When I was offered the opportunity to review the new CloudnetGo CR18 RK3368 Android TV Box, I jumped right on it because the CloudnetGo CR18 is among the very first Android TV Box to come equipped with the new Rockchip RK3368 chipset. The RK3368 is of course the new Octa Core 64 bit chipset from Rockchip that is based on the newer ARMv8 technology and replaces the highly successful Quad Core 32 bit RK3288 from last year.
On paper, the RK3368 has everything going for it – 64 bit, Octa core plus ARMv8 technology. However, benchmark comparisons between the RK3368 and the RK3288 by various sites including this one by CNX-Software has shown that the RK3368 surprisingly lags behind the older RK3288. What does this mean for Android TV boxes that utilizes the Rockchip RK3368?
I have been reviewing so many square black boxes that are obviously inspired by the Apple TV, it is really a breath of fresh air to open the box and to find the brushed aluminum clad CloudnetGo CR18. Although this is not the first box that I have come across that uses this design but it has been a fairly long time since I last saw this design. The last time I saw a unit sporting this design was the HiMedia Q5 way back in 2012. In fact the designs are almost identical except for a slightly different front panel and the presence of an antenna on the CloudnetGo CR18.
I really like the brushed metal look on the CloudnetGo CR18. The matte brushed metal finishing gives the unit an elegant look plus a full metal body helps in dissipating the heat in what is essentially a very compact box containing hot running electronics without the benefit of a fan to cool things down. While heat is no longer such a big issue nowadays with modern set top boxes, it never hurts to have a cooler running box.
The other item that caught my eye with the CloudnetGo CR18 are the plethora of connection options at the back of the unit plus a few more ports on either side of the device. Firstly, it is the first Android box that I have seen in a long time that has analog RCA connectors for video and audio. While it is becoming extremely rare for displays to come with only analog inputs, it is a nice to have feature. With the CloudnetGo CR18, it is not a problem to lug it to Grandpa’s house and use it with his analog-only TV.
The CloudnetGo CR18 also rocks both co-axial and optical digital audio outputs. Again, while all modern TV sets will come with HDMI, if you happen to be using an old AV receiver that does not support HDMI, it is good to know that it can still be used with the CloudnetGo CR18.
The other remaining ports on the CloudnetGo CR18 is quite standard with 2 standard USB 2.0 and 1 USB OTG which you can always make use of as an extra USB port, a micro SD memory expansion slot and a RJ45 port for wired Ethernet.
Besides the CloudnetGo CR18 unit itself, the box also comes packed with an IR remote. Unlike the bare bones remotes that usually accompany Android TV boxes of late (or if they even come with one), the included remote is a fairly full featured remote that comes with the standard directional button plus Android OS specific buttons like Back, Home and Menu. It also comes with buttons for powering up/down and controlling a TV but I couldn’t figure out how this is done. The included basic manual does label one of the buttons on the remote as “TV remote learning” but it does not come with instructions on how this is done.
CloudnetGo CR18 Specifications
As mentioned at the start of this review, the CloudnetGo CR18 is powered by the Rockchip RK3368 Octa Core 64 bit chipset that comprises a 1.56 GHz ARM Cortex-A53 CPU paired with a PowerVR G6110 GPU. It comes with 2GB of DDR3 RAM and 8GB or 16GB storage of eMMC ROM for storage. Also of note is the dual band 2.4Ghz/5Ghz WiFi that supports 802.11 b/g/n/ac. Other connectivity options are Bluetooth 4.0 and Ethernet 10/100/1000M.
The CloudnetGo CR18 also comes packed with Google’s latest iteration of Android, Android 5.1 Lollipop. Last but not least, it is interesting to note that the OS comes already rooted.
CloudnetGo CR18 Performance
While the RK3368 does not look all that impressive in benchmarks, what is truly important is how the CloudnetGo CR18 performs as an Android TV Box. While the RK3368 may not be as fast in benchmarks, it does have the benefit of running on Lollipop 5.1 which has features that make it run more intuitively on larger screens and especially on devices that do not have a touch screen. While Android has its own specific OS custom built for TVs known as Android TV, we also see some of these features incorporated into Android 5.1.
If you are mainly using the CloudnetGo CR18 as a media device, you will most likely not see any degradation of performance that the benchmark comparison numbers between the RK3368 and RK3288 are indicating. The CloudnetGo CR18 will competently pump out all your HD content and even your UHD content to your TV without skipping a beat. With the additional UI benefits that comes with Android 5.1, you won’t go wrong with a RK3688 powered device like the CloudnetGo CR18.
Like most TV Box manufacturers, CloudnetGo have included their own launcher as an alternative to the default Android launcher. Fortunately, the CloudnetGo launcher is kept simple and has a hint of Microsoft’s Metro interface but minus the animated live tiles feature. The interface is easy to navigate using the included IR remote. However, if you are primarily using a keyboard/mouse combination with the CloudnetGo CR18, you are probably better off using the default Android launcher.
Besides the launcher, CloudnetGo has also included a few media specific apps. The main one that is of interest is of course Kodi, or formerly known as XBMC. Unlike other manufacturers who usually include a plain vanilla version of Kodi, the Kodi app on the CloudnetGo CR18 already has a few add-ons pre-installed and configured. For those who are not familiar with Kodi/XBMC, it can be quite daunting to find and setup the channels and add-ons. CloudnetGo makes things a little easier for their users. Definitely a thumbs-up from me.
Besides Kodi, there is a tile labelled as Shafa on the user interface. Clicking on this launches an app that allows you to watch Chinese content. However, the app’s interface is fully in Chinese and blindly clicking on the content on this app often produces an error message that is also in Chinese.
Clicking on the Games tile launches a gaming app that is essentially an arcade/console emulator app that includes a ROM search and download function. It has a interface similar to a media app but in Chinese and with images of games instead of movie posters. Clicking on any of the games searches for the ROM that you can download and play using the emulator. Most of the games do require a connected game controller to play and unfortunately, there is no option to use a keyboard in lieu of one.
The question is most people’s minds is probably whether the inferior benchmark of the RK3368 that powers the CloudnetGo CR18 is going to be an issue. Based on my actual usage of the device for mostly media viewing (both downloaded and streaming) plus other normal usage such as web browsing, video chats via Skype and also a little bit of gaming, the CloudnetGo CR18 performs well and I did not feel that it is slower than the older devices powered by the RM3288.
Of course, your mileage may wary depending on your primary use of the TV box especially for those who are into 3D gaming. In my opinion, the advantage of running a very stable Android 5.1 plus a pre-configured Kodi app more than makes up for any shortcomings the CloudnetGo CR18 may have.