Back in September, we carried the news of Minix’s announcement of the Minix Neo X6 Android set top box at the 2014 IFA Exhibition. Fast forward two months and the Minix Neo X6 has now been launched and is available for purchase. In fact it has been available for more than a month but it has taken us awhile to come up with the review due to some teething problem that we faced which we cover in detail in our review below. Androydz would like to give Minix a big word of thanks for providing us with the review unit and for being patient with the review.
From the model number, you can probably deduce that this is a lower end model compared to the Minix Neo X8 that was released in the middle of the year. However for a lower end model, the Minix Neo X6 packs quite powerful hardware and for most users, the Minix Neo X6 should be sufficient for their requirements and they can save themselves a significant amount of money by going for the X6 instead of the X8.
For first impressions, Minix has never failed to impress us. Kinda like Apple, they always spend just that little bit more effort and detail to make that first impression far better than other competing products. For the Minix Neo X6, Minix has made a change to their packaging. Instead of the usual squarish box, the box is now slightly bigger and more rectangular. The printed info on the box gives a very good rundown on what is included in the box, the specs of the player and of course the usual marketing symbols like Android Kit Kat and XBMC logos.
The opened box gave us a much bigger surprise. Minix has revamped the packaging on the inside. We really like how it looks. Very classy and really gives the impression that the Minix Neo X6 is a high quality and expensive piece of electronics. All the necessary cables to power up the Neo X6 and to connect the box to your TV are included and hidden at the bottom of the box. Also in the box is a brand new IR remote control. While it is a simple remote we really like the new look controller. We normally replace the remote right away with either an air mouse like the Minix Neo M1 or a touchpad enabled keyboard like the Logitech TK820. If you are using the Minix Neo X6 primarily as a media player, the remodeled remote is a welcome addition. The buttons have been moved into a more intuitive layout and an additional button for accessing the settings function has been added.
The Minix Neo X6 box itself has retained the standard design the Minix has been using for their Android set top boxes for quite awhile now. The only main differences are that it is slightly smaller than its older sibling, the Neo X8 and the antenna is permanently mounted on the Neo X6.
On the front panel, there is an IR receiver and an LED power light that glows blue when the unit is powered on. On the right side, there is a power button, an SD expansion slot and 2 USB ports. At the back of the unit there is a 3.5mm audio port, a HDMK port, an Ethernet port and also a power socket that connects to the included power adapter. There is only the WiFi antenna on the left side. Compared to the Neo X8, the Neo X6 is missing the optical S/PDIF audio port and also the 3.5 mm microphone port. Both these ports are seldom used nowadays so it is not a big issue that they are not included.
Minix Neo X6 Specifications
Internally, the biggest difference between the Neo X6 and the Neo X8 is the chipset. The Neo X6 houses an Amlogic S805, a quad-core ARM Cortex-A5 processor with ARM Mali-450 graphics. The Cortex-A5 processor is a low powered chipset that has a lower performance CPU compared to the quad-core ARM Cortex-A9 in the Neo X8. While it is not a powerhouse, the Amlogic S805 is more than adequate in handling 1080p HD video playback plus it has support for hardware H.264 and the newer H.265 codec decoding.
Other specifications include 1GB DDR3L RAM and 8GB eMMC (embedded Multi-Media Controller) ROM for storage. As promised by Minix all their future products from the Neo X8 onwards will be using the higher performance eMMC memory. WiFi is only single band 802.11n unlike the dual-band Neo X8. The Minix Neo X6 also has support Bluetooth 4.0 and comes installed with Android KitKat 4.4.2.
Minix Neo X6 Performance
Upon boot-up, the Minix Neo X6 looks and feels very much like the Neo X8. Minix has included their custom Minix Metro UI launcher which we like a lot and we feel that it is one of the best user interfaces we have seen on an Android set top box. If you are primarily using the included IR remote, you should probably stick to the Minix launcher. Otherwise, the beauty of using an Android based set top box is of course the flexibility to customize the look and feel of your device to your heart’s content. The Minix interface makes it simple to navigate around using the directional button on the IR remote. Most of the “panels” on the interface is actually a folder that you can add your apps into.
As with many of the newer Android set top boxes, XBMC comes pre-installed. If you are an XBMC fan, you will also be glad to know that XBMC on Android now supports hardware video decoding resulting is much better video playback quality. If you are buying the Minix Neo X6 to primarily use it as an XBMC box, you will probably will not be disappointed with it. We tried out XBMC with most of the popular add-ons including some “not-so-legal” add-ons and they all installed fine. However, we did encounter some skipping video which was rather surprising since the Neo X6 should be more than adequate to handle this.
We encountered similar issues with video playback using the default video player. We suspected that this is a software issue and fortunately it didn’t take Minix too long to come up with an updated firmware. Among all the Android set top box manufacturers, we are most impressed with the level and quality of support from Minix. The support for their devices goes way beyond the support from the other brands. Besides bug fixes, we can always rely on Minix for updated firmware whenever newer versions of Android OS are released. The updated firmware released in November took care of the video playback issues that we encountered both on XBMC as well as the video player. While the Neo X6 supported OTA (over-the-air) firmware update, we had to install the update manually. It is possible that Minix was still testing the firmware and had not released it via OTA yet at that moment.
Besides the video playback issue, the original firmware was quite stable and problem free. We did experience one case of the OS freezing and required a reset but that could have been caused by any one of the apps that we installed while testing the unit. Overall we are quite satisfied with the general experience of the unit as a media hub. Android set top boxes have a come a long way of the very first devices that were more suited for hobbyists rather than the general consumer. While not as polished as the big name brands like an Apple TV or a Roku, it is sufficiently user friendly for us to recommend a Minix Android media hub product to a non-techie user who wants more than just a standard media and online streaming player.
As with any Android set top box, what you get out of the box is only a tiny fraction of what it is capable of. The Minix Neo X6 has the Google Play Store built in which means that you can download just about any app available on the store. However, you can doesn’t mean that you should. While most popular media player apps like Netflix and Plex work great on the Neo 6, whether you should download an app depends on how well it will work with your remote or your keyboard and mouse/touchpad setup. Android apps are usually developed with a touch screen in mind and not all apps work well with a remote or touchpad type of control.
If you only plan to use the included IR remote, your app choices is severely limited. Fortunately, even if you don’t plan to get an airmouse or other types on control, you can always make use of your Android phone as a touchpad plus virtual keyboard that beats text entry using the IRT remote any time. This function is built into the Neo X6.
While the Neo X6 is not a graphical power house, it works relatively well with 3D games especially if you pair the player with a compatible USB gamepad. Serious gamers on the other hand should probably go for the Neo X8 instead.
While the Neo X6 only has single band WiFi, we couldn’t tell much difference between the WiFi reception quality between it and the Neo X8 which has dual band WiFi. WiFi reception is generally good and gone are the days whereby WiFi reception is a big concern for Android mini PC and set top box devices. On the other hand, there is definitely a marked improvement on WiFi over the older Minix Neo X5 Mini that did not come with an external WiFi antenna.
With the Neo X6, Minix set out to produce an Android media hub that is tailored for the general consumer and by large, we feel the Minix has done a tremendous job. There are still some minor teething problem like the fact that not all apps on the Play Store will work well or even work at all on the Neo X6 but this is hardly Minix’s fault. In our opinion, the Neo X6’s biggest challenge is competing products coming from the big guys including Google’s very own Android TV and established players like Roku and Apple TV.
While the Neo X6’s elder sibling, the Neo X8 has a niche market in users who are interested in fiddling and playing around with the hardware and software to squeeze the maximum out of it, we fell that the Neo X6 is primarily aimed at the general consumer. It is not a bad product at all but only time will tell if players like the Minix Neo X6 has what it takes to move from a niche market to a more consumer market. We are keeping our fingers crossed for Minix.