
As mentioned earlier, the X8-H is powered by the Amlogic S802-H chipset. This chipset has a quad core ARM Cortex A9 CPU paired with an 8 core Mali-450 GPU. This Amlogic chipset is quite a graphical beast and can easily pump out 4K resolutions without skipping a beat.
Memory is 2 GB DDR3 and internal storage is 16 GM eMMC. eMMC or embedded Multi-Media Controller memory is an improvement over the usual NAND memory used on such devices. eMMC memory has better performance, security and reliability.
WiFi is dual band 2.4 GHz and 5.8 GHz. Again, Minix has decided to go with better WiFi hardware and thus resolving one of the biggest problems with Android mini PCs, poor WiFi reception.
The Minix Neo X8-H comes equipped with Android KitKat 4.4.
Minix Neo X8-H Performance
Unfortunately we do not have a 4K HDTV to test out the Minix Neo X8-H 4K performance so we just have to make do with just 1080p. First of all, the ROM has a true 1080p resolution and not just upscaled 720p. The interface and overall graphical performance is gorgeous and buttery smooth. We could quickly flip between pages quickly with no sign of slowdown or hick-ups.
The X8 comes with two different launchers. The first is the default Android launcher while the second is Minix’s own Minix Metro UI. While power users would probably prefer the default launcher or replace it with their own favorite launcher, we were very happy with the Minix Metro launcher.
We think that Minix did an awesome job with the Metro launcher. It is very simple to navigate and works wonderful even with the IR remote. It is also quite customizable. You can add your favorite apps to have them easily accessible or you can add them to special preset “folders” such for video, music and game apps. It does have a Microsoft Metro-like look and hence the name we guess. We really like its look, feel and functionality. This is one of the better interfaces that we have seen on a set-top box and not just the Android ones.
Regarding the X8-H’s hardware decoding of Dolby Digital and DTS audio, we confirm that it works. It must be noted however that it does not mean that if you get the non-H version of the Minix Neo X8 you will get no sound. It just means that it will have to rely on software decoding instead. So as long as the player app has the software codecs, you will still get sound.
The Minix Neo X8-H also claims to have the world’s first XBMC with support for 4K video. We could not test this of course but from videos we have seen online and from user feedback, it works pretty well. We appreciate the fact that Minix has XBMC installed and fully configured to work right out of the box instead of just slapping on an “XBMC supported” logo on the box and expecting you to do all the installation yourself. All you have to do is to start up XBMC from the launcher and install the add-ons that you want. Exploring the “seedier” side of XBMC will require some legwork of your own but there is nothing that a few minutes online with Google search won’t resolve.
The default video player played everything that we threw at it including a BD-ISO file. The player has full support including BD menus. If you have your collection of BluRay movies on a HD, just hook it up to the Neo X8-H and you never ever have to insert a disk again.
The firmware is rather stable and we did not encounter any freezes or resets during the review period of about 2 weeks. Minix has once again done a terrific job on the software side of things. While their products may not stand out that much in terms of hardware features, Minix is always ways ahead of the pack when it comes to software support. You can be always be assured that they will keep on supporting their hardware with new firmware releases featuring the latest Android OS versions way into their products’ lifespan. Firmware updates via OTA is supported on the Neo X8.
The Minix Neo M1 mouse worked great and is quite responsive. The only problem that we had is that entering text using the on-screen keyboard and the M1 is still a rather tiresome task. We wish that Minix had added a Qwerty keypad to the M1. After a couple of times of using the M1 to enter text, we quickly switched to our Logitech K830 illuminated keyboard.
Minix is not the first to come up with an Amlogic S802 based Android player and you can be certain that it won’t be the last. We are glad that Minix took its time to come up with a piece of solid software to pair up with the impressive hardware instead of trying to be the first out of the gate. As a result, we have a terrific Android set-top box with rather impressive hardware.
With the Minix Neo X8-H, you have the versatility of just using it as a simple but powerful media player that plays a wide variety of media files or you can use it to turn your flat screen TV into a very powerful smart TV or you can go all the way and turn it into a low to mid-end desktop computer for word processing, spreadsheet work and internet browsing.
We really like the new improvements to the Minix Metro launcher. We also liked the fact that XBMC is already installed and works well right out of the box