Top positive review
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An awesome Android set-top box, but not meant for non-technical people.
on November 19, 2014
The Vega S89 Elite is a great choice for a HTPC setup. I currently have three hard drives connected to it, and it runs XBMC and various emulators quite well. Of course, I did some tweaking to make it fit my needs, but the point is that the S89 encourages such tweaking, while other big-name Android boxes do not.
Of course, when using Android on a TV (or in my case, a projector) you run into some issues with some apps. The Amazon App Store and Google Play Store both do not play nice with standard remote input and require you to use the mouse function (they're geared toward touch input). Some apps have "swipe" or "drag" functions that are impossible to duplicate with the remote's mouse mode. The best solution is to connect a wireless or Bluetooth mouse, or to get a decent air mouse.
I've connected several controllers to the Vega S89 with varying degrees of success:
► Amazon Fire TV controller: Surprisingly excellent with most emulators and XBMC!
► Mad Catz C.T.R.L.r: Works, but triggers only work in PC mode, and then A & B buttons are reversed.
► Steel Series Free Mobile: Works fine, but has fewer buttons than others, so you're missing some in some emulators.
► MOGA Power A: Works, but needs either MOGA support from apps or a third-party app to make it accessible. Limited controls.
► Xbox 360 wireless dongle for PC: Does not work. Does weird things. S89 Elite didn't seem to like it at all.
► PS3 controllers: Couldn't get them to pair successfully. Gave up.
► Giotek SC-1: With the dongle installed, it does work but all the buttons are mismatched and some don't work for some apps.
I have yet to try a wired Xbox 360 controller. Mainly because I don't like wired controllers very much anymore.
I also put Finless ROM on the Vega S89 because the stock ROM was lacking in a few areas. While I don't like Finless's loading screen, I do like that it's rooted, makes app stores think the S89 is a Nexus 10 (which magically makes it compatible with a lot more apps!) and gives a bit more versatility when it comes to the launcher... Which, by the way, I also swapped out. Currently I'm using Nova launcher, but I can also recommend one called TVLauncher which gives you great big Metro-style panels. I find that Nova is better for my needs because you can always make the icons big and edit the home page however you wish.
I was also happy to find that the Vega S89 gets along well with my Logitech Harmony Smart Control Simple Remote. Every button was programmable and the IR sensor picks up signals from my Harmony Hub without a problem. I have yet to mess with using the Harmony app touch-screen controls to act as a touch/mouse, but I'll get around to it some day. My only programming problem was that I had to edit the on/off behavior with a delay, a press of "down", another delay, and then a press of "OK" to make it turn the S89 off properly, thanks to the S89's pop-up menu that asks if you want to suspend or shut off. It's a credit to Logitech that they allow this kind of programming for their remotes.
I don't have a 4k/UHD TV or projector (yet) but the 4k app seems to work. I can say that every video I've thrown at this box has worked flawlessly. Everything from my 1080p MKVs with DTS pass-through, to Webm and Flash videos have worked brilliantly.
The S89 can read my NTFS-formatted hard drive with no problems. In the tests I've run I've been able to copy, move, and delete files on my NTFS drive, too. Your mileage may vary.
I had some issues with my USB hub and powering two portable hard drives on a single hub, but that was solved by using a desktop external powered drive on the hub along with a non-powered portable drive, and then putting the other portable drive on the S89's other USB port. The power from the powered drive seems to take the burden off the S89's USB port power output.
Plex Media Server works GREAT on the S89. Just make sure you configure it (in Plex's Settings) for TV instead of tablet. It's the same interface I was used to on my Amazon Fire TV, and it works BETTER than the one on the Fire TV (it seems to have no problem with audio in any of my files, unlike the Fire TV which balks at complex audio tracks in Plex).
I did try Kodi (Man, do I hate that name change!) and while it worked fine, it's still in beta and not supporting as many add-ons as XBMC Gotham. If you go with the Finless ROM, you're better off just using the XBMC that is included with that, as it's the same as the one on the stock ROM... At least until Kodi is ready to go for real.
The current version of Netflix for Android works well, but it does NOT play nice with the standard remote control, and will require mouse mode or an actual mouse/air mouse for decent interaction with their current GUI. Netflix is just not aiming their Android Netflix GUI at set-top boxes right now. Hopefully they get wise and change things a bit in the future.
Amazon Video Player for Prime works, but again, requires mouse input (and the Amazon app) to work properly.
Gaming is great. Most emulators run without much problem, and after installing Gamesome Front End and configuring it, I have access to everything from my main screen without needing to paste icons for every emulator on the main page.
Unfortunately, Hulu runs like any other Android device and demands you install Hulu Plus. Since I stopped paying for Hulu (too many ads) I can't give any opinion on Hulu Plus on the S89 at this time. There are plenty of XBMC plug-ins and network websites to take care of the TV shows I watch. Hulu is missing out by blocking standard Hulu access on Android devices.
Finally, a word about design: While I thought the round puck-shaped design was cool at first, I now find it a bit annoying. I causes the cables in back to "fan out" rather than collecting in a nice bundle in the back. As a result of this, I believe the Vega S89 takes up more space than it would if it were a simple cube or box. The rounded shape in back doesn't do any favors for cable management.
The included remote is surprisingly capable and sturdy, though I rarely use it.
I have had the rare, occasional hang-up or restart with this device, but I think most of that comes down to the behavior of individual apps. Still, when judging this as a set-top box compared to other set-top boxes, that's a negative and I'll dock a star from the review because this definitely means it's not for the layman or newbie. You're not going to set this up for your technophobe grandma and have her feel 100% confident with it, like she might with a Roku or Amazon Fire TV. There's a learning curve and occasional troubleshooting, but they're minor for anyone used to working with Android, XBMC, or home theater setups.
Final Verdict: One of the best set-top boxes on the market IF you're tech savvy and have time to tweak and set up to fit your needs. NOT for those looking for a simple media box, but it delivers way more features and app support if you can invest the effort into getting it all set up right.