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Best Android Mini PCs Awards of 2014

December 27th, 2014 Leave a comment Go to comments

I’ve reviewed quite a few Android media players this year, and as 2014 comes to an end, I thought it might be worth writing a best of 2014. But it’s difficult to announce an overall winner since all have some flaws one way or another, I’ll classified by categories: Best Ethernet, Best Internal Storage, … a bit like for “Oscars ceremony awards, based mostly on objective results from my tests. However, and somewhat oddly for a media player, I won’t select any TV boxes based on their video playback capabilities, as so far I haven’t found one that can play most 4K / H.265 videos reasonably well in Kodi, and video playback tests are also subjective. This is obviously a flawed contest as they all are, because in order to be nominated, the media player must have been reviewed on CNX Software. But it should be fun anyway, so let’s get started.

Best Ethernet Performance – Tronsmart Orion R28 Meta

This year has see several boxes with Gigabit Ethernet, pushing all devices with Fast Ethernet (10/100M) out of contest. However, Gigabit Ethernet has been a challenge for most devices, with some devices being a complete failure such as HPH NT-V6 or Kingnovel K-R6 which failed at full duplex transfers, and here we have a clear and undisputed winner with Tronsmart Orion R28 Meta.

Tronsmart Orion R28 (Click to Enlarge)

Tronsmart Orion R28 (Click to Enlarge)

I used iperf -s on my Ubuntu computer, and iperf – t 60 -c ip_address_ubuntu_compute -d command line in Android iperf app for testing.

Throughput in Mbps (Click to Enlarge)

Throughput in Mbps (Click to Enlarge)

Best Wi-Fi Performance – Nagrace HPH NT-V6

Starting this year as well, we saw Android media player featuring 802.11ac Wi-Fi modules such as AP6335, and these are usually at the top of the chart, and the winner is… Nagrace HPH NT-V6 which managed to transfer data above 4.5 MB/s (36 Mbps) on average. It also wins the 802.11n contest at around 3.9 MB/s, barely out-pacing EM6Q-MXQ media player.

Nagrace NT-V (Click to Enlarge)

Nagrace NT-V (Click to Enlarge)

For this test, I’m using ES File Explorer transferring 278 MB between the device and a SAMBA share, and vice versa. Wi-Fi transfer is usually slow enough so that internal flash write speed does not affect the results.

Wi-Fi Throughput in MB/s

Wi-Fi Throughput in MB/s (Click to Enlarge)

Best Internal Storage Performance – Kingnovel K-R6

Internal storage performance may be critical to a system performance. A fast reading speed should yield fast boot and app loading times, and a decent writing speed may avoid user noticeable slowdowns when the system is busy writing, such as when installing apps. The best devices I tested this year are not Android TV boxes, but instead Infocus CS1 A83 tablet, and ODROID XU3-Lite development board’s eMMC module, but since this contest is reserved to Android media player, the winner is Kingnovel K-R6 (previously called K-R68), closely followed by HPH NT-V6, which just won the Ethernet award.

Kingnovel K-R68 4K (Click to Enlarge)

Kingnovel K-R6 (Click to Enlarge)

The tool used to test internal storage performance is A1 SD bench, and I added read and write speed to get the full score.

Best_TV_BOX_Internal_Storage

Internal Storage Read and Write Speeds

Best External Storage Performance – M-195

A device with SATA would have easily won this contest, but unfortunately, none of the TV boxes I tested this year came with a real SATA port, so devices with USB 3.0 ports ought to win that fight, and the inexpensive ($60 to $70), Realtek RTD1195 based M-195 TV box was ahead of the competition, even outperforming other devices with USB 3.0 ports such as ODROID-XU3 Lite or Tronsmart Draco AW80.

M-195 Media Player (Click to Enlarge)

M-195 Media Player (Click to Enlarge)

All tests below were performed with a USB 3.0 hard drive either connected to a USB 2.0 host port, or a USB 3.0 port if available. A1 SD bench was the chosen app.

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s

Best Benchmark Score – Tronsmart Draco AW80 Meta

This one might be controversial, as I may just have given an award to a cheater…with the benchmark crown given to Tronsmart Draco AW80 Meta. But I’ll explain my process below.

Draco AW80 Meta (Click to Enlarge)

Draco AW80 Meta (Click to Enlarge)

The most popular benchmark in Android is clearly Antutu, but many companies tend to “optimize”, an euphemism for “cheat”, their system to score well in Antutu. As you can see in the chart below, Draco AW80 Meta is even ahead of ODROID-XU3 Lite board with a “BIN1” Exynos 5422 processor @ 2.2 GHz, with the Allwinner A80 is only clocked at 1.8 GHz, and both are octa core processors with four Cortex A15 cores, four Cortex A7 cores.

Best_TV_Box_Antutu

Antutu 5.x Results

So instead I also selected Rockchip RK3288, and Amlogic S802 devices, where I ran Vellamo 3.x, and here somehow the quad Rockchip RK3288 based HPH NT-V6 outperforms both Exynos and Allwinner octa-core processors…

Best_TV_Box_Vellamo

Vellamo 3.x Scores

So I decided to give an equal weight to Antutu and Vellamo by multiplying Vellamo score by eight and adding Antutu score, and that’s what I got.

Best_TV_Box_Hybrid_Benchmark ODROID-XU3 Lite has the highest score based on my hybrid score, but since it’s a development board mainly, I had to declare Tronsmart Draco AW80 Meta the winner.

Most Beautiful TV Box – Ugoos UM3

Many people just want a discreet black box, that does the job, and makes you forget it’s even there. But I’ve decided to give a prettiest box of the year award anyway, and after voting unanimously with myself, I selected Ugoos UM3 which comes with a nice black and red enclosure.

Ugoos Um3 (Click to Enlarge)

Ugoos Um3 (Click to Enlarge)

Best Value for Money – MXQ S85

Most of the time, cheap also means bad quality, but not always. One of the exception is MXQ S85 selling for about $50, with above average Wi-Fi and 10/100M Ethernet performance, pretty goos codecs/containers support in XBMC, H.265 support in MX Player, reasonable internal storage performance, and overall very stable firmware. This is obviously not a racing horse, but if all you need of a 1080p media player, with some support for not-so-demanding Android apps, then it should do the job. MK808B Plus TV stick based on the same Amlogic S805 processor might have taken it place for just $30 to $39, but I did not review it, and it could not be nominated.

MXQ S85 (Click to Enlarge)

MXQ S85 (Click to Enlarge)

Best Software Support – WeTek Play

The last award is more like a special mention, as the product is very new, but WeTek Play comes with an amazing number of available firmwares, beside the officially supported Android and OpenELEC images, including Linux distributions such as Ubuntu, and various Android ROMs. It also features a specially designed DVB app with automatic scanning and PVR function, as well as WeCloud Antenna app with over 180 free-top-air channels available over the network. A support forum has also been setup.

WeTek Play (Click to Enlarge)

WeTek Play (Click to Enlarge)

Best Gaming Experience – Tronsmart Orion R28 Meta

An Nvidia Tegra K1 or Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 mini PC would have certainly won here, but I can’t think of any Android mini PCs featuring rthese processors, and among Chinese processors, Rocklchip RK3288 based device offer the best 3D graphics performance, close to Alwinner A80, and much better than Amlogic S802/S812, based on gaming experience and benchmarks such as 3Dmark. Tronsmart Orion R28 Meta is the winner here, as contrary to other RK3288 boxes it supported by Mars G01 and a Sony PS3 wireless controller clone, making it the only mini PC to receive two awards this year.

What do you think about these 2014 awards? Anything you would change?

  1. adem
    December 27th, 2014 at 18:45 | #1

    can we install wetek F/W on other boxes

  2. vpeter
    December 27th, 2014 at 18:57 | #2

    I’m almost sure not. At least not Android.

  3. December 27th, 2014 at 20:00 | #3

    @adem
    The firmware should be protected by the USB hardware key inside the device.
    Accessing to the 180 free-to-air channels also requires product activation with a key provided on a card when you purchase a box.

  4. Someone from the other side
    December 27th, 2014 at 20:03 | #4

    Any Intel based products you could recommend?

  5. Someone from the other side
    December 27th, 2014 at 20:04 | #5

    @Someone from the other side
    I’d probably buy a Nexus Player if I could actually get one…

  6. December 27th, 2014 at 20:13 | #6

    @Someone from the other side
    I haven’t tried any. I thought I might have received a sample by then, but not yet.
    Nexus Player is available on Ebay if you really need one;
    http://www.ebay.com/sch/i.html?_from=R40&_trksid=p2050601.m570.l1313.TR0.TRC0.H0.Xnexus+player&_nkw=nexus+player&_sacat=0

  7. Sam Butler
    December 27th, 2014 at 20:39 | #7

    This post just pushed me over the line to buy an MXQ. After coupon code and store points, picked up the Bluetooth version for $42.

  8. Dietmar
    December 28th, 2014 at 02:20 | #8

    Thank you for the ranking. I would have loved to see completely different categories:
    XBMC performance
    Support/Frequency of Firmware Updates
    Responsiveness

    That would have probably helped me decide between the Open Hour Chameleon, the MiniX Neo X8 or an Raspery Pi.

  9. Greg Dalton
    December 28th, 2014 at 03:31 | #9

    Nice Roundup…Great reviews.

  10. December 28th, 2014 at 11:55 | #10

    @Dietmar
    XBMC performance is tricky to evaluate, as I become less tolerant overtime, and I may add new samples.
    I also don’t have a score board for that one, so it’s difficult to classify. Depending on your video library, a product might be a great XBMC player, while the other might just want to return it. So you really have to check the details to find if a box is for you. Some people also use video plugins, but it’s not something I try in my reviews.

    For support and frequency of updates, the three products you listed should be pretty good. But again, it’s difficult for me, or a single person to evaluate multiple products, since I only spend 2 or 3 days using a product. I can just check if a company has support forums, and they seem to provide updated.

    Responsiveness. All recent boxes have good responsiveness, except a few with either slow internal storage speed, or an older GPU (e.g. Mali-400 MP2) which may feel sluggish in the user interface.

  11. CSylvain
    December 28th, 2014 at 14:48 | #11

    For the Best Value for Money, I would have put the M8S (US $34.10) 😉 http://aliexpress.com/item/Quad-Core-Android-TV-Box-M8S-amlogic-s812-2G-8G-Android-4-4-Kikat-Bluetooth-xbmc/32257399120.html
    Processor : S812
    Memory : 2Gb
    Decoder Format Support : H.265

  12. Dietmar
    December 28th, 2014 at 14:49 | #12

    @cnxsoft
    Thank you for your detailed reply, which helped me a lot.

    Besides my personal choice I am curious to know which media player you are using.

  13. December 28th, 2014 at 15:04 | #13

    @CSylvain
    I have that box, but I have not reviewed it yet, as the firmware was too crappy at the time. I’ve received a new firmware recently, so I’ll try to review it next month.

    That seller has not feedback, so the $34.10 price is probably incorrect. Others sell it for $80+

  14. nghia
    December 28th, 2014 at 15:39 | #14

    Have you identified any stick with good Linux support?

  15. adem
    December 28th, 2014 at 15:59 | #15

    @cnxsoft
    is that price real or is the seller a dud

  16. CSylvain
    December 28th, 2014 at 18:01 | #16

    @cnxsoft
    You’re right, because it sells the same product at different prices.
    I wish you happy holidays. 😉

  17. lippo
    December 29th, 2014 at 05:50 | #17

    @CSylvain
    Thanks for the link – I’ve ordered 2. We’ll see if they are honoured.

  18. December 29th, 2014 at 09:38 | #18

    @Dietmar
    I actually don’t use any Android box, for the rare times I watch a movie (maybe once a month), I just use my main Ubuntu computer with VLC to watch it. It’s connected to my TV, and I have a sofa in my office.

    @nghia
    Not really. If you want to use it as a Linux, these will normally work great, but as a desktop PC, it’s not the same story, unless you don’t need to watch HD videos, or browse websites with flash content.

  19. IvanSvK
    December 29th, 2014 at 13:35 | #19

    Hi all, i need an advice from tester of android devices and developers boards but all advices from all are pleased and welcome too. Sorry for my bad english.

    I am looking for an android device for only these needs:
    smooth surfing in web and watching divX and mkv movies. (i do not need 4K resolution, my tv and family camera are only full hd, my external storage is 2000 GB USB 3 device ). My family digital camera makes movies about 14 Mbps and ripped mkv movies are from 8 till 25 Mbps, so i guess easily play throught USB 2 (can handle 280 Mbps) is still enough, so i do not need USB 3 – am i right ? I am not sure if benchmarks of internal storages are the same as streaming data from movies throught video players (Vlc, MK player….) from external harddisk.

    I do not play games at all.

    I have 3 products in my eye:
    1 – RIKOMAGIC MK902 II 16GB for 130 Euro
    Rockchip 3288, 1,8 Gh, 2 GB memory , Mali-T764, web cam build in
    Test : http://life2go.net/Rikomagick_MK902_II

    But i have noticed problem with overheating while gaming from many users. Problems are only mentioned on web pages – no personal experience with this problem on this device. But if problem is really only while gaming and problem is not while watching movies, this device could be the right one for me.

    I want to know yours view about power needs for rockchip and new A 80. How much energy needs each from them, temps and noise from fans….
    According web – Rockcip is best performance value in many devices with great reputation.

    2, ODROID-XU3 Lite, Cortex A15 & A7 with emmc ver. 5 16 GB 2 GB ram

    170 Euro but a quality micro hdmi cable is a must and it costs from 7 til 22 Euros. So cost is about 190 Euros. USB 3 – superior stat, which i do not need so much i quess…

    This device is in my mark mainly because of its fast web browsing and read and write speeds, but i am not sure if rockcip 3288 will be slower . Then this device is a waste of my money for my needs.
    USB 3 from external storage gains almost 50 MB/s for read – am i right?

    Tests :
    http://www.jarzebski.pl/#prettyphoto%5Bpp_gal%5D/21/

    http://www.hardkernel.com/main/products/prdt_info.php?g_code=G141351880955

    nice test of new A80, ondroid xu3 and rockchip 3288:
    https://plus.google.com/+IanMORRISON/posts/GqarvQxkjFD?pid=6080382597812913650&oid=109451178006683865932

    3, Tronsmart Draco AW80 Meta Octa-Core Android 4.4 Google TV Player w/ 2GB RAM, 16GB ROM, EU Plug price in europe …..

    This device has low speed in usb 3, few bugs that i hope will be solved in future firmwares or in actualizations of programs from google play.

    I guess that new A80 needs less energy than Rockchip or chip in xu3 – am I right????

    New A 80 in some reviews gain reading only around 25 MB/s that can affect streaming of large mkv files from external storage – am i right?? So then i rather buy XU3 board then A80 – am i thinking good??

    So which device should i pick? Need stable device, that can play large mkv rip files. So read speed throught USB ( my external storage is 2000 GB USB 3 device ) is importatn for me too. If these arm devices will have problem to stream videos by video players, i will rather buy a small PC with Windows which will be put behind my LED TV..Help please

  20. JotaMG
    December 29th, 2014 at 17:32 | #20

    @IvanSvK

    well. for that needs, you really don’t need the latest or the fastest device on earth (unless if maybe you need h265 decoding)
    just a example, I can tell you that even a old cubieboard 1 can handle your files, via ethernet or via hd sata, so…
    if you want you can save a lot of money!

  21. December 29th, 2014 at 17:35 | #21

    @IvanSvK
    25 MB/s read speed equals about 200 Mbps, so no problem at all for your videos. Anyway, as @JotaMG mentioned you don’t really need the latest hardware for your needs. Something like MXQ S85 should do. Faster platform will however improve your web browsing experience a bit, depending on your Internet connection.

  22. IvanSvK
    December 29th, 2014 at 18:32 | #22

    ty all.
    i will go then to the cheapest one: RIKOMAGIC MK902 II. With its graphic will be enough for 1080p files i guess even for XBMC.
    By the way, i will not use wifi at all, box will be connect all the time to rj45. I do not need H 265 too.

  23. Al
    January 1st, 2015 at 17:22 | #23

    @IvanSvK
    does it have to be arm ?
    what about an intel 2820 nuc ? bit more expensive (around $200 -250 with 4- 8GB ram and ssd)but a lot more flexible and let you store a lot more content.
    Then can run vlc or your preferred media player of choice with linux or install android

    I’m running a few as development boxes with mint/fedora and they work well as ultra quiet desktops

  24. Al
  25. Toto
    January 2nd, 2015 at 15:30 | #25

    Not a word about image quality…

  26. Liz
    January 10th, 2015 at 00:36 | #26

    How ’bout the minix neo x8?

  27. Liz
    January 10th, 2015 at 00:39 | #27

    Best over all?

  28. January 10th, 2015 at 10:40 | #28

    @Liz
    They all have flaws, so I could not really decide an overall winner.
    MINIX NEO X8-H Plus is OK, with decent firmware support, but did not fare that well in the categories above.

  29. June 12th, 2015 at 20:37 | #29

    i have buy mxq 6 manths ago i have some issue with device shut off every two seconds
    can you please tell me what is the issue with the device

    mac:8a:26:3c:4d:09:23 mxq

  1. October 16th, 2015 at 11:40 | #1