It has been quite awhile since my last review of an Android set top box. In fact the last review from me was the Minix Neo X7 way back in September 2013. Sometime, back in December 2013, I received news from Eny Technology that they have a few products that are in the pipeline including a model by the name of Eny Technology M8, an Android set top box with an Amlogic quad-core chipset.
Back then, I speculated that the Amlogic quad-core chipset in the M8 would most probably be the AML8726-M8, Amlogic’s upcoming quad core chipset at that time. Amlogic has since renamed the AML8726-M8 as the S802. The S802 is Amlogic’s chipset that is specifically designed for Android mini PCs and set top box.
Amlogic chipsets have never been known as particularly powerful. In fact, Amlogic chipsets are not very popular among Chinese tablet and set top box manufacturers. Performance wise, Amlogic based devices are often bested by Rockchip, Actions and Allwinner based devices. However, this might set to change with the latest range of chipsets from Amlogic.
The M8 Android set top box is one of the first devices to feature the new S802 quad core chipset. This review of the Eny Technology M8 will put it to the test and see how it fares.
There is nothing outstanding or particularly memorable about the design of the Eny Technology M8 Android set top box. It is just a simple black box, just like many other Android set top boxes coming out of China. The top has a matte surface with the M8 logo with the sides are glossy plastic. It doesn’t look ugly but it is getting harder and harder to tell one black box from another. However, it does have a triangle-shaped blue LED power indicator on the front that glows when the unit is powered on. I must say that I do appreciate a power indicator light. Most other devices don’t even have this, a very basic function in my opinion.
On the right side is a single full sized SD memory card slot. Not many devices come with full sized SD slots nowadays. The advantage of full sized SD is that they are slightly cheaper than the micro SD cards.
The connecting ports are all located at the back of the unit. From the left are 2 standard USB ports, a HDMI port, an Ethernet port, an analog AV jack, digital optical or Toslink audio port and lastly the DC power connector port. There is nothing on the left side of the device.
Also included in the box are an IR remote control, a HDMI cable, a power adapter and a simple manual. The manual has English and Chinese sections. Although it is a very simple setup manual, it is good that it comes in English as well, unlike many other similar devices from China.
The IR controller requires 2 AAA batteries that are not included. It has the usual Android OS shortcut buttons such as home and menu. It also has a directional button for navigation and a numeric buttons.
Eny Technology M8 Specifications
As mentioned earlier, the M8 is powered by the new Amlogic S802 chpset. Other than the name change, there is no change to the hardware specification of the earlier announced AML8726-M8 as far as I can tell. Firstly, it has a quad core ARM Cortex A9 CPU running at up to 2 GHz. It is not known how fast the S802 in the M8 is clocked to. Usually, it is clocked a little lower due to problems with heat.
The S802 is also manufactured using 28 nm process which makes it the same as the Rockchip RK3188. The advantage of this is chips that are more efficient, run cooler and consume less power.
However, the hardware specification that attracts the most attention is the Octo Core Mali-450 GPU. The S802 has taken a leap over its competition by including the latest and greatest version of the Mali GPU. The Mali 450 GPU features 8 cores clocked at 250 MHz and is capable of computing 45 GFLOPS, and offers a fill rate of 2,000 Mpix/s. This spanking new GPU is the reason why the M8 has the UHD/4K high resolution support icon on the packaging box.
So if you happen to be one of the lucky few who own a UHD/4K TV, you will be able to take advantage of the M8’s better graphical performance. For the rest of you, expect the M8 to be breeze through 1080p content with smoother playback and no dropped frames.
The rest of the M8’s hardware specifications include 2 GB DDR3 RAM, 8GB Nand Flash ROM, dual band WiFi suport (2.4 GHz, 5GHz), Ethernet 10/100M and Bluetooth support.
The M8 Android TV box also comes with the latest Android OS, Google Android KitKat 4.4.2. The firmware has its own customized user interface that is designed specification for use with the included IR remote.
M8 Android Set Top Box Performance
Upon boot-up, the M8 presents a simplified UI that bears some minor resemblance to Microsoft’s Metro interface. There are huge colorful tiles that link to Online Video, My recommend (favorite apps), Setting, My Apps, Music and Local (file explorer). There are additional smaller tiles at the bottom and these can be customized to link to any app that you like.
Of interest is the support for OTA (over-the-air) firmware update under the settings menu. This feature definitely makes firmware update a much more user friendly process compared to most other devices. Unfortunately, the feature doesn’t seem to be working yet but hopefully it is something the will be implemented in the near future.
The included firmware is already rooted so this can be a huge plus point depending on your enthusiasm for custom firmware and heavy customization.
For video playback, I tested the M8 with my collection of test videos and the M8 played them all without a hitch. If you are a fan of XBMC, you’ll be pleased to know that a copy of XBMC comes already installed. You will be even more happy to know that the M8 supports hardware video acceleration on XBMC. No more relying on external video players like MX Player like with other devices. However, there is a little setback when it comes to video files with AC3 encoded audio. The files will play but video playback is very slow. Hopefully this is just a big that gets resolved soon. Dolby Digital and DTS files worked fine though.
If you are a gamer, you should be quite happy with the M8. Most games including those with intensive 3D like Riptide 2 run great with smooth graphics and control. The M8 detected and recognized both the USB and Bluetooth controllers without any problems.
The other thing that impressed me is the support for hardware peripherals. I tested out the M8 with my considerable arsenal of USB webcams, wireless (RF and Bluetooth) keyboard cum air mouse, flash drives and hard drives. Other than one webcam that had problems with audio, all the other devices worked fine.
There were a couple of times where the M8 froze on me and had to be rebooted. Perhaps the firmware is not entirely bug free yet. Only time will tell if the M8 will get constant support from the manufacturer for firmware and bug fixes. The current benchmark for firmware support among the TV set top box devices is Minix with their constant firmware updates with new features add-ons.
I admit that I may be a bit rusty when it comes to the latest set top boxes and Android mini PC devices. I have been away for quite awhile but if the Eny Technology M8 is any indication, things are definitely improving. There is still some ways to go before these devices are ready for the mass market and the everyday Joe but they are definitely heading towards the right direction.
Besides the usual improvements in hardware specifications, I also see improvements on the software side of things. Features like OTA firmware updates, user interface designed for remotes and better peripheral support are huge pushes towards a larger audience and away from the traditional gadget geeks and tech enthusiasts.