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Review of WeTek Play Android DVB-S2 Satellite Receiver

August 16th, 2014 5 comments

I’ve already posted pictures of WeTek Play and its boards, and now it’s time to do a full review of this Android DVB-S2 receiver / media player. I’ll start by giving my first impressions, going through the system settings, testing my library of video test files, as well as DVB-S2 support via WeTek Theater, and check most of hardware features. I’ll also test network and storage performance, before running Antutu benchmark to make sure the device runs at optimal speed.

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

Contrary to the vast majority of devices, WeTek Play does not come with a basically useless infrared remote, but instead an RF air mouse with an IR transmitter in order to provide true power ON/OFF capabilities. The remote is very nice with all the control you’d expect from an Android remote control, and you can turn on/off mouse mode easily via a button at the back. The only downside are the lack of a QWERTY keyboard, so you to input text with the soft keyboard in mouse mode, and it does not come with a built-in battery, but you need to insert two AAA batteries (1.5V). Rechargeable batteries (1.2V) might also work, but I have not try. So I’ve connected an HDMI cable, an Ethernet cable, my satellite dish cable, and the power supply to get started. It takes a little over 40 seconds to boot. The first time you enter a Welcome Wizard to select your language, network connectivity, check for the latest firmware (OTA update), activate your device, login to  Google Play, and optional configure your satellite reception. Once this is all done you can watch SD and HD TV channels on your TV, record programs to a USB mass storage, access EPG, and more. I’ll go through this in details in the video, and the Live TV / DVB-S2 section of this review, but let’s go to the home screen first.

WeTek Play Home Screen (Click to Enlarge)

WeTek Play Home Screen (Click to Enlarge)

The home screen is simple, and actually I find it nice for TV, but this is a matter of taste. From top to bottom, and left to right, we’ve got the date, the time, and the weather forecast (Some cities are missing, e.g. Bangkok, Chiang Mai are nowhere to be found) on the top row, then 5 icons for (live) TV, Apps, Web, Local (File manager), and XBMC, and in the last row some user configurable shortcuts. There are also some system shortcuts on the left of the screen with Settings, Power Off, Connected to Internet (Network settings) and Recent Apps, as well as shortcuts to external USB drives, but you’re unlikely to ever use these, since these functions are all accessible via the remote control.

The “Setting” icon or remote key takes you to a “Wetek Settings” page with access to Android Settings, Weather Settings,and WeTek Services. The weather settings let you set your location, but as mentioned above some large cities, even capitals, as well as temperature unit, and update period (default is 30 minutes), WeTek Services are actually part of the Android Settings, and you can activate your device, check services status (iEPG and iChannels), that are not currently running, as well as Backup your setting in the cloud thanks to partnership with Box.com, but it’s also not activated in this pre-release firmware.

About_WeTek_PlayLet’s go through the Android settings. In the Wireless & Networks section, we can find Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Ethernet, Data usage, and “More” for VPN and portable hotspot support.Wi-Fi and Ethernet works fine, but the Wi-Fi signal is very low for Wi-Fi, however the most probable reasons for the issue is that I cut the Wi-Fi antenna cable, and did not solder it properly, so I won’t test Wi-Fi performance in this review.

There’s no pass-through configuration in the Sound option, only options for volumes, and notification sounds, hopefully this will be implemented in the final firmware. The Display section lets you adjust the overscan and select the display resolution: 480i / 576i, 720p, 72p50, 1080p, 1080p50, 1080i and 1080i50, so no 24Hz support. The user interface resolution is fixed to 720p. Storage in the device used a single partition for apps and data, which is great news. Since there’s only 4GB flash however, the total space is only 1.89GB, and after installing a few apps, there’s just 863MB available, but it should be enough, if you use the box main as a media center. The “About WeTek” section displays the model number “Play”, Android 4.2.2 running on top of Linux kernel 3.0.50.

I could login to Google Play without issue inside the welcome wizard, and I could search for app, but at first for some reasons, it would not react the to Install button, or show a list of app in the main menu, or after a keyword search, so instead I installed Amazon Appstore without issues to download apps such as Candy Crush Saga, Riptide GP2, Antutu, etc… After a while, I went back to Google Play, and it all magically worked, and I could install the apps I needed for testing, so it may have been a temporary (network) issue.

Amlogic AML8726-MX processor have been around for over two years, and although you lose some performance compared to the latest processors, the firmware is likely to be more stable than recent processor, and that’s exactly the case with WeTek Android firmware, which I found to be pretty solid, except for that initial Google Play issue, and various small issues with their services and DVB which should be enabled/fixed once the product is released. I did not experience any hang ups, or random reboots during the several hours I tested the device.

After several hours use, and just after Antutu benchmarks, and playing a 3D game, the temperature at the top of the box was 41°C, and at the bottom 48°C, with an ambient temperature around 28°C.

I’ve shot a rather long video going through the Welcome wizard, showing the Live TV app (WeTek Theater) capabilities such as PVR and EPG, and showing various parts of the user interface including the settings, and XBMC.

Video Playback

I’ve used XBMC to test video playback as it’s pre-installed and even prominent in the device as it’s the main media player. The videos are played from a SAMBA share on a USB 2.0 hard drive in Ubuntu 14.04, and using the Ethernet connection of the device. SAMBA configuration was a breeze both in XBMC and ES File Explorer.

As usual, I start with videos samples from samplemedia.linaro.org, and even though AML8726-MX does not officially support H.265/HEVC codec, I also tried samples Elecard:

  • 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), 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • Real Media (RMVB) – RV8, RV9, and RV10 all play, but not quite as smooth as on my PC…
  • WebM / VP8 – 480p OK, 720p playing with some audio cuts, 1080p playing in slow motion and frequent audio cuts (Software decoded, VP8 not supported by AML8726-MX)
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container – 360p OK, 720p frames skipping and audio cuts, 1080p slideshow and frequent audio cuts

I’ve also tested some high bitrate videos:

  • ED_HD.avi (1080p MPEG-4 – 10Mbps) – Won’t even start to play
  • big_buck_bunny_1080p_surround.avi (1080p H.264 – 12 Mbps) – OK.
  • h264_1080p_hp_4.1_40mbps_birds.mkv (40 Mbps) – OK
  • hddvd_demo_17.5Mbps_1080p_VC1.mkv (17.5Mbps) – OK

I’ve also tested common audio codecs below, using PCM in XBMC, and I got the same results as with Vega S89:

  • AC3 – OK
  • Dolby Digital 5.1 / Dolby Digital 7.1 – OK
  • TrueHD 5.1 & 7.1 – Can decode audio but frequent cuts and video not smooth
  • DTS-MA and DTS-HR – Can decode audio but frequent cuts and video not smooth

I’ve also tried these “audio test” videos from a USB hard drive, and they can play fine, so the issue only happens while playing from the LAN.

Sintel-Bluray.iso, a free Blu-ray ISO file, could play just fine in XBMC, and I could also navigate between the eight chapters of the video. I skipped 4K videos since these won’t be supported by this hardware.

I also tested several AVI, MKV, FLV and MP4 videos, and they could all play without any issues. So overall this box is very good at playing videos., It won’t support BP8 and H.265 video files properly because the Amlogic SoC do not support these, and if you plan to play Blu-ray with some lowless high-definition audio, playback may not be super smooth over the network, but should be OK from a USB hard drive.

Links to various video samples used in this review and be found in “Where to get video, audio and images samples” post and comments.

WeTek Theater Live TV / Satellite Receiver App

The dual DVB-S2 tuner is one of the key selling point of this Android media player. The app provided to handle Live TV is called WeTek Theater and has been developed in-house. The first time you enter the app, you’ll be asked to setup your antenna. In the final firmware, there will be a list of satellites (per country?), but in this firmware you need to add satellites manually. I selected Thaicom 5 located at 78.5° East to watch Thai TV channles, as shown in the screenshot below.

Dish Setup (Click for Original Size)

Dish Setup (Click for Original Size)

Then I just selected 1 Scan channels with the default options, butit complained I needed to set the TP (Transponders) manually, i.e. configure the channels manually with frequencies ,V/H, etc… So it did not seem like a good idea. Finally, I’ve been told I had to select “Blindscan” mode to automatically scan for channels. It worked, and I got 795 TV channels, and 72 radio stations. Unfortunately, most TV channels are not Free-to-Air, so I could not see them, and I repeated the search with only FTA channels, I ended up to 63 TV channels and 25 radios. I’m not sure whether it’s possible to watch paid channels with this box.

Thailand_DVB-S2

After that I could just click OK to watch TV. For some reasons, I could not locate the most famous TV channels in Thailand such as TV 3, TV 5, NBT… Maybe there were called by other names in the list, I’m not sure. Nevertheless waiting TV works pretty well. Most channels are in standard definition, but at least one of them is in High Definition, so both DVB-S and DVB-S2 work with WeTek Play. Interesting features include EPG (Electronic Program Guide), but unfortunately most of the time I did not get anything, or sometimes the list of program would appear first, and then just disappear, so it may not work just perfectly at this time. If it worked, you would be able to add programs to a “book list” probably used to alert you when you program is ON, or record it. Talking about recording video (PVR), I managed to do just that with the Record button on the remote. You simply need a USB mass storage device (flash drive or USB hard drive), press the button, set the time in minutes, and click OK. I tried for 1 minute, and I could go to ES File Explorer or XBMC to play the recorded video in TVRecordFiles directory in my flash drive. The aspect ratio seemed a little bit distorted however.  There’s also a TimeShifting function, that let you pause and resume live TV, and worked pretty well for the short time I tried it.

To better get an idea of all these features, check the video embedded above in this post.

 Network Performance (Wi-Fi and Ethernet)

The network test consist in transferring a 278 MB file between a SAMBA share and the internal flash, and vice versa, repeating the test three times. Although it’s not a pure network throughput test, but IMHO a real use case. There’s a problem with Wi-Fi due to my own mistake when I opened the box, and I’m not confident I’ve fixed the problem because I can see an unusually low signal, so I’ll skip the Wi-Fi test, as I’ve already spent an enormous amount of time on this box.

I’ve only tested Ethernet with the same procedure. From SAMBA to the flash, the transfer was done @ 3.75 MB/s (1m14s), and 4.08MB/s (1m08s) This compares to Vidon.me AV200 achieving 3.43 MB/s (1m21s), and 4.27MB/s (1m05s). However the first time I did the transfer, it start a a few KB/s before completely stalled, and eventually timing out. This is extremely unusual for Ethernet, and I wonder if unstable Ethernet could explain the initial issues I had with Ethernet (TBC).

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

Bluetooth is built-in the device, and I had no problem pairing it with my Android smartphone. Unfortunately, I could not managed to transfer a picture from my phone to WeTek Play, nothing would happen on the device. I’ve tried Sixaxis compatibility checker, and it says the box support Playstation Wireless Game controller, but my gamepad seems broken (Start key won’t do anything), so I could not confirm it.

External Storage

I could use an SD card formatted to FAT32 successfully.
I’ve also connected my USB 3.0 hard drive with NTFS, EXT-4, FAT32, and BTRFS partitions. Here are the performance results achieved by copying files between the internal flash and the partitions using File ES Explorer.

File System Read Write
NTFS 4.15 MB/s 11.30 MB/s
EXT-4 Not supported
FAT32 3.82 MB/s 12.5 MB/s
BTRFS Not supported

It’s quite clear this test measures the read and write speedd of the NAND flash, so it’s pretty useless to evaluate USB storage performance… So I’ll drop this test in future reviews, and I’ve looked into other apps for testing storage performance. One  storage benchmark app is AndroBench but the benchmarking paths are fixed, so it could not use it. So I finally opted to use A1 SD Bench for storage testing as it supports custom locations..I set the custom path to /storage/external_storage_sda1 for the NTFS, and the red speed is 25.63MS/s, whereas the write speed is 24.81MB/s, both of which are decent transfer speeds over USB 2.0.

USB Webcam

I could use a low cost no brand USB webcam with Skype. I haven’t tested Google hangout.

Gaming

I’ve tested two games: Candy Crush Saga and Riptitde GP2,  I used WeTek air mouse to play candy crush,  and Tronsmart Mars G01 wireless gamepad to play Riptide GP2, and I had no issues. However if you are into games you should clearly buy a set-top box with a more power GPU, but this box is perfectly usable for casual gaming. I’ve also mentioned in my Bluetooth test that Sixaxis should work with this box.

WeTek Play Benchmark

I’ve tested so many devices based in Amlogic AML8726-MX, it’s not really necessary to run many benchmarks. So I’ve just run Antutu to make sure there’s nothing unexpected.

Antutu Benchmark (Click to Enlarge)

Antutu Benchmark (Click to Enlarge)

A score of 12,951 points seems pretty good with a dual core Cortex A9 processor @ 1.6 Ghz, so even though it can’t obviously match the performance of the latest processor, the Antutu is just as expected. For some reasons, most benchmark I used, namely Antutu and AndroBench , switched to portrait mode, so it may also be something that needs to be fixed, as other apps are likely to suffers the same fate.

Conclusion

I have to say I’m pretty please with WeTek Play so far, especially since the final firmware has not been released yet. I found it to be very stable, and virtually no point I felt the system to be sluggish, except for some rare occasions where the mouse pointer seemed to stuck for a short period at times. The team has managed to make full use of the chosen hardware, and most videos are support, I only had problem with VP8 and H.265, as both codecs are not supported by the VPU, and two other video files. It’s not to say everything is perfect, as there are still some bugs, but it looks promising.

PRO:

  • Stable firmware and good performance considering the hardware
  • User friendly remote control with IR for power, and air mouse function, and all buttons you would expect in Android
  • Excellent video playback, including Blu-ray ISO (albeit mitigated by mediocre Ethernet performance, if you play bitrate videos from the network)
  • DVB-S2 tuners with decent app with EPG, PVR, and TimeShifting feature
  • Support for multiple firmware image including Android and Linux, as well as support for CMW  and TWRP recoveries – See list here.
  • OTA updates
  • “True” power off
  • Cloud backup (Although not working yet)
  • External serial console port (for developers)

CONS:

  • Potential instability issues with Ethernet.
  • DVB-S2 app currently requires manual entry of satellite data (name and orientation), and EPG does not seem to work reliably.
  • UI set to 720p, which could be an issue for people requiring “true” 1080p output. But if you mainly want to watch / record DVB-S2 HD channels, this won’t be an issue.
  • No 24Hz support. Issue for people sensitive to small, but regular jitter when frequency is not set right.
  • Pass-through does not seem supported yet.
  • Some apps may wrongly switch to portrait mode.
  • I failed to transfer picture via Bluetooth

The only critical issue for my usage is Ethernet, but otherwise both the hardware and firmware are great. I’ll try Linux on the box, probably next week-end.

WeTek Play is not currently available for purchase, but should be soon, in the meantime, you can check more information on wetek.com.

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Probox2 EX Android TV Box and Remote+ Unboxing

August 15th, 2014 5 comments

W2COMP sent me their Probox2 EX Android TV Box (click link for full specs) powered by Amlogic S802-H processor with DTS and Dolby hardware decoding, 2GB RAM, 16GB eMMC, and the usual USB ports, and wired and wireless connectivity. Probox2 EX is a direct competitor to MINIX NEO X8-H with similar features, and it also comes with an air mouse called Remote+ with gaming and voice control functions. Today, I’ll post some pictures, and videos about the device and its internal, following by a full review sometimes next week.

Probox2 EX Unboxing

I’ve received not one, but two boxes in the package I received via Fedex.

Probox2_EX_Remote+_PackageThe first package contains Probox2 EX Android media player, and the smaller one Probox2 Remote+ air mouse.

Probox2 EX and Accessories (Click to Enlarge)

Probox2 EX and Accessories (Click to Enlarge)

The device comes with a few accessories including a 5V/2A power supply, HDMI and AV cables, an external Wi-Fi antenna, a micro USB to USB cable, an infrared remote control. and a user’s manual in English.

Probox2 EX (Click to Enlarge)

Probox2 EX (Click to Enlarge)

The power button can be found on the top of the plastic enclosure, which IMHO is more convenient than a power button placed in the side, but that’s just a details.  At the back of the device, we’ll find the power barrel, AV output (also used as a firmware upgrade button), an Ethernet port, HDMI output, optical S/PDIF, and on the side, we have all USB ports (2x USB 2.0 host ports, 1x micro USB ITG), as well as a micro SD card slot. An Wi-Fi antenna connector can be found on the other side.

Probox2 Remote+ with RF Dongle and  User guide  (Click to Enlarge)

Probox2 Remote+ with RF Dongle and User guide (Click to Enlarge)

Now let’s open the air mouse package. It contains the air mouse, the RF dongle and a user guide (See side and back of the guide for reference). The main listed features are: 2.4GHz technology, six-axis remote control air mouse + gaming + gyroscope + mic. It can be used with Android, Linux, Mac OS and Windows just like all other air mice. There’s no internal battery, and it’s powered by 2 AAA batteries that are not included.
The video unboxing of Probox2 EX and Remote+ can be watched below.

Probox2 EX PCBA

When I tried to open the device, I was surprised not to see any screws. It can’t be a pain to open casing that are just clipped, but thsi one came off pretty easily. You just need to insert a sharp object such as a flat precision screwdriver on the bottom of the enclosure, between the two plastic parts, and it comes off pretty easily.

Bottom of Probox2 EX Board (Click to Enlarge)

Bottom of Probox2 EX Board (Click to Enlarge)

There’s a steel plate at the bottom, and some pads to protect the board, and maybe help with heat dissipation. But there’s not much to see here, so let’s remove the four screws holding the board.

Top of Probox2 EX Board (Click to Enlarge)

Top of Probox2 EX Board (Click to Enlarge)

There’s an aluminium heatsink on top of S802-H SoC, the Wi-Fi module is AP6330, and the UART pins can be found on the left of PROBOX2 sticker on the bottom right of the board. You’ll also notice the switch for firmware upgrade just behind the AV jack, a solution commonly found in Amlogic devices.

Probox2 EX can be purchased for $149.99 on W2COMP including shipping, and a Probox2 Remote+ air mouse.

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Unboxing of WeTek Play DVB-S2 Android / Linux STB

August 14th, 2014 16 comments

WeTek Electronics, a company based in Hong Kong, has sent me an Android TV powered by Amlogic AML8726-MX dual core Cortex A9 processor. Nothing new here, but I was very very interested in reviewing it because it includes a DVB-S2 tuner, and on top of their stock Android firmware, the company provides various Android and Linux firmware files such as CyanogenMod, ParanoidAndroid, OpenELEC, Linux with Enlightenment desktop environment, Lubuntu 14.04 and so on. Today, I’ll list the hardware specifications of the device, show some unboxing pictures and video, and as usual, open the device to see what’s inside. I’ll provide a full review in one or two more posts.

WeTek Play Specifications

Apart from the DVB-S2 tuner are the serial port, the hardware specifications sound familiar:

  • SoC – Amlogic AML8726-MX dual core Cortex A9 @ 1.5GHz with Mali-400MP GPU
  • System Memory – 1GB DDR3
  • Storage – 4 GB NAND flash + 1x micro SD slot
  • Video Output – HDMI, AV (CVBS + R/L audio)
  • Audio Output – HDMI, AV, and optical S/PDIF
  • Connectivity – 10/100M Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi , and Bluetooth 4.0 (AP6210)
  • USB – 3x external USB 2.0 ports, 2x internal USB 2.0 ports (used)
  • Misc – IR receiver, 3 LEDs for power, Ethernet and Wi-Fi, RS-232 port for serial console.
  • Power – 12V/1.5A

The remote control uses RF technology (air mouse), as well as IR for power on/off.

WeTek Play Unboxing

I’ve received the box via TNT in the package below, together with a registration card with a QR code.

WeTek_Play_PackageThe QR code redirected to a registration page (under development), but in the final product it will simply redirect to WeTek.com, and you just need to click on Activate your device to join the membership section. I’ve been told this can also be done in the box itself with the Welcome Wizard.

WeTek Play and Accessories (Click to Enlarge)

WeTek Play and Accessories (Click to Enlarge)

Inside the package you’ve got two boxes: one with WeTek Play box, and the other with an IR + RF remote control / air mouse, a 12V/1.5A power supply, and, to my surprise, a serial cable (TTL to RS232). There’s no user’s manual with this early sample, but the final product will come with the user’s manual (See PDF), and a HDMI cable. The two AAA batteries required by the remote control are not included, but you’ll probably want to use rechargeable battery with RF remotes as the ones I have need to be recharged every 2 weeks or so.

WeTek Play (Click to Enlarge)

WeTek Play (Click to Enlarge)

The box is made of plastic, but still feel nice. At the front, we’ve got a power button, and the three LEDs for power, LAN, and Wi-Fi, on one side, we can find a USB port, and the micro SD slot, and on the back panel, there are two antenna connectors for DVB-S2, 2 more USB 2.0 ports, the AV port, Ethernet (RJ45), HDMI output, optical S/PDIF, the RS-232 connector, and the power jack.

If you’d rather watch an unboxing video, and listen to my soothing voice, here it is…

Wetek Play Main Board and DVB-S2 Tuner

And now the fun part. The back of the enclosure comes with 4 rubber pads, that I had to remove in order to remove the 5 screws. You’ll also notice the box can be wall-mounted, and there’s a upgrade through hole for firmware upgrade.

Bottom of WeTek Play Enclosure (Click to Enlarge)

Bottom of WeTek Play Enclosure (Click to Enlarge)

The top cover does not pop-up that easily, and I took off the Wi-Fi cable as I opened it, and I’ll need to do some soldering. The final product will come with a Wi-Fi connector, so that issue is less likely to happen for the few people that may open the box.

Top of WeTek Play Board (Click to Enlarge)

Top of WeTek Play Board (Click to Enlarge)

So we’ve got a daughter board with two DVB-S2/S tuners with Availink AVL6211 channel receiver (enhanced version of AVL2108), and the mainboard simply called MX with the Amlogic processor and memory, AP6210 Wi-Fi module, another AVL6211 chip, and two USB dongles with PCB marking reading “USB Token” and “2.4G dongle”.

RF Dongle and USB Token

RF Dongle and USB Token

The one of the top is the 2.4G RF receiver for the remote control, which I find it much nicer than having to connect it outside. I’ve taken it out, and Linux reports it as a USB keyboard mouse by HGBIC (VID=0×2252, PID=0×0100). The dongle at the bottom, is not recognized by Linux, but I’ve been told it’s an anti-copy USB token to protect the firmware, and avoid clones using their firmware. The box won’t boot if you remove this dongle.

Wi-Fi Antenna

Wi-Fi Antenna

Another intriguing part is the way the Wi-Fi antenna is fixed to the enclosure. I’m not sure why it is done that way, but I’ve never seen anything like it in the other boxes I opened.

Bottom of WeTek Play Board (Click to Enlarge)

Bottom of WeTek Play Board (Click to Enlarge)

There’s not that much to see at the back of the board.

WeTek Play does not seem to be available yet, and the company is looking for distributors.

That’s all for today. Next, I’ll probably test Android, especially the satellite receiver part, and post a review, following up by a review of the Linux images with VPU support (hardware video decoding) via Gstreamer (Gplay), but maybe not DVB-S support (TBC).

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Android-x86 4.4 Stable Released for x86 Computers, Laptops, Netbooks…

August 10th, 2014 5 comments

There are several methods to run Android in an x86 computer or laptop, but Android-x86 could be one of the best to do that, and the developers have just released the first stable release for Android-x86 4.4 Kitkat. This release includes support for OpenGL ES hardware acceleration for AMD Radeon and Intel graphics, ffmpeg integration to support HD video playback in apps, and more.

Android-x86 4.4 in VirtualBox (Click for Original Size)

Android-x86 4.4 in VirtualBox (Click for Original Size)

The file to download is android-x86-4.4-r1.iso, which you can then install on a USB flash drive:

sudo dd if=android-x86-4.4-r1.iso of=/dev/sdX

where /dev/sdX is the device name of your usb drive. If you are a Windows users you can use Win32DiskImager utility instead. Android should then boot from USB, and you can decide to run it from USB or install it on you hard drive. I haven’t done this, but instead, I’ve created a new Linux 32-bit virtual machine in VirtualBox without internal storage to try it out quickly in my PC running Ubuntu 14.04.

It boots really fast, but I’ve noticed you can’t use the mouse by default. But the fix is simple: Click on Machine > Disable Mouse Integration in VirtualBox menu. At first you go through a wizard to configure a few things. I was  surprised to see Google Play, YouTube, Gmail… pre-installed in the system, and I could login and download a few apps. Unfortunately, many apps would not run including Antutu benchmark, and Buggy Beach Blitz 3D game, but I saw some OpenGL ES error in the log, so it might be because of VirtualBox graphics drivers, and work better while booting from a USB drive. ES File Explorer and MX Player both worked, and I could play a 1080p/H.264 video smoothly.

The changelog for key features is shown below:

  • Integrate the ffmpeg as the stagefright-plugins to support much more multimedia files. Now we can play HD and full HD videos in apps.
  • Use the latest long term stable kernel 3.10.52 with more drivers enabled. Most netbooks can run Android-x86 in the native resolution.
  • OpenGL ES hardware acceleration for AMD Radeon and Intel chipsets (PowerVR chips are NOT supported).
  • Enhance the installer to support upgrade from previous versions (since ics-x86). The text based GUI installer supports ext3/ext2/ntfs/fat32 filesystems.
  • KitKat style launcher (Trebuchet).
  • Support Multi-touch, Wifi, Audio, Bluetooth, G-sensor and Camera.
  • Support Huawei 3G modem.
  • Simulate sdcard by internal storage.
  • External usb drive and sdcard are auto mounted to /storage/usbX on plugging. Support filesystem vfat/ntfs/exfat/ext4.
  • Support hybrid mode of iso images.
  • Multi-user support (max 8).
  • Support Ethernet (DHCP only).
  • Support 5-point touch calibration on some devices.
  • Support VM like Qemu and VMware.

Android-x86 source code is available via the project’s git repo:

repo init -u http://git.android-x86.org/manifest -b kitkat-x86
repo sync

The complete instructions to build Android-x86 can be found here.

Via Liliputing

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Mele F10 Deluxe Air Mouse Review

August 3rd, 2014 14 comments

Mele F10 is an air mouse using 2.4GHz RF technology, that can be used as a remote, a QWERTY keyboard. and  a wireless mouse. That’s my favourite input device for Android TV Box, and I use it regularly for my product reviews.The company has now introduced an improved model called Mele F10 Deluxe with trick mode buttons, a gaming mode thanks to a gyroscope, and an IR learning function to use it as a universal remote. Mele sent me a sample for evaluation, so I’ll start with some unboxing pictures, and comparing it to the original Mele F10, before testing the remote.

Mele F10 Deluxe Unboxing

I’ve received the air mouse in the package below that highlights the four main features: Air mouse, Game Controller, Wireless Keyboard, and IR Learning.

Mele F10 Deluxe Package (Click to Enlarge)

Mele F10 Deluxe Package (Click to Enlarge)

WE’ll find the air mouse, a tiny RF dongle, a USB cable for charging and user’s manual describing the button, and explaining how to use it, especially the IR learning function.

Mele F10 Deluxe and Accessories (Click to Enlarge)

Mele F10 Deluxe and Accessories (Click to Enlarge)

Let’s compare it with the original F10 model.

Mele F10 vs Mele F10 Deluxe - Remot Side and Dongles (Click to Enlarge)

Mele F10 Deluxe vs Mele F10 – Remote Side and Dongles (Click to Enlarge)

The number of buttons are the same, but they’ve reorganize the key mapping. It’s clearly an improvement as I never used the 8 buttons key on the Mele F10, except Mute, and there are now Mute, prev and next, play/pause button on the first bottom row, and Game, My Box, STB and TV on the bottom row for gaming mode, and IR functions. The only downside is that the mouse button to enable mouse mode is also left click, so you may click when you just want to enable the mouse. The previous mouse button, as been replace with the A.I Power button for IR remote controls. They have miniaturized the RF dongle even further, and although it’s nice in the way, it’s easier to lose, and harder to differentiate with other tiny USB dongles I have.

Mele F10 vs Mele F10 Deluxe - Keyboard Side (Click to Enlarge)

Mele F10 Deluxe (Top) vs Mele F10 (Bottom) – Keyboard Side (Click to Enlarge)

The keyboard side has also changed, as they added a mouse left and right buttons, and the game button, slightly shuffling the keys around. I’m not a big fan of having the Esc and Backspace at the bottom, but I understand choices had to be made, and it’s a plus not to have to turn the remote each time you want to use the mouse mode. There’s still no Tab key to switch between fields, but the down key works most of the time. Other change, not shown on the pictures, has been the replacement of the mini USB port for charging the built-in 500 mAh battery by a micro USB port.

Mele F10 Deluxe Review

The remote is supposed to work in Linux, Android, Windows and MaC OS X, and does not require drivers. I started by plugging it to my Ubuntu 14.04 computer, and it was immediately recognized and usable. But I did most of the testing on an Android TV box, namely Tronsmart Vega S89 Elite. Again, the system had no problem recognizing the RF dongle, and I could use the air mouse straight-away. One complain I had with the original Mele F10 is that the mouse pointer alignment drift over time, and I had to recalibrate it manually, by hitting the sides of the screen. This is clearly an annoyance, but somehow I could get used to. The Mele F10 Deluxe does not have this problem anymore, either because they improve they algorithm, or they get some help from the added 6-axis gyroscope. That’s definitely a plus.

I planned to test the play/pause, prev and next keys with XBMC, but for some reasons it was gone from my box, and I had troubles installing it. So instead I tried the play/pause key in YouTube, and prev/next key to play music, both of which worked just fine. The mouse button, also acting as the left click, is used to enable the mouse, which can be problematic as you may click without meaning to. The mouse will be disabled after one minute of inactivity, and you need to press the mouse button again if you plan to use it. The keyboard works very much like the Mele F10, and I don’t really have complains, except for the missing tabulation key.

One of the new feature is a “Game Controller” mode. There’s only one sentence on the user’s manual about this: “Press Game button to enter into game mode”…. right, it does not help, does it? I guess the remote is suppose to be used like a wheel drive, just like you would do when playing with a tablet thanks to the gyro. So I setup Riptide GP2 and Beach Buggy Games to tilt mode, confidently at least one of them would work, but tilting the remote did nothing at all. First massive failure.

The second major feature is the “IR learning function”. What can go wrong here? Everything is clearly explained in the user’s manual, so I started with recording the main keys of the TV remote control. All keys can be programmed on Mele F10 except Power, Game, My Box, STB and TV buttons. After I thought I had successfully programmed the remote control, I gave it a try, and…. it did not work. Trying again with just the volume+ key, and it failed again. Then I switched to my aircon remote control. no luck. Second massive failure.

You can also watch the video review below, where I compare Mele F10 to Mele F10 Deluxe,  try a few working features, and showing how Game mode and IR learning functions did not work for me.

In conclusion, despite Game mode and IR learning function disasters, Mele F10 Deluxe is a better air mouse than Mele F10 thanks to an improved control of the mouse pointer, and more useful keys (play/pause, prev/next) on the remote side. Mele F10 Deluxe can be purchased for $34.99 on Mele’s Aliexpress store, but I understand you can get $5 discount by mentioning you’ve been referred by CNX Software in the comment field, bringing the price down to $29.99 (Chat with them first to confirm). There are also other sellers on Aliexpress that sell it for the same price, and it can be found on DealExtreme for $31.92. For reference, the original Mele F10 now sells for $27.30 on DX, and as low as $22.49 on Aliexpress.

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Testing VolksPC’s MicroXwin Android & Debian Distribution in MK808 mini PC

July 27th, 2014 7 comments

Earlier this week, I wrote about VolksPC mini PC running Debian and Android simultaneously, and the developers decided to send me a unit for testing. The hardware I received is the popular MK808 mini PC based on Rockchip RK3066 with 1Gb RAM, and 8 GB RAM, but loaded with MicroXwin unified distribution. MicroXwin is an implementation of Windows X that’s not using a client/server protocol, for instead communicates directly with the drivers for better performance, especially on low-end hardware.

I connected MK808 to my HDMI TV, added a USB hub to connect a USB keyboard as well as Mele Air Mouse, and powered up the device. The boot to Debian takes about 30 seconds, and 50 seconds for Android.

Debian with XFCE using microXwin (Click for Original Size)

As you boot it will enter in Debian with XFCE desktop environment, and you’ll notice two files, namely the Quick Start Guide and Release Notes that explain how to get started and configure the system. All configuration is done in Android, where you can configure the network, language and input, and date and time. The release notes provides the login credentials desktop/desktop and root/root in case you need them, explains how to start and start Android from a terminal window in Debian (stop  zygote / start  zygote), and lists some known bugs. To switch between Android and Debian, press Ctrl+Alt+F7, and as you’ll see in the video below, it’s truly instantaneous.

Android in MK808 (Click for Original Size)

Android in MK808 using microXwin (Click for Original Size)

Both operating systems share the same file system, so you can edit files in Debian, and use them in Android, and vice versa. However, I’ve noticed some directories and files may become invisible in Android, such as the Pictures and Documents directory in the user’s directory (/mwinx/home/desktop). For some reasons, I have not been able to login to a SAMBA share in ES File Explorer although a scan can find my server, and plugging in a USB card reader will crash Debian, and sometimes reboot the system. From time to time, I may also lose control of the USB keyboard, and Wi-Fi disconnects pretty often, so stability is not that great with that firmware.

However, I’m been pleased with the performance in both Debian and Android. Programs such as LibreOffice Writer, and Chromium browser both load under 10 seconds in Debian, and the system feels more responsive that I would expect from such hardware. I wanted to install es2gears and glmark2-es2 to test hardware GPU acceleration, but the packages normally used (mesa-utils-extra & glmark2-es2) could not been found by apt-get.

VolksPC_Debian_Chromium_Libreoffice

Back in Android, I’ve tried several apps (ES File Explorer, Google Play, Youtube..), also including games such as Buggy Beach Blitz, and they all work as expected. Running Antutu 4.x benchmark gives a score of 10521 points, which seems about right for a dual core processor with Mali-400MP4 GPU. If you start playing a Youtube Video in Android, and switch to Debian, the video still plays in the background and you can hear the audio. This means for example, that you can start playing music in Android, and work in Debian, or start a task in one OS, and it will still run, if you switch to the other one.

You can watch the video below to check out he boot time for Debian and Android,  the speed of the switch between Android and Debian, Wi-Fi disconnecting, and the loading times of LibreOffice and Chromium.

I’ve also run a few commands in a terminal windows to check memory and storage:

root@localhost:~# uname -a
Linux localhost 3.0.36+ #173 SMP PREEMPT Wed Jul 2 11:53:59 PDT 2014 armv7l GNU/Linux
root@localhost:~# df -h
df: cannot read table of mounted file systems: No such file or directory
root@localhost:~# free -m
             total       used       free     shared    buffers     cached
Mem:           853        815         38          0         24        441
-/+ buffers/cache:        349        503
Swap:            0          0          0
root@localhost:~# lsblk
NAME      MAJ:MIN RM   SIZE RO TYPE MOUNTPOINT
loop7       7:7    0   2.2G  0 loop 
mtdblock0  31:0    0     4M  0 disk 
mtdblock1  31:1    0     8M  0 disk 
mtdblock2  31:2    0    16M  0 disk 
mtdblock3  31:3    0    32M  0 disk 
mtdblock4  31:4    0    64M  0 disk 
mtdblock5  31:5    0   128M  0 disk 
mtdblock6  31:6    0     5G  0 disk 
mtdblock7  31:7    0     4M  0 disk 
mtdblock8  31:8    0   512M  0 disk 
mtdblock9  31:9    0   1.7G  0 disk 
root@localhost:~# 

It’s running an older 3.0.36+ as is common with RK30xx and RK31xx based devices, about 853 MB total RAM is available to the system, and df -h does not work because /etc/fstab is empty.

The take away from my testing is that this unified distribution has great promise, as performance is good, and I did not encounter display issues, but some serious work needs to be done to debug the whole system, as well as improve its stability. It’s not entirely clear however, whether the stability issues are related to microXwin implementation, or the underlying Android firmware for MK808.

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Tronsmart Mars G01 Wireless Gamepad Review on Android

July 21st, 2014 7 comments

One way to play games in Android TV Box with a gamepad is to use a Sony Playstation 3 Controller with Sixaxis Controller app. It can work, but you need a device that supports Bluetooth, with the right drivers, and most games require you to do the mapping manually which is not that user-friendly. Now, they make Android compatible Bluetooth Gamepad such as G910 which seems really nice, but I’ve been told it’s rather hit or miss, and some people have problem with the Bluetooth connection. GeekBuying instead recommends Tronsmart Mars G01, based on 2.4 GHz technology, that requires an external USB RF dongle, but which alledgly does not  have connection problems. It works with Android, Windows, and Playstation 3. The company sent me a sample, so I’ve taken some pictures and tried a few games with Tronsmart Vega S89 Elite TV box.

Tronsmart Mars G01 Unboxing

I’ve received the box in the following package.

Tronsmart_Mars_G01_PackageAt the back, some of the technical specifications are listed:

  • Connecting Tech – 2.4 GHz Wireless
  • Battery Capacity – 600 mAh (Up to 20 hours working time)
  • Working Current – 11 – 20 mA
  • Standby Current – 33 uA
  • Charging Current – 300 mA
  • Vibration – Dual-motor vibration
  • Interface – USB 1.0/2.0/3.0
  • Plug-and-Play – Yes
  • Compatible System – PC/PS3/Android
Tronsmart Mars G01 Package Content (Click to Enlarge)

Tronsmart Mars G01 Package Content (Click to Enlarge)

Inside the package, we’ll find the game controller (very similar to an XBOX 360 Controller), a tiny RF dongle that I connected to the USB OTG adapter on the picture above, a USB to micro USB cable for charging from a power adapter or a computer’s USB port, and a user’s manual in English. The user’s manual provides details about the layout of the controller,. how to use it with Android, Windows or PS3, and the different connection modes:

  • X-input – Used in Windows, and alternative method for Android.
  • Direct-input – Alternative mode for Windows
  • Android – Default mode use for Android.
  • PS3
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A closer look the device shows 10 buttons, on D-pad, two rockers, the micro USB port for charging, and a reset button. There’s also rubber on the sides of the gamepad to a better grip.

Tronsmart Mars G01 Review

The controller was already charged, so I could use straightaway. I chose Tronsmart Vega S89 Elite, because it’s a recent devide and with a Mali-450MP6 GPU it should handle games pretty well. Getting started is very easy, as you just need to insert the RF dongle in a USB port of your Android, press the T (blue) button, and it will connect immediately. As a side note, I did try the USB OTG adapter with the RF dongle on ThL W200 smartphone, but it failed to work, as this Android phone does not support USB OTG.

Back to playing on Vega S89. The first good thing is that you can use the Gamepad to navigate the Android menu. I then decided to try 3 games: Beach Buggy Blitz, Riptide GP, and DeadZone: Shadowgun, and interestingly I had three different results:

  • Perfect support for Riptide GP. I could exclusively use the gamepad from Android Home screen until I quit the game, and Riptide GP automatically detected the game upon the first run, and took me through a short tutorial showing how to use the gamepad. I did notice some lag in the control,. but I think it’s just Tronsmart Vega S89 being not powerful enough to handle the games with full graphics quality at 1080p. Reducing the graphics settings improves playability.
  • Good support for Beach Buggy Blitz, but it requires another input device (mouse or air mouse) to navigate the menu. You have to go to the settings menu to select gamepad mode, and you can define your own keys. Once you start playing, the gamepad works as expected, you can turn, break, recover, pause, etc…
  • Failed to work for Deadzone Shadowgun. I was unable to pass the login screen. None of the gamepad buttons nor my air mouse click could let me enter the game. However, it is reported as working, but maybe you have to enter the game using a remote client (e.g. DroidMote, RKRemote, etc..), and then the gamepad works. I haven’t tried.

You can watch me play the three games with Mars G01 in the video below.


For games that do not support Android mode, you can also use X-Input mode (X mode), but it’s not something I had to try. You can find the documentation for X mode in Android, as well Windows XP 32- and 64-bit driver on Tronsmart download page. You’ll also find a list of supported games in the X mode document. I quickly tried to insert in my Ubuntu 14.04 computer, and it’s recognized as a X-Box 360 pad of you switch to X-mode by pressing the T button for a few seconds:

[16404.342437] usb 1-2.4.3: Product:  Gamepad For Windows
[16404.342441] usb 1-2.4.3: SerialNumber: 00000000
[16404.388390] input: Microsoft X-Box 360 pad as /devices/pci0000:00/0000:00:12.2/usb1/1-2/1-2.4/1-2.4.3/1-2.4.3:1.0/input/input19
[16404.388530] usbcore: registered new interface driver xpad

I haven’t tried to play games, but it looks like it might work in Linux too (TBC).

Inside Tronsmart Mars G01

You’re quite unlikely to feel the need to open a gamepad, unless you plan to convert it into a robot, or need spare parts, but I’ve tried anyway. There are just 7 screws to remove, including one hidden under the “QC Passed” sticker, and the back of the enclosure comes out very easily.

Mars G01 Board with Battery (Click to Enlarge)

Mars G01 Board with Battery (Click to Enlarge)

The blue battery (600 mAh) is predominant, but we can also see the two vibrating motors. By the way, the latter were not used in the Android games I tried, and it looks like it might only work with some PS3 games according the user’s manual.

Two Chips on Mars G01 (Click to Enlarge)

Two Chips on Mars G01 (Click to Enlarge)

Taking the battery out reveals two chips that must be an MCU and the 2.4GHz transceiver with its pretty on-board antenna.

LEDs, Button and Plastic Bits (Click to Enlarge)

LEDs, Button and Plastic Bits (Click to Enlarge)

We can take the board completely out by removing to more screws, but there are just LEDs and buttons to be seen on the other side.

Conclusion

Even though Android and games support for Gamepad is still not perfect, I feel products like Tronsmart Mars G01 are a big step forward in terms of simplicity of use compared to Sixaxis solution for example. It also connects instantly, and does not require separate app/drivers for most popular games, but still provides the tools for key mappings for advanced users.

Geekbuying sells Tronsmart Mars G01 for $29.99, but you can also find it on Aliexpress or Amazon US for the same price, or you can save about $2 by purchasing it on DealExtreme for $27.97.

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