Breaking new ground
What is the Minix Z64A?This is the company’s latest box featuring a whole new internal architecture to compliment the familiar external design. In fact, with its X86 based processor the Z64A is essentially a mini PC running Android 4.4.4, supporting video up to 1080p and designed to be attached to your TV to make it (very) smart.
Having had the more ‘traditional’ X8 Plus and X8-H Plus through the doors for review recently, the Z64A has a tough job just to match the performance of its own stablemates, never mind the raft of other similar devices on the market. The Minix Z64A is widely available online for just under £100, so it definitely needs to cut the mustard to justify the expense but with three software updates and a new custom version of Kodi 15.0 issued in the short time we’ve had the sample, we at least know it’s going to be very well supported.
Minix Z64A SpecsThe Z64A utilises an Intel Z3735F (64-bit) X86 processor with built-in Intel HD Graphics and 2GB of RAM. There’s 32GB of built-in eMMC storage which can be augmented by another 32GB using the Micro SD Card slot. On paper, the 802.11n WiFi capability is a little disappointing with a lack of support for the 5GHz band but our network testing software indicates that it’s not really an issue with consistent speeds of around 48Mbps for both upload and download. There’s no Gigabyte LAN either but, again, for almost all applications the 100Mbps available should be sufficient.
What’s in the Box?Other than a couple of AAA batteries and a television, Minix packs everything you’ll need to get started inside the packaging of the Z64A. You get the main unit, a UK power adapter, HDMI and USB cables plus a multi-language quick start guide.
All you need except a TV is in the box
Design & ConnectionsThe Z64A is actually quite a lot more compact than the X8 range and perhaps resultantly runs quite a lot hotter. The matt black casing measures 115 x 115 x 23mm and sports a non-detachable WiFi antenna. Well, you could remove it but only by brute force and we’d have preferred a screw-in version like others in Minix’s range.
Connections run around the rear and right-hand side of the box and include an HDMI port, 2 USB inputs, a 3.5mm audio jack, a LAN port and a mini SD Card slot. There’s also an inlaid power button to the side and a blue power indicator to the front, that unlike the X8’s, is easy to work out whether it’s on, or not, from a distance.
User InterfaceIt may be a bit generic but the Minix UI is pleasant enough and easy to navigate using the bundled remote control. It’s a tiled screen with Movies, Music, Gaming, Web browsing and online video streaming service 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 iPlayer and YouTube but you’re free to do whatever you like. You are also able to add any app you want as a shortcut at the bottom of the homepage.
Unlike the X8’s there are no attractive menu screens to navigate, instead there’s a stock looking Android page. There’s nothing much that warrants further description, save for the Display submenu which contains the ‘video mode’ setting. Minix is one of the few manufacturers that actively supports self-adaptive refresh rate switching – which is important if you want your video content to look as it should – so we’d advise ensuring the ‘self-adaption’ mode is selected. More on how it performs below.
Video StreamingUnlike the X8 Plus and X8-H Plus, the Z64A had no issues with the BBC iPlayer App but it’s still restricted in terms of the resolution being strangled to standard definition. The same can be said of Netflix and Amazon Instant too but there are very viable workarounds to get 1080p output for Amazon and iPlayer, at least, and you can also get Full HD output via YouTube using the KODI add-ons. We would not advise buying this as a Netflix box, however, as there are devices out there which do it much better. We were also able to test Virgin TV Anywhere, Sky GO, NOW TV and the ITV player and we can report they all worked well, in the confines of what the respective services choose to dish out to Android users.
We were able to successfully stream most of our locally and network stored files with mostly excellent framerate detection, both through the pre-installed MX Player app and via KODI but there’s a slight issue with 50Hz based content in that anything shot at 25fps was output at 25Hz. Now, that’s fine for some content but some TVs are going to struggle with faster paced video and it looks with sports, for example, less than smooth. We’ve notified Minix who are investigating.
HD audio is a struggle for Android devices in terms of both the operating system, itself, and the chipsets that power the boxes. In fact, it takes special provision in software to make it possible and there are very few that can pass DTS or DD HD via HDMI, never mind bitstreaming it. The Z64A can passthrough Dolby True HD, although it’s down-mixed to 5.1 but is unable to handle DTS-HD MA at all at this time so the best you can do is pass-through core 5.1 DTS - or DD. We do have an Android box review coming soon which is supposed to be HD audio compatible so stay tuned if that’s a requirement. It has been reported that X8-H Plus, with Amlogic S812 architecture can now pass HD audio using VidOn Kodi, if you’re prepared to pay an annual subscription for the software. On a more general Android note, you will find that app support is normally better for ARM platforms over anything based on X86.
Excellent video playback and KODI support
Minix Z64A KODI (XBMC)On first release, the Z64A shipped with a Minix tailored version of KODI 15.0 (Isengard) alpha which while working better than stock KODI, did have some framerate detection issues. If you’re an owner looking in and were not yet aware, Minix has since released a version of KODI 15.0 beta 1 which is much better and you can download that here. It is also bundled as part of the latest software update for the device, so if you want to kill two birds with one stone open up the Minix System Update app.
The Z64 has super-fast boot up times, which helps to make it a great proposition as a media box and with the new version of KODI, it’s a very slick one indeed. The processing chomps through all tasks at high velocity and after we installed and tailored the new, (Isengard only) FTV skin, it became easily the best looking KODI box we’ve seen. Of course that’s not specific to the Z64, you can install 15.0 on whatever you like, but there are few small form factor devices out there that will do it better. Be warned that if you use Live TV in KODI that Minix’s version doesn’t yet handle that as well as it could.
As alluded to above, your best way of enjoying iPlayer, Amazon Instant Video and YouTube (to some extent) on the Minix Z64A is by using relevant add-ons within KODI which will, in the case of Amazon and iPlayer, afford maximum available resolution at the correct frame and refresh rates. Most mainstream media players will output them both at 60Hz but the Z64 is capable of identifying when not to do so. As a result watching Vikings, via Amazon, at 1080p24 @ 10Mbps is a rare streamer’s treat. In fact, to see better quality streamed video you would need to invest in an Ultra HD TV with Amazon support.
Music StreamingAfter an initially glitchy experience with the TIDAL android app where it wouldn’t display any text (this makes logging into the service quite tricky, not to mention finding content) we’re happy to report the Z64A handled audio duties really rather well. There’s Bluetooth Version 4.0 on board and with the Minix we were able to stream all our audio files, including FLAC, without issues. You can, in fact, play pretty much anything using the right apps and we can definitely recommend Bubble UPnP for that particularly duty. Some might lament the lack of a digital audio output, other than HDMI, and the 3.5mm audio out isn’t particularly impressive but with the focus on wireless streaming now, it’s not necessarily that big a miss.
Brilliant for games!
GamingThe Z64A eclipsed all the other Android devices we’ve tested, so far, in terms of stable framerates at high settings so the on-board Intel HD GPU is clearly doing a great job here. We ripped through a few races of Beach Buggy Racing at highest resolution, with all the other bells and whistles enabled yet the Z64A didn’t miss a beat. We can say the same of Asphalt 8 and a couple of hours of GTA: Vice City was an absolute blast; that’s not just down to the impressive 2D and 3D graphics performance but also the fact that the Z64A was incredibly responsive to Bluetooth controller input; we were using an Amazon Fire TV controller, for reference. The Antutu Benchmarking software suggests that X8-H Plus is slightly stronger than the Z64 with 3D graphics but our real world experiences didn’t bear that out. As an aside, both scored almost identically overall with the Z64A registering a score of 32,033 against the X8-H Plus at 32,444.
- Very snappy processing
- Strong video & audio support
- Regular software updates
- Easy to use GUI
- Runs KODI brilliantly
- Excellent for gaming
- Sometimes outputs 25Hz when we want 50Hz
- No 5Ghz WiFi
- Antenna is non-detachable
- Less app support for X86 than ARM
Minix Z64A Android Media Player Review
Should I buy the Minix Z64A?The competition the Z64A faces actually comes from close quarters; it arguably has one – and perhaps two – more refined stablemates in the Minix X8 Plus and Minix X8-H Plus. The nature of the market leads to somewhat nebulous pricing online but you can pick up both of those for similar money to the Z64A and, at this time, that’s where mine would go. That’s more a comment on the strength and maturity of those products, rather than any negativity towards the Z64, which is an excellent box in its own right. It features impressive and (mostly) faithful video playback, great audio support – although it’s lacking on the HD audio front – and a whizz-bang tailored edition of KODI 15.0 beta, which runs like a dream.
The interface is easy to use with the bundled remote and, of course, you also have countless Android apps. It’s a great choice for gamers, too, with excellent graphics performance and virtually lag-free Bluetooth controller support. There are some drawbacks with the Android platform, especially in terms of HD video support from the major services – although you can work around all but Netflix using KODI. So, if you’re after a simple plug-n-play solution for those you’d be better looking at a Roku 3 which has just about everything bar Amazon Instant and KODI, or the Fire TV Box or Fire TV Stick which are great in-between solutions with HD Netflix, iPlayer and Amazon Instant as well as the opportunity to sideload KODI.
There are dozens and dozens of other Android boxes you could pick up for far less than the Z64A, in fact, but precious few will handle video as well, nor receive the manufacturer support Minix provides and we expect there’s plenty more refinement of the Z64A just around the corner.
Networking, Internet, Streaming quality8
Set up, Menus, Remote8
Value for Money8
Our Review Ethos
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