Black (Box) Magic
What is the Minix X8 Plus?This product is essentially sold as a Smart TV box, similar in essence to the like of the Amazon Fire TV and Roku 3 devices. But that doesn’t quite tell the complete story as the Minix X8 Plus runs a near untethered version of the Android operating system and so has the potential to be far more versatile. Followers of our reviews will probably be aware that we recently covered the excellent X8-H Plus and the similarities between the two aren’t only in the name. There are differences, however, with the major ones being that the X8-H Plus can decode Ultra HD/4K signals encoded in HEVC (H.265) and the networking capabilities of the flagship device are also a bit more impressive. Still, the X8 Plus is a very highly specified Android Media device and we’re expecting great things from it also. Read on to see if it meets expectations.
SpecsThe Minix X8 Plus comes running Android 4.4, out of the box and is powered along by a quadcore Amlogic S802 main processor, which is augmented with a Mali-450 GPU. There’s 2GB of RAM, with built-in storage of 16GB, which can be expanded to 32GB via the full-sized SD/MMC Card slot. Dual band 802.11 b/g/n wireless is supported and Bluetooth connectivity is low power Version 4.0. The X8 Plus weighs only 0.290Kg and measures 20 x 127 x 127mm (HxWxD).
What’s in the Box?You get all the cabling and accessories you need, including HDMI, Micro USB and OTG leads together with the Minix infra-red remote in the box. Along with that are a quick start guide and a product brochure in packaging that is easily sturdy enough to survive the long haul flight it took to get here from Hong Kong.
Design and ConnectionsThe X8 Plus is fashioned from robust black casing and features attractive rounded corners. Connections are positioned on the right and back edges and include 3 x USB 2.0 and a micro USB OTG port. The HDMI output is version 1.4 but If you don’t want to take the audio via the HDMI connection, you also have the option of digital optical (Toslink) or a standard 3.5mm stereo jack. Additionally, there’s an inlet for the power adapter, a SD/MMC card slot and an Ethernet port for wired LAN. The blue power light is far too dim, in our estimation, but we’d rather have it that way than it be a distraction when viewing late at night. The wifi antenna is detachable but if you aren’t running wired you’ll need to factor in some extra clearance which can add up to 11.5cm to the height and 4cm to the overall footprint, although it does swivel to become more flat.
Remote ControlThe included remote is an entirely forgettable proposition and offers only limited control over the Andoid OS. It works well enough on the Minix User Interface but many apps require you to mimic a touchscreen control, which is beyond the capabilities of the device so you will probably want to seek out something like an air-mouse, which will give you far better control. We used the Minix A2 remote during the review, which was a largely excellent companion and you can read our extended thoughts on it in the X8-H Plus Review.
An after market controller is almost a must if you're planning anything outside KODI usage
User InterfaceWe really like the Minix UI but, of course, you don’t have to use it if you don’t like. There are various popular launcher apps which work perfectly well with the X8 Plus – e.g. Nova & Square Home Tablet - or you simply might want to launch in to XBMC/KODI using the XBMC Launcher App from Google Play. The advantage of the Minix UI is that it does, of course, support the bundled remote, as well as the numerous aftermarket controllers with TV-like remotes.
The Minix UI takes a leaf out of the Windows 8/10 book and presents a tiled screen with Movies, Music, Gaming, Web browsing and online video streaming services tiles featuring prominently. Under those you can then group any number of relevant apps to make getting at what you want quick and simple. For example, under Online Video Streaming, you might have the likes of Netflix, Youtube etc. but you’re totally free to do what you like.
To the right are further tiles offering quick access to any App markets you have installed and the same goes for any file explorer There’s also a useful ‘All Tasks Killer’ function too and the tiles are very easy to navigate using the directional buttons, for that true set-top-box feel. We’re not at all keen on the app drawer (All Apps) interface, however, which looks very old fashioned and basic and is probably the most convincing reason for you to change the launcher.
There are some advantages in the X8 Plus running Android but it has its drawbacks also. In a nutshell, the plus side is that you can download absolutely any app, but the fact that it’s an operating system originally designed for smaller screens means that many video apps run at sub HD resolutions. Chief amongst, for many, will be Netflix which tops at a disappointing 480p, so if the World’s favourite Internet TV service is one of your needs, you’re probably best looking elsewhere.
In the interim between the X8-H Plus review and this one being published, at least the Amazon Prime Instant Video app is now fully working, albeit only in SD also. There is a workaround using a XBMC/KODI add-on, which will actually give you much better quality than you get from the likes of the Fire TV/Stick or most other smart devices as the X8 Plus will detect and play at the correct framerate, with the right screen refresh frequency. There’s a very similar story with BBC iPlayer; the Android App is very sketchy on the X8 Plus, with frequent black screens and audio glitches but the KODI add-on is brilliant and plays at HD resolutions – again with the right screen referesh and framerate – unlike the majority of streaming boxes.
Also as an update from the X8-H Plus Review, we’ve found that the latest Android TV version of YouTube works very nicely, with full TV remote control but this is limited to 720p via the Minix, unless you again turn to XBMC which will do the full 1080p - can you see a theme emerging here? As we expected, Virgin TV Everywhere and Sky Go work perfectly with this device so it could potentially negate the need for the outlay on a second box and/or a multiroom subscription although, in both cases, the video quality is spoiled somewhat by slightly choppy playback.
This is one of our favourite uses for the Minix family and it runs three of our key services – Spotify, TIDAL & Google Music – brilliantly, and you can also team it with Bubble UpnP to send music from Google and TIDAL to other DLNA/UpNP devices around the home. With TIDAL that can be done at near CD quality thanks to the built-in FLAC support. The X8 Plus contains a very robust Bluetooth transmitter which synced with our Bluetooth speakers perfectly and with support for MP3, WMA, WAV, OGG, OGA, FLAC, ALAC, APE and AAC file types, out of the box, this little box could become your ultimate living room jukebox.
We’re only interested in games with controller support here, for the fairly obvious reason that our TV doesn’t have a touchscreen! You can buy Bluetooth controllers with touch controls but they don’t cut it for us. Driving games are an obvious genre that can be supported either by controller or touchscreen and we downloaded Beach Buggy Racing and Asphalt 8 to the Minix and were very pleased with the performance, in both cases. On paper, and in benchmarking tests, the X8 Plus doesn’t’ quite match the 3D graphics performance of the X8-H Plus but it’s marginal and during play we couldn’t really spot any difference. As an aside, both marginally outperformed the Fire TV, but Amazon’s device does have an advantage in that games are being developed natively for it.
We actually used the Amazon Bluetooth Game controller with the Minix so some of the games we’d downloaded from the Amazon app store played just as well on it and the controller also works well with several of the Android emulators out there. Our particular favourite is Mupen 64 which allowed us to enjoy Mario Kart, SM64 and StarFox all over again, with easy enough button mapping to make the experience very authentic. The retro games all licked along very nicely with no perceptible frame drops, although there was controller input lag noticeable at times.
Outstanding for KODI/XBMC users
Minix X8 Plus – KODI & XBMCLet’s face it, XBMC/KODI is the reason why a lot of these Android boxes are sold and there’s nothing wrong in that, provided it’s done legally, of course. The world’s favourite open-source media player software is almost unlimited in scope and, with the right skin, can integrate Android apps as though they were XBMC add-ons. That led us to ditch the Minix launcher in favour of launching straight in to KODI to act as the front end. The level of customisability is almost mind-blowing but by using the Amber Skin with the Super Favourites add-on, we were able to come up with a UI that the kids could use easily. KODI is also very remote control friendly so it made the Minix experience that bit more lean-back and living room friendly.
The X8 Plus comes with Minix’s own tailored version of XBMC (based on v13.3), which obviously runs nicely but as we’re beginning to run in to the odd compatibility issue, with certain add-ons, on the older version, we installed KODI 14.2 and just copied over the Keymaps (and various other stuff) from the older build in to the userdata folder of the newer version. The result was that we could notice little difference but, If anything, KODI runs that but slicker and it’s very stable on the X8 Plus.
One thing to note, in terms of settings, is that you don’t want to have both the Minix and KODI/XBMC self-adaptive refresh rate switching options engaged (it’s called ‘Adjust Display Refresh Rate..’ in KODI) as it can cause issues. We would advise using Minix’s setting as it’s tailored to the hardware and seems to now work flawlessly. Incidentally, the X8 Plus is also able to playback 4K content at up to 30 frames per second, but the lack of HEVC support is likely to limit the usefulness of that, going forward.
In terms of movie audio, the Minix will decode or pass-through 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 over HDMI and S/PDIF but DTS-HD MA is downscaled to core DTS; there is no support for Dolby True HD. The lack of HD audio support will definitely disappoint some, of course, but we’re told licensing is very costly, although there are some boxes out there which have reportedly overcome the issue in software and we’ll have one of those reviewed very soon!
It’s probably worth adding that Minix has now become a ‘Diamond Sponsor’ of the XBMC foundation so hardware/software integration could be even better going forwards.
- Almost limitless apps
- Excellent video capabilities
- Brilliant for audio streaming
- Superb KODI support
- Plays games very well
- Strong manufacturer support with regular updates
- Lacks HD support from major video apps
- No HD audio
- Android interface not always the easiest on a TV
- Bundled remote isn't great
Minix Neo X8 Plus Review
Should I buy the Minix X8 Plus?
For around £90 (April 2015), the Minix X8 Plus provides an awful lot of smartness for your money but the answer to your question rests primarily on how you intend to use it. Netflix addicts can look away now, unless they only have a standard-def TV as the X8 Plus is throttled in its performance of that app, owing to Netflix policies. For most other key services, there are HD workarounds – and often improvements over the Android apps – by using XBMC/KODI add-ons and fans of that software will be pleased to know it runs sublimely on the X8 Plus. The stream of software updates and support coming from Minix is also reassuring, in a world of no-name boxes that promise much but are, oh so often, left unsupported by the manufacturers.
Movie lovers will also be pleased to know that the Minix software team have built highly effective refresh rate switching in to the X8 Plus, which means your 24 frames per second frame rate content will be displayed correctly, provided your TV supports it – most do, these days. The lack of HD audio support might put some off, however, but otherwise audio performance was super. The ability to stream lossless from TIDAL is a real plus and the Minix also integrates excellently with every other music streaming service we tried, making it potentially the ultimate living room jukebox device.
The impressive horsepower of the X8 Plus made it a great platform for gaming, too, and when teaming it with a Bluetooth controller, it gives you a pretty close approximation of a ‘proper’ console experience. There’s obviously some limitations with games requiring touchscreen operation but support for controllers is ever growing under the Android OS. The X8 Plus also ran a number of emulators extremely well, so those with a retro-bent could get endless hours of entertainment there.
We could go on as there almost endless applications you can employ the Minix to do, but you can take it as read that it makes a fine web browser, email client, social media and communications tool, amongst other things. It’s not for the non-techy, as this stage, but for fans of tinkering, versatility and freedom the Minix Neo X8 Plus comes Recommended.
Networking, Internet, Streaming quality8
Set up, Menus, Remote8
Value for Money9
Our Review Ethos
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