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Kimdecent QC802 Review

May 24th, 2013 8 comments

QC802 is one of the cheapest RK3188 mini PCs available on the market, as it sells for just $76 on Kimdecent aliexpress store ($73 after you get an Aliexpress coupon). AndroidPC.es got one sample, and posted a review in Spanish. I’ll post a summary in English of this review, but first let’s have quick look at the specs:

  • SoC – Rockchip RK3188 quad core Cortex A9 @ 1.6 Ghz + Mali-400MP4 GPU
  • System Memory – 2GB DDR3
  • Storage – 8 GB internal flash + micro SD slot (up to 32GB)
  • Connectivity – Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n + Bluetooth 2.1
  • Video Output – HDMI (male)
  • USB – 1x USB Host 2.0, 2x micro USB ports including one for power, one USB Host (or OTG?)

So the specs are comparable to other devices.

QC802 Unboxing Pictures

The package contains the device itself, a 5V/2Apower supply, an HDMI cable, a micro USB to USB cable for power, a micro USB to USB adapter and a user manual.
QC802_Package_ContentThere’s also an unboxing video.

The picture of the device shows the 2 microUSB ports, the microSD slot, the full USB port, and HDMI output. They also mention there’s a recovery button to reflash the firmware in case of issue.

QC802

First Boot and First Impressions

After connecting your input devices to the USB posts, the device to your TV’s HDMI port, and connected the power adapter, you should see a standard Android Home Screen after a few seconds.

QC802_Home_Screen

Volume -/+, power, and full screen icons are all available in the status bar, so that’s a positive. AndroidPC.es guys mentioned that the power button will actually fully turn off your device, and not only the display signal.

Looking into the settings menu, the device runs Android 4.1.1 on top of Linux kernel 3.0.36+, but Android 4.2 firmware is expected soon. Out of the 8GB NAND flash, 1GB is reserved for apps, and the rest of data.

They found Google Play to work well on the device, and only failed to install one app called Mitele (incompatible device), a Spanish video-on-demand service.

The device is not rooted, but apparently you can do that by downloading a Windows program called ZhuoDaShi-2.2.17. I’d assume standard RK3188 root procedure may also work.

Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Tests

QC802 uses Realtek RTL8188EUS, and features an internal antenna fixed to the casing. Performance was found to be pretty good, but there was some disconnections from time to time, but apparently the issue could be fixed with an app called Wifi Fixer to make sure the connection is always active.

They also tested Bluetooth with Bluetooth File Transfer app, and found no issues transfer between their smartphone and the device in either direction.

Benchmarks

They ran Antutu, Nenamark 2, Vellamo and Epic Citadel benchmarks on the device.
QC802_Antutu
The Antutu score (11,735) is quite lower than other RK3188 mini PCs I’ve used which normally achieve close to 15,000 with the stock ROM (e.g. MK908), and around 17,000 with custom ROMs. However, a closer look at the score shows 0 points for 2D and 3D tests so something clearly went wrong with this benchmark. The CPU and RAM scores are about the same as MK809 and T428.

Other benchmarks provide expected results: Nenamark 2 renders at 60.0 fps (the maximum achievable), Vellamo 1500 (HTML5) / 548 (Metal), and the device gets 4,053 pts in 3Dmark.

Video Playback

Video tested (from samplemedia.linaro.org) could all play:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny), 720p/1080p – Audio/Video OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container, 720p/1080p – Audio/Video OK
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container 720p/1080p – Audio/Video OK
  • VC1 codec (WMV), 720p/1080p – Audio/Video OK
  • Real Media (RMVB) 720p RV8/RV9/RV10 – Video OK (No audio in test files)
  • WebM 480p/720p/1080p – Audio/Video OK.

They could also play Bluray video at about 10Mbps and 20 Mbps, as well as a MOV file @ 14 Mbps from a USB mass storage device. However, I don’t know the storage source (network, USB, or flash).
They also streamed flash videos from the Android web browser smoothly.

Conclusions

Pros:

  • Price
  • 2GB RAM improve fluidity between apps.  (cnxsoft: One of the main advantage of having 2GB RAM over 1GB RAM to me, is that you can switch from one application to the other without have to fear Android will kill your app. This is especially true for games).
  • RK3188 performance makes everything very responsive.
  • Good performance of the GPU.

Cons:

  • The firmware still needs adjustment, and an update will be available soon.
  • The wifi signal enters low power mode when not in use.
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Review of Kimdecent CS868 mini PC Powered by AllWinner A31

May 18th, 2013 8 comments

Kimdecent sells some cheap RK3188 mini PCs such as QC802 for $76, but instead of sending me yet another RK3188 device, they agreed to send CS868, an HDMI TV dongle powered by AllWinner A31 quad core processor, so that I could review it. This mini PC comes with 2GB RAM and 16GB Flash, the latter being larger than the 8GB flash found in most other devices, and is available for $95 on Kimdecent Aliexpress store. More details about the specifications are available on Unuiga U28 post since the hardware is the same. In theory, AllWinner A31 has a much slower CPU than Rockchip RK3188, but its PowerVR 544MP2 GPU should outperform the Mali-400 MP4 found it the Rockchip processor, and A31 supports 4K2K video decoding. In this post, I’ll show some unboxing picture, give my first impressions, test Wi-Fi performance, video playback capabilities, and run some benchmarks.

CS868 Unboxing Pictures

I received the device in a parcel with lot of bubble wraps, so the package was not damaged,  but there’s not much to say about the package as it’s just a no name “mini PC for Android OS” without specifications, or other useful information.

CS868 mini PC and its Accessories (Click to Enlarge)

CS868 mini PC and its Accessories (Click to Enlarge)

Inside the package, we’ll find CS868 mini-PC with a metallic casing, a short HDMI cable, a 5V/2A power supply, a microUSB to USB cable for power, and microUSB to USB female cable for the microUSB OTG port of the device, and a not-so-useful user’s manual in English and Chinese explaining how to use Android on mini PCs.

CS868_mini_PC

A closer look at the device reveals a fully metallic casing, HDMI male connector, a micro USB OTG port, a micro SD card slot, another micro USB port for power, and a full USB host port. There are lots of ventilation hole on both side for cooling the device.

You can also watch the unboxing video.

First Boot, Settings, and First Impressions

Since Cortex A7 is supposed to have a lower power consumption, I’ve tried to power the device directly from the USB port of my TV, unfortunately it won’t go further than the boot animation. So I’ve connected the RF adapter for the Mele F10 to the USB port, and used the provided power adapter to power the device, and after a few seconds, the device will boot and you’ll have to choose between 2 launchers:

  • Standard Android Home Screen
    CS868_Android_Home_Screen
  • A 3D launcher designed for TV
    CS868_3D_Launcher

I’ll keep using the standard Home Screen since I find it a bit more convenient with the input device I use.  We have the Volume buttons, and a power button in the status bar, but no option to go to full screen. You’ll also notice a 4K widget, which is an interesting media player I’ll describe in more details in the video section.

CS868_About_TabletI’ve gone to the setup menu to configure Wi-Fi. The device also supports Wi-Fi direct, but not Bluetooth, nor Ethernet, ven with external USB dongles. You can also  setup to device for VPN access, as a hotspot, and add a 3G USB dongle.  The screen section lets you select 720p, 1080i, and 1080p modes at either 50 or 60 Hz, and you can also choose 1080p24. A slider is also available to let you zoom in/out to adjust your screen overscan if needed. There’s an option for Audio output, but clicking on it, just exits the Settings, so audio pass-through is not available. Screen Lock option is available in the System Settings, so if you require your device to be lock this should be possible (I haven’t tried). Developer options all seem available including USB debugging, CPU usage, GPU usage and more.  In the “About tablet” section, we find out CS868 is indeed the model, and this device runs Android 4.1.1 on top of Linux 3.3.0. The firmware is dated 2013/05/06, it’s rooted, and can be downloaded via Kimdecent website.

Google Play worked fine, and I could install most apps I tried such as Antutu, Angry Birds Star Wars, MX Player, YouTube, Dead Trigger, and more. The only exception was Sixaxis Controller, but this is normal behaviour, as the device does not support Bluetooth.

The system is pretty responsive, although It does not feel as fast as RK3188 devices,  and I can experience slowdowns just after boot, give it one or two minutes to be fully responsive, and while installing many apps via Google Play. The device did not hang during use, but there are still some annoying issues. I lost audio 3 times during my few hours of testing (reboot required), Wi-Fi failed to initialize once (reboot again), and at one point the device was stuck in the boot animation “AllWinner Tech A31 Quad Core” forever. Restarting the device did not help, so I had to flash the firmware via PhoenixUSBPro.

Wi-Fi Performance

Contrary to my habits where I have one and only section for Wi-Fi and video testing, today I’ll reserve a full section to Wi-Fi, as I have a story to tell…

As I started to test video playback, and noticed very similar problem to what I experienced with Tronsmart T428, that is 1080p video would just no play smoothly. So I stopped video playback testing, and went straight to my “transfer a file from SAMBA to flash over Wi-Fi” test. The result was catastrophic, as a 278MB file took 7m 46s to transfer, at an average rate of about 600KB/s, by far the worst result I’ve ever seen (Other devices usually take 3 to 4 minutes to transfer this file). Real-time transfer speed shown in ES File Explorer fluctuated greatly but never went over 1MB/s. Two consecutive devices with terrible Wi-Fi performance? Impossible!

I remember once I had a USB Wi-Fi dongle that was extremely slow using mixed 802.11b/g/n setting in my router, and the performance improved massively by setting the router to use 802.11g only. So I did that, and the performance improved, but not enough to my taste: 5m 45s (~800KB/s) , and the transfer started very fast at 1.60M/s until 80%, to collapse at the end around 200KB/s.

Then I had an unthinkable idea, what if my router (TP-LINK WR940N v1) , or rather its firmware, was the cause of my Wi-Fi misery?

I went to the router setup interface and found some information about the firmware:

  • Hardware version WR940N v1/WR941N v4 00000000
  • Firmware: 3.9.18 Build 100104 Rel.36350n.

A Google search quickly directed me to the firmware download page of my router, with a more recent firmware: 3.13.9 Build 120201 Rel.54965n. So it looked like my firmware was just over 2 years older than the latest available version, I downloaded the file, and upgraded it.

Let’s try that file transfer test again: 1m 30s, or 3.09MB/s. That’s the fastest speed I’ve ever seen with any of the little devices I tested. Of course, I can’t use that number to compare to other devices without repeating the test for the earlier devices (which I may do), but at least Wi-Fi transfer speed won’t be the limitation for the video playback tests.

The moral of the story is that if one of your Android mini PC has poor Wi-Fi performance, don’t start to open the case and try to add an external antenna, check your router has the latest firmware revision first.  I’ll have to check the effect this new router firmware has on T428 as well.

CS868 Video Playback

I’ve installed MX Player for this purpose, and made sure the hardware decoder is used, or mention it if software decode is used instead.

Let’s started with samplemedia.linaro.org videos from a CIFS/SAMBA share in Ubuntu 13.04:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny), 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container, 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • VC1 codec (WMV) – Video OK, but audio suffers from short static noise (<1 second) from time to time
  • Real Media (RMVB) 720p – OK for RV8/RV9/RV10, but MX Player switched to SW decode
  • WebM 480p/720p/1080p – OK

I’ve also played several movies in AVI, VOB and MKV container formats, and they could all play, although for some files buffering at the start was pretty long (20 to 30 seconds), and some, but not all, appeared to suffer from audio/video sync issues. MOV videos from my Canon point and shoot camera will buffer as with all other devices I’ve tried (over Wi-Fi). The status bar will automatically hide when playing videos.

I’ve also tried higher bitrate videos:

  • ED_HD.avi (1080p MPEG-4 – 10Mbps) – The start is OK, but in some scenes where the bitrate must increase a lot, the video is very choppy.
  • big_buck_bunny_1080p_surround.avi (1080p H.264 – 12 Mbps) – OK
  • hddvd_demo_1080p.mkv (1080p VC1 – 17.5 Mbps) – The video can’t play smoothly most of the time.

There’s very good support for different audio codecs on the device:

  • AC3 – OK
  • Dolby Digital 5.1 and Digital+ 7.1 – OK
  • Dolby TrueHD 5.1 & 7.1 – OK
  • DTS-MA and DTS-HR – OK

I’ve also tried with one of my 4K2K video samples: HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4. At 60Mbps, it’s impossible to play over Wi-Fi, so I copied to the flash, and played it with MX Player. The only problem is that is uses software decode on that file, so I had to revert to using 4K Video Player included with the device, and it played perfectly.

4K VideoPlayer really showcases the power of AllWinner A31 VPU, as you can see your video file lists in thumbnail, and all 15 thumbnails are playing your videos. You can also open several videos and arrange them in different windows. I tried with 4, and they all seemed to play simultaneously smoothly. Watch the video below to see what it looks like. It may not be that useful, but I find it’s pretty neat.

CS868 Benchmarks

I’ve installed both Antutu 3.3, and Quadrant, but the latter refused to run.

CS868_Antutu

T428 got about 15200 points, and as expected CS868 gets a lower score with 10,559 points. The RK3188 device is almost twice as fast when it comes with RAM, and CPU integer and floating point scores, which is due both because of the difference architecture (Cortex A7 vs Cortex A9), and frequency (1.0 GHz vs 1.6 GHz). The GPU scores are about the same, although I expected A31 to outperform RK3188 in this particular test. The flash write speed seems much better in CS868 compared to T428 (35.8MB/s vs 7.1 MB/s), but I’m not sure how reliable this test is.

Quadrant and Antutu system information show the CPU frequency ranges between 120 and 1008 MHz, the screen resolution is 1280×720, there’s a total of 1660 MB RAM available to the system, the rest being probably reserved for the VPU, and about 1200 MB are available.  The 16GB NAND flash is partitioned into 2 partitions: a 1GB partition for apps with 746MB available, and a 12.24 GB partition that is basically empty.

Inside CS868

CS868 looks like a pain to open, so I skipped that part. Luckily, Linuxium did it before me, and we can still have a look inside.

(Click to Enlarge)

Click to Enlarge

The board is fitted with a largish heatsink.

(Click to Enlarge)

(Click to Enlarge)

Once we removed it we can see AllWinner A31, the 16GB flash, and 4 RAM chipsets, but the pictures are quite not clear enough the see the name of the components. [Update: Better pictures are now available on G+ Mini PCs' Community]

(Click to Enlarge)

(Click to Enlarge)

On the other side, we’ve got four more RAM chipsets, and flash, as well as what looks like a Realtek Wi-Fi module. There are also 6 pads (LED, 3V3, D-, D+, GND, and WPS), but none of those should be useful for serial access. Maybe it’s now possible to debug using D-/D+ pins (USB), I don’t know.

Conclusion

CS868 mini PC has potential, but as it stands the firmware need some improvements, as HDMI audio may cut, and once Wi-Fi failed to initialize. I also had to re-install firmware since the device refused to boot, however I may be partially at fault here, as several times I just disconnected and reconnect power to reboot the device without using the power button first. Performance wise, CPU performance is much slower than RK3188 based devices, and 3D GPU tests appear to be roughly equal according to Antutu, so A31 devices may have to be priced lower than RK3188 to become more interesting. Video playback is where CS868 stands out, it managed almost all files I threw at it, with the only issue being WMA audio, and some long buffering time with a few videos. HDMI pass-though could be a nice feature to have for some.

Concerning Linux support, the main advantage of AllWinner A31 devices such as CS868 is that the source code for Linux and U-boot is already available, and this may take a few more months before RK3188 source shows up. However, performance in Linux is likely to be poor for a quad core devices, and GPU acceleration won’t be available due to the PowerVR GPU. Ian Morrison ran a subset of Phoronix Suite tests in a chroot in Android, and found that for some tests results are about the same or even lower than Rockchip RK3066 devices, mostly those relying on single core performance.

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List of RK3188 mini PCs / HDMI TV Dongles

May 11th, 2013 40 comments

The first HDMI TV stick based on Rockchip RK3188 that I noticed was CloudnetGo CR9, and since then many more similar products have hit the market. I did not write about most of them as “it’s just more of the same” most of the time, but listed some in CloudnetGo CR9 post’s comment section. Today, I’ll provide a (non-exhaustive) list of devices, in no particular order, with a summary of the hardware specifications. I won’t mention Android versions since all of them already run Jelly Bean (Android 4.1 or 4.2). Retail price information, which I got from Aliexpress, Geekbuying, W2COMP, and some other sites, is provided for reference, and includes shipping unless otherwise stated.

Ugoos UG007B

Ugoos UG007B

  • CloudnetGo CR9 - 2GB RAM, 8/16 GB Flash, HDMI male, 1x USB, 1x microUSB – Price Unknown  – See review
  • Tronsmart T428 – 2GB RAM, 8GB Flash, HDMI male,  1x USB, 1x microUSB – $99
  • Rikomagic MK802 IV – 2GB RAM, 8GB Flash, HDMI male,  1x USB, 2x microUSB – $100
  • Ugoos UG802B – 2GB RAM, 8/16 GB Flash, HDMI male, 1x USB, 2x microUSB – $98
  • Ugoos UG007B – 2GB RAM, 8 GB Flash, HDMI male, 1x USB, 2x microUSB – $77 to $85
  • Ugoos MK809 III – 2GB RAM, 8 GB Flash, HDMI male, 1x USB, 2x microUSB – $81 and up
  • Measy U4B – 2GB RAM, 8 GB Flash, HDMI male, 1x USB, 2x microUSB – $100
  • CX-919 – 2GB RAM, 8 GB Flash, HDMI male, 1x USB, 2x microUSB, small external Wi-Fi antenna – $90
  • QC802 – 2GB RAM, 8 GB Flash, HDMI male, 1x USB, 2x microUSB – $76
  • iMito QX1 – 2GB RAM, 8 GB Flash, HDMI male, 1x USB, 1x microUSB, external high gain Wi-Fi antenna – $90
  • MK908 – 2GB RAM, 8 GB Flash, HDMI female, 1x USB, 2x miniUSB – $90 – See unboxing pictures and review.
  • MK919 – 2GB RAM, 8 GB Flash, HDMI female, 1x USB, 2x microUSB – $77
  • MK919A – 2GB RAM, 8 GB Flash, HDMI male, 1x USB, 2x microUSB – $77
  • Cozyswan S400 – 2GB RAM, 8 GB Flash, HDMI male, 1x USB, 1x microUSB, detachable external antenna – $61 to $70 (Factory price).
  • Jesurun NX003II – 2GB RAM, 8 GB Flash, HDMI male, 1x USB, 1x micro USB, detachable external antenna, and webcam – $88.50 (Added on 23/05/2013)

All devices mentioned above also comes with built-in Bluetooth, and a micro SD card. After completing this list, I feel quite disappointed by the lack of options. All devices comes with 2GB RAM and 8GB Flash, and the only variations are with the HDMI port (female/male). the number of USB ports (2 or 3), and some mini PCs features of external antenna (iMito QX1 / CX-919 / Cozyswan S400). Difference in price is sometimes due to the Wi-Fi/Bt module used, as you’ll have to pay about a $10 premium to use a Wi-Fi module supporting 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz as in T428.

The cheapest devices are QC802, MK919(A), and UG007B which you can get below $80.

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Droid Stick A2 Firmware With Google Play Fix

February 2nd, 2013 49 comments

If you have read my previous review of the Droid Stick A2, I was pretty upset about Google Play since I could not install most of the apps. This is now fixed, and Kimdecent has released a firmware upgrade.

Here’s how to upgrade:

  1. Download g02refDongle-ota-20130201.rar
  2. Extract it in your PC, and copy the files (g02refDongle-ota-20130201.zip and uImage_recovery) to the root of your microSD card (Formatted as FAT32)
  3. Insert the microSD into Droid Stick A2
  4. Boot the mini PC normally, and launch the “Upgrade” app
  5. Select Local Upgrade, then select g02refDongle-ota-20130201.zip and click on Reboot and Install Package
  6. Droid Stick A2 will reboot, and it should start upgrading Android.
  7. Done

Since I’ve been messing up with Android and broken something, “Reboot and Install Package” does nothing for me (some permissions issues with /cache/recovery/command), so I could not verify this works or not. Finally, I could install it on the first version of Droid Stick A2 and Google Play now works fine.

In the other, newer, stick I’ve bricked (or sort of bricked), I’ve tried to enter recovery mode by shorting the two large pads below TP14 (See pic), and it does seem to enter a special mode, but my TV does not detect any video signals.

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Kimdecent Droid Stick A2 Review

January 29th, 2013 66 comments

At the beginning of December 2012, I wrote a post about Droid Stick A2 mini PC based on AMLogic AML-8726-MX to show some pictures of the device, but I could not really test as the firmware was not complete, and was promise a working firmware soon. Unfortunately, things did not really go according to plans for this hardware, so the firmware never showed up… Luckily, Kimdecent found another version of the device with basically the same specs, a slightly different casing, and more importantly a “working” firmware. The company was kind enough to send me another sample for review.

Droid Stick A2 Unboxing

Here’s what the new Droid Stick A2 and its accessories look like.

Droid Stick A2 Accessories

Beside Droid Stick A2 mini PC, the package contains a power adapter (5V/2A), a mini USB to USB cable, a short HDMI cable and a user’s manual in English.

A close up shows the device has plenty of ventilation holes, a mini USB and IR connector on one side, and a USB and microSD slot (Not shown in pic) at the opposite side of the HDMI connector.

Droid Stick A2 Top and Side

First Boot, Settings, and First Impressions

Let’s connect a keyboard and mouse to the device via a USB hub, connect the mini PC into the TV, and the power supply to the mini USB port. Within a few seconds, the Android Home Screen should appear.

Android Home Screen (Click to Enlarge)

Android Home Screen (Click to Enlarge)

There are 5 applications available from the home screen: the stock browser, a file browser, music, a (useless) movie player, and the settings.

Droid Stick A2 About MediaboxIn the settings menu, we have options to connect to Wi-Fi, VPN and configure it as a portable hotspot. That’s it no Wi-Fi direct and no Ethernet support. As usual, the Wi-Fi connection was easy to setup. The soft keyboard will pop-up even if I have a USB keyboard attached. However, If you don’t like that you can always install Null Keyboard. The display section allows you to choose between 720p or 1080p (default) video output, but the UI is fixed to 720p. There’s also an option to adjust overscan and set the font size. The Developer Options are available , but the device is not detected at all when I connect it to my netbook or PC via the mini USB port. The “About Mediabox” section shows the model number is “MBX Dongle board (g02refDongle)”, that it’s running Android 4.1.2 with kernel 3.0.8.

There are just a few pre-installed apps on the device. This is normally not a problem, but in the current firmware Google Play is just a disaster, and most application will fail with “this item is not compatible with your device”. This includes Antutu, Quadrant, Angry Birds, Subway Surfer, YouTube, Facebook and a few others. The only app I could install from Google Play is ES File Explorer. This should be easily fixable, possibly but adding some files to /system/etc/permissions, but the device is not rooted, and it looks like the mini USB port only carries power, it’s not detected at all in Linux or Windows, even after enabling USB debugging in the settings. So we’d have to wait for a new firmware, or get the existing firmware to add some missing files. I’ve told Kimdecent about this issue, and they are looking into it. The new firmware fixes Google Play, and I could install all applications I tried.

Apart from this rather annoying Google Play issue, the system feels pretty responsive and stable when using the web browser, checking emails and play videos. I’ve tried to power it up from the USB port of my TV, and it can boot to the home screen, but I will reboot at that time. I’ve also powered it from computers when I tried to access adb. My desktop PC’s USB port could not provide enough power to boot it (I used a USB extension cable), but my netbook USB port could. I’m also surprised at how cool the device is during operation.

Video Playback (and Wi-Fi performance)

There are two media players installed:

  • ES Media Player
  • Video Player

Since Google Play is not working as it should, I used those two players for video playback testing using videos from samplemedia.linaro.org and other sources played via a SAMBA share:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny), 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container, 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container – OK
  • VC1 codec (WMV), 480p/720p/1080p– OK
  • Real Media (RMVB) – FAIL. But MX Player should be able to play RV8/9/10 samples via software decoding.
  • MOV file from Canon camera – 720p videos will stop after a while (due to Wi-Fi performance)
  • FLV videos – OK for most.
  • WebM – 480p OK, 720p and 1080p Fail.
  • MKV (several codecs) – OK. But I could hear some regular audio noise in one video.

Video playback is quite good, as it can play the most common formats, video and audio codecs, without major issues. Sometimes it looks like it starts to play a bit too fast, so the first second may be choppy. However during playback, I had no problem due to buffering except for my camera’s videos, which means Wi-Fi performance is quite good as well. A 278 MB file copy between the SAMBA share to the internal SD card took 4m25s (1.05MB/s), which is still quite slower then Hi802 (1.42 MB/s), but still acceptable with the videos I tested.

I thought one of the main advantages with AMLogic AML8726-MX devices was it could already support XBMC (Android) with hardware decoding. Well, I thought wrong. First, I used XBMC Frodo RC3 for Android, and the UI was very smooth (about 40 fps), but I could not play any videos with hardware decoding. dman left a comment in another post explaining that “There is an official ‘test’ build from XBMC which has HW acceleration across multiple devices.”, so I decided to give it a try and download the latest version in http://ftp.heanet.ie/mirrors/xbmc/test-builds/android/ (xbmc-20130121-3fa9c61-android-hwaccel-armeabi-v7a.apk), but I soon found out that it would not work either, mainly because this version makes use of stagefright which is not supported by AMLogic and AllWinner SoC. I’m pretty sure we’ll eventually get a proper XBMC Android with hw video decoding for this platform, but just not yet, and the only option for now is to use XBMC with an external video player.

Droid Stick A2 Benchmark Results

I’ve installed Antutu 3 and Quadrant on the device with some APKs, and ran the benchmarks.
Droid Stick A2 Antutu

Droid Stick A2 scores 8461 which is not bad for a dual core processor @ 1.2 GHz, and places the device performance between the performances of a Galaxy SII (Exynos 4210) and Galaxy Nexus (OMAP 4460). There was another annoyance during the benchmark: the screen rotated in portrait mode, which is quite inconvenient on a TV…

It’s one of the rare device I’ve tested, where the Quandrant benchmark can actually run properly, and the results look even better than with Antutu 3.0.3 with a score of 3181.
Droid Stick A2 Quadrant

The information tabs in Antutu and Quadrant show the CPU frequency oscillates between 48 (or 96?) and 1200 MHz, the (UI) resolution is 1280×672, the product and board name is g02refDongle, and there’s a total of 913220 KB RAM.

Droid Stick A2 PCB

Let’s see what’s inside the box, and if there are many different with the first version of Droid Stick A2 dongle.

Top of Droid Stick A2 PCB (Click to Enlarge)

Top of Droid Stick A2 PCB (Click to Enlarge)

The very first thing that I’ve noticed is that they got rid of the massive heatsink from the previous version, so we can actually more of the top of the board. This side includes two GeIL RAM chips, AML8726-MX, and the Wi-Fi module (WL-211). We can also notice a proper Wi-Fi antenna, which can explain the good Wi-Fi performance of this mini PC.

Bottom of Droid Stick A2 PCB (Click to Enlarge)

Bottom of Droid Stick A2 PCB (Click to Enlarge)

The bottom side of the PCB features a microSD socket, the flash chip and 2 more RAM chipsets.

Conclusion

Initially, I was disappointed by the device mainly because of the Google Play issue, and the lack of XBMC hardware video decoding support. But the device actually operates smoothly, video playback is good, and Wi-Fi performance is better than most other mini PCs I’ve tried. So far I’ve found several issues that should be fixable with an updated firmware:

  • Google Play – Most applications can’t be installed due to “this item is not compatible with your device”. Fixed with Latest firmware.
  • Screen may rotate to portrait mode. Update: You can fix this yourself, by going to Settings->Display, and uncheck “Application request to change orientation”
  • Soft keyboard not disabled when hardware keyboard is connected.
  • Lack of Ethernet USB dongle support
  • Several audio codecs including AC3 have a short “sshhh” sound every 3 seconds or so. See comment for details.
  • Update: Few games I’ve tried don’t support “mouse” touch (Subway Surfers, Temple Run 2), but Angry Birds Star Wars worked fine for me.

There are probably other issues since I’ve not tested that many apps. Full hardware decoding for XBMC would certainly be an advantage, although it’s also coming to other SoC such as Rockchip RK3066 thanks to the latest XBMC implementation using stagefright. The (apparent) lack of ADB support via the mini USB port could also be an issue for developers.

Kimdecent sells the Droid Stick A2 for $52.99 so it’s price competitive with Rockchip RK3066 mini PCs. [Update: I've informed that Pandawill sells what appears to be the same device, but called MX6, for $51.99]

AMLogic released the “common” source code for Linux kernel, which means we get most of the kernel source, except the part which is customer specific such as drivers, there’s a XBMC Linux port for AMLogic 8726-M3 processors so video playback and GPU drivers (but maybe not X11 accel) are available for Linux. On the contrary, Rockchip never did that directly for its SoCs, but a company released the GPL source code for a Rockchip RK3066 tablet, which allowed the developers’ community to port Linux to RK3066 mini PCs , and eventually release PicUntu. But video playback and GPU acceleration may be a challenge. It will be interesting to see how popular AMLogic dual core mini PCs become, and if the community builds on the platform.

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HiAPAD Hi-802 mini PC Unboxing and Review

January 18th, 2013 16 comments

Kimdecent has just sent me one HiAPAD Hi-802 mini PC powered by Freescale i.MX6 Quad, and running Android 4.0.4 ICS. This is the first quad core HDMI TV dongle available on the market, and it can run both Android and Linux distributions such as Ubuntu since Freescale released the source code for i.MX6 processor family. Today, I’ll just show some pictures of the device, and review the device by running some tests in Android. I’ll try the Ubuntu 11.10 image release for GK802 another day.

Hi-802 Unboxing

I received the package by DHL within 3 days, and it includes Hi802, a 5V/2A power supply, and a USB to microUSB cable.

HiAPad Package, Hi802, microUSB to USB cable and Power Supply

HiAPad Package, Hi802, microUSB to USB cable and Power Supply

Hiapad Hi-802

Hiapad Hi-802 Top, Bottom and Sides

A closer look at the device reveals an aluminum casing with lots of ventilation holes (really needed since the device gets pretty hot). Hi802 features an HDMI male connector, a microSD card slot on the side, a full USB port, and a microUSB port for power.

First Boot, Settings, and First Impressions

Let’s connect a USB hub to the USB port to attach a keyboard and mouse, insert Hi802 into the TV, and connect the power supply to the microUSB port. After a few seconds, we get to the Android Home Screen.

Hi-802 Android Home Screen (Click to Enlarge)

Hi-802 Android Home Screen (Click to Enlarge)

There are just the 5 icons at the bottom of the screen after the first boot, and I’ve installed the other apps subsequently. The mouse pointer may be a bit too large for some people.

Hi-802_About_DeviceIn the settings menu, we have options to connect to Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi Direct, Bluetooth (built-in), Ethernet (USB dongle) , VPN and use tethering. Wi-Fi connection is always the first thing I do, and I had no problem. The good thing is that the soft keyboard does not show up when you edit fields, so you can just use the hardware keyboard normally, and the enter key does what it’s supposed to do. The display section allows you to choose between 720p (default) or 1080p video output, several Developer Options are available (including USB debugging / ADB), and the rest of the settings are standard. In the “About device” section, we can see the model number is “HI-802″, and it’s running Android 4.0.4 with kernel 3.0.35. The build dates from the 15th of December 2012, so I may not have the latest firmware. Mention of “Richtechie” shows up in many mini PCs, so they must be the company behind many of the designs.

There are not many pre-installed apps on the device, except the usual Google apps (gmail, google maps, google play, etc..), as well as ES File Explorer, QuickOffice Pro and SystemPanel. So let’s register with Google Play, and install a few apps. Antutu and Quandrant were the first 2 apps I tried, and I could not install them as Google Play returned “this item is not compatible with your device”. I did not have this problem with some other applications I tried including YouTube, Facebook, MX Player, Android Terminal, and more. I’ve found the problem was because of missing XML files in /system/etc/permissions directory, and the fix is available in ArmTVTech via a firmware update which also roots the device, but I haven’t tried it yet.

Overall the system feels very responsive, and I haven’t experienced crashes or freezes. I once tried to power the device via the USB port of my PC, and it could boot, but the device was unable to detect my USB keyboard or USB mouse. So it seems using the power supply is a must.

Hi802 Video Playback (and Wi-Fi)

There are two media players installed:

  • ES Media Player
  • Video Player

I used those two players for video playback testing, and used MX Player when the test failed. Most of the videos below are from samplemedia.linaro.org and were played via a SAMBA share:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny), 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container, 480p/720p/080p – OK
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container – OK
  • VC1 codec (WMV) – FAIL. There’s no HW support. MX Player can play 480p fine, 720p has some audio cuts, and 1080p plays is very choppy, and plays in slow motion.
  • Real Media (RMVB) – FAIL. However, MX Player can play RV8/9/10 sample.
  • MOV file from Canon camera – 720p videos will stop after a while.
  • FLV videos – OK.
  • WebM – 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MKV (several codecs) – OK. Audio may not play (AC3). This can be fixed by using MX Player and selecting software audio decoding.

I’m pretty happy with the video playback experience with Hi802, as it’s the best of all mini PCs I’ve tried. The only problem is with WMV files, so if you have many VC1 videos, the device may not be for you. This test also shows the Wi-Fi performance is quite decent since I did not experience buffering issues I had with some other HDMI TV dongles.

Linaro videos are not really high bitrate (The highest is 8.6 Mbps), so I’ve also tried to push the system a bit with videos with a higher bitrate:

All 3 files failed to play smoothly via Wi-Fi / SAMBA. Elephant Dream and HDDVD are not supported by the hardware decoder, only Big Buck Bunny is, so this can also affect performance.  A file copy of hddvd_demo_1080p.mkv (278 MB) to the internal SD card took 3m15s (1.42MB/s). Playing from the SD card was a choppy as playing from the network, so this could also be due to video software decoding.

Hi-802 Antutu Benchmark

Even though I could not install Antutu and Quadrant from Google Play, I found some APK and ran the benchmarks.

Hi-802 Antutu 3.0.3

Hi-802 Antutu 3.0.3

The Antutu 3.0.3 score is 8516 which is pretty disappointing, especially when Rockchip RK3066 devices get around 12,000. This places Hi-802 between Samsung Galaxy Nexus (OMAP 4460) and Samgung Galaxy S2 (Exynos 4210). However when we look into the score details something is clearly not right. Hi-802 RAM, CPU integer and floating point are much faster (about the same as Tegra 3 based Transformer Prime),  but what destroys the score are the GPU tests, especially 3D (2D is light green, and 3D is dark green in the bar chart). The SD card read/write performance is not that good either, but this could be because Hi-802 does not use flash, but an internal SD card. During the 3D tests, I noticed that OpenGL ES 1.1 is twice as fast as AllWinner A10 / Wondermedia WM8850 based on Mali-400 (~50 fps vs ~25 fps), but OpenGL ES 2.0 is catastrophic with about 4fps compared to 6fps in my WonderMedia WM8850 tablet. So there must be some Vivante GPU drivers issues here.

Quadrant benchmark could not run as is the case with many other devices, but I could still get into the system information tab. The product name is richtechie_6dq, Quadrant detects an ARMv7 processor with 4 cores, and a Vivante GC2000 GPU (All good), but is unable to detect the CPU frequency (Antutu shows it switch between 790 Mhz to 1500 Mhz, which does not seem correct either). There’s 1GB RAM, but only 834204 KB is available to Android, the rest is probably used by the GPU.

Inside Hi-802 mini PC

I found that opening Hi-802 is easier than other mini PCs, and you have less risk to break the small clips. All you have to do is remove the 2 screws on the side of the HDMI connector, and push the HDMI to take the board out, then you just have to unclip the PCB from the rest of the case.

The top (or is that the bottom) of the board features the microSD card (it can be remove the same way you would do with a SIM card slot), the RAM chips and the Wi-Fi / Bluetooth module. There’s a proper antenna which could explain the relatively good Wi-Fi performance.

Top of HiAPad Hi-802 PCB (Click to Enlarge)

Top of HiAPad Hi-802 PCB (Click to Enlarge)

The bottom of the board have some more RAM chips, Freescale i.MX6 quad, and the external microSD socket. There also a heat transmissive rubber pad on top of the CPU. You’ll also notice 6 through holes at the bottom right of the board. Those are with I2C and UART debugging.

Bottom of Hi-802 PCB (Click to Enlarge)

Bottom of Hi-802 PCB (Click to Enlarge)

Zealz GK802 Video Review

Zealz GK802 and HiAPad Hi-802 are basically the same device, so if you’d like to see it in action, watch Somecooltech1 review below.

Conclusion

Overall I’m very positive about Hi-802 mini PC, as it operates smoothly, video playback is very good, Wi-Fi seems better than other devices I reviewed, and I did not come across major issues. The problems I found were lack of VC1 hardware decoding capability, poor benchmark results due to GPU performance (hopefully fixable with firmware), Google Play issues which are easily fixable, and it overheats a little, although it does not affect its performance/stability. The main problem might actually be its price because at $94 it currently offers about the same performance as Rockchip RK3066 mini PCs sold for $45 to $65, and unless you plan to use Linux, Rockchip RK3066 based mini PCs just seem to be a better choice. If you want to use Linux however, there’s no match in the market for Hi-802 / GK802, as you should be able to get a full Linux distributions with GPU and VPU hardware acceleration, and the UART pins are easily accessible so that you can connect a USB to TTL board in order to access the console, and see U-Boot and the Linux kernel output.

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Kimdecent B12 Rockchip RK3066 HDMI TV Dongle Features a 2MP Webcam

January 7th, 2013 20 comments

Kimdecent has added a new Rockchip RK3066 Android 4.1.1 mini PC to its offering. The device comes with 1GB RAM, 8GB Flash, Wi-Fi & Bluetooth connectivity, and a feature I’ve never seen in any other PC-on-a-stick: a 2 MP camera for video conferencing with Skype or Google talk.

Kimdecent B12Apart from the webcam, the rest of B12 specifications are very similar to MK808:

  • SoC – Rockchip RK3066 dual core Cortex A9 @ 1.6GHz + Mali400 quad core GPU
  • System Memory – 1GB RAM
  • Storage – 8GB ROM + microSD slot (up to 32GB)
  • Connectivity
    • WiFi 802.11/b/g/n 150Mbps
    • Build-in Bluetooth 2.1
  • USB – 1x Full Size USB 2.0 + 2x micro USB ports
  • Video Output – HDMI 1.4 output+ AV output
  • Camera – Build-in 2MP webcam
  • Audio I/O – Mic
  • Misc – Hardware Standby key, software power off key, and recovery hole.
  • Dimensions – 97.5 x 39.8 x 9.8mm
  • Weight – 42g

The package contains Kimdecent B13 Android Mini PC, a power supply, a USB Cable, an HDMI Cable, an OTG cable, an AV cable, an “hold” kit, and a user manual in English.Kimdecent B12 AccessoriesThe “hold” kit (there must be a better word) is used to hold the mini PC horizontally in order to use the webcam. I’m not sure how convenient this is compared to a standard USB webcam connected to a mini PC.

The firmware has been improved with software power off, and video playback is now full screen (Status bar hidden). This is the mini PC with the most features I’ve seen, and it costs $67.99 on Kimdecent shop on Aliexpress. I could not find it on other shops for now.

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