on December 16, 2014
I purchased this for a friend in need of a media center box, but wanted to set it up, test it, tweak and configure it, and just in general ensure it was a good product before sending it off to him. I took a chance on this after watching several youtube videos (of this and other competitor products) as well as meticulously reading the amazon reviews here. Amazon's excellent return policy in the past is what pushed me over the edge and convinced me to give it a shot.
The result: I would very highly recommend this box to anyone looking for a solid android powered, pre-rooted, google play marketplace included, ready-to-rock system for their TV. This thing is just awesome!
The included Remote+ is really very good! If you own an android box but are in need of a simple controller, you really can't go wrong with this. While I would like something with a physical keyboard, for the simple "navigating xbmc menus" or "navigating the android operating system", this mouse really does the job very well. I've tried other "aim at the screen" type "fly mouse" solutions before and none have been as perfectly responsive as this. It's not as "fast" as say, a wii-mote, but it's also not as finicky, allowing you to get what you need accurately and smoothly. This is not really an "FPS" shooter style controller or anything, but it really worked fantastic for navigating on-screen menus. After a couple days of using this, I was completely used to "Fly Mousing" around and dragging the edge of the screen to pull "fly out" android menus and such. This was purchased as a gift for a friend in another state that I wanted to introduce into XBMC (I know I'm awesome), and wanted to make sure I could set it up and use it properly and easily. After a couple days of me tweaking settings and forcing my wife to use it instead of our existing media center, I am convinced that as a media-box, this is a fantastic solution and I had no major gripes. All android applications I loaded opened quickly and ran smoothly.
The one I ordered included XBMC 13.2 Gotham, which I prefer since that's what I currently use on my system and I was able to quickly set it up with the same exact addons just how I have it. From other reviews, it sounds like it can include other versions, but honestly it doesn't matter since installing any different version is an extremely easy and painless process. This was very stable, and I only ever encountered an issue with it when trying to "live stream" video in an addon and accidentally bumped "fast forward" (since obviously that's not possible it freaked out and I had to hard-reboot the system).
Spotify also installed and worked wonderfully on this device, so I loaded him up a playlist with some classics like "the land down under" and "Guy Love (from the scrubs tv show)" to enjoy.
Internet browsing on here was fantastic. It really worked well. If you are looking for a device to load "out of market" apps, this device can pretty much do that no problem by navigating to whatever sites you want and getting them. Ventriloid for example, didn't allow me to download it from the marketplace because it wasn't listed as a "compatible" device, but downloading it from the google code repository and installing it let it work perfectly fine.
I saw someone somewhere else mention this is so fast it's nearly a desktop replacement... and I have to say that with a proper mouse and keyboard, and some solid office apps on it, it really could be. This is a solid machine and if it "stands the test of time" (I.E. no hardware failure), I'll probably end up buying one of these for myself someday in the not-to-distant future to replace my old laptop currently functioning as a windows 7 HTPC.
Being a rooted high powered android device... the things you can do with this device are pretty much endless. I mean, even if it exhaust's most of it's usefulness in the next ten years, it has a feature to act as a wireless hot-spot, which while I didn't play with it, I thought was a pretty smart feature since if this was positioned properly, it could easily act as a wifi extender in a household that needs one, thus, after the thing is useless or replaced as a media box, it can continue as a wifi extender or web server.
I did have some "wants" though:
1) (the main one) It'd be awesome to have the mic-button on the remote actually trigger "talk to type" mode automatically from all applications. I'm not sure how this could be done easily, and would most likely require another app running as a service at all times, listening for that mapped key/button press to trigger some sort of floating text-entry window that would run the command of copying the completed text entered after talking, and automatically executing the paste function wherever your current cursor location is when the function is complete. If an app like this already exists, it'd help tremendously, since the "talk-to-type" functionality is not currently usable in XBMC, for example. That being said, when I COULD use it, it worked great.
The mic quality was better than expected. I installed Ventriloid and connected to ventrillo with this (you can map the mic button as a push-to-talk from within ventriloid, which was awesome) and it sounded as good as any other mic I've ever used coming through my PC that was also connected to vent in the room next to me. I don't see my friend using ventriloid regularly, but I threw it on there as a bonus for him in case he wanted to.
2) when powering off, often when I'd turn the box back on, I'd be presented with a screen that said "standby or power off". I believe this is a bug in the software, and it isn't a huge concern, bit it's annoying to have to hit the "back" key after turning it on again via remote, and confusing because if you accidentally hit enter you can end up re-suspending the box or shutting it down completely. This is a super-minor issue and interferes with almost nothing, but it is confusing.
3) Remote delay. I loaded a free regular Nintendo emulator on there and popped in Mario Brothers as a test of the "controller mode", there was a half-second to a second delay on Mario "jumping" from the time I pressed the button to when he actually performed the action on screen. This made just about all use of the "controller mode" useless for me, since if we can't play simple mario games, there's really no point. I also played a "super-meat-boy" like game I downloaded for free, non-emulator, and it saw the same response delay. (After the fact I have now realized that I didn't switch the TV to "game mode", so there is a very real possibility that this could have just been my TV, because I didn't change it to "game mode" where refresh is faster - I'll test this with my PC as well tonight and see if I experience the same thing outside of the TV being in a faster refresh mode)
4) This could just be me being an idiot, but I couldn't get Airplay or any of the included similar to work with my samsung galaxy S4. I tried several airplay and airplay-like apps on my phone and none detected the device. If anyone has any instructions on how to make use of that feature I'd love to hear it, since when I toggled it on in the "media center control" (or something along those lines) it didn't seem to make a difference.
5) I couldn't get miracast to work with my S4, I could detect the box and connect to it, but then I'd get an HDCP error on my TV (that I could only read half of because the text started at the bottom of my screen and got cut off). A couple weeks prior I purchased an amazon fire tv stick to sideload XBMC on and I did not have the HDCP issues with that device. There may be another step I was overlooking or something, but I felt like they were just acting "incompatible"... any tips here would be appreciated. (Amazon fire TV stick was returned however, and I would reccomend one of these more powerful android boxes any day, this thing just blew the fire TV stick out of the friggin' water - well worth the money)
6) The on-screen keyboard layout being "staggered" like a normal keyboard was really inconvenient. There are lots of other good android keyboards out there, but I didn't have time to explore them before wrapping it up and mailing it for Christmas. I would find a keyboard that has all the keys "flatly lined up", so up takes you to the key directly above your current selected character, down to the one directly below it, etc. As it is "out of the box", the stock keyboard is annoying because you press down on the remote and it shoots down and to the left, so then you have to press left again to select the key next to it. Then you press up to get back where you were and it shoots up and to the left, so you have to key right again. It might not sound like much, but when you are trying to quickly type via the arrow keys (which is already annoying compared to keyboards), it becomes super frustrating really fast.
All in all, the positives of this machine FAR outweigh the negatives. The remote is excellent and sort of "makes" the whole experience. That being said, I'm going to recommend my friend buy a good wireless keyboard with touch-pad, as that's what I use on my media center and love it, there is just no comparison to a good regular old keyboard with touchpad, it's the best "couch" experience for a media center (especially one with an internet browser) I think. Oh, and it also worked great with the "google remote" app when the feature was toggled on in the Probox2 settings. I mention this because although probox2 includes it's own downloadable remote control APK, it kind of sucks compared to the google one. At least with this, if my friend doesn't get a wireless keyboard and mouse, he'll have an excellent free alternative.