The MiniX Neo X5-116A ($124 list) exists in the middle realm somewhere between a media hub and a desktop-class mini PC. The Neo X5 runs Android 4.1.1 (Jelly Bean), so it is compatible with a large library of Android apps made for tablets and smartphones. And there’s the rub: Since we’re talking about a device without a touch screen, the Neo X5 is excruciatingly hard to use for novices and experts alike. If all you’re going to do is use the Neo X5 as a media player you’ll do adequately, but trying to do anything more with the device will require the patience of Job.
Design and Features
The Neo X5-116A physically looks like a media hub like the Apple TV or the Roku 3, but in actuality the Neo X5 is a mini PC running Android 4.1.1 (Jelly Bean). The Neo X5 is 6.5 inches square by 3 inches thick. The Neo X5 uses that larger area to host a large selection of I/O ports, including a HDMI port, four USB 2.0 ports (one is a micro-USB OTG port), audio in/out, Ethernet, and an SD card reader. Inside the black plastic exterior are an ARM Cortex A9 processor, 1GB of DDR3 SDRAM, and 16GB of SSD storage.
The Minix Neo X5 we reviewed came with an optional Neo-A1-Air1+ Air Mouse ($34.99), which integrates a QWERTY keyboard into a RF remote with air mouse capabilities. The Air Mouse works just well enough to navigate the stock Android environment, though there will be many times where you wished you were using a touch screen. The Air Mouse can be used with games with gyroscopic controls, but playing games that use several on-screen buttons simultaneously is tricky. You can also use a USB keyboard, mouse, or another Android smartphone or tablet to control the Neo X5. However, even when you use a wired keyboard and mouse the Neo X5 still reacts like a touch screen device, bringing up and hiding UI menus, and popping up the on-screen menu every time you need to enter text.
Like any Android Jelly Bean device, you can install a selection of apps from Google Play or from other sources. The Neo X5 we reviewed came with apps like YouTube, Pandora, and Netflix pre-installed. Each of these media apps, along with any other media app you download from Google Play, can be used to stream and playback media like MP3s, MP4 videos, and Flash videos. We had trouble with some files, such as when we tried to view a 1080p Xvid AVI and a 1080p x264 MP4. Other files in similar formats and online streams played fine. When we could get it to work, viewing SD and HD content was smooth and loaded quickly from USB keys or on our high-speed test network.
The Neo X5 has both 802.11 b/g/n 2.4GHz Wi-Fi and 10/100 Ethernet built in. The Neo X5 also supports USB WWAN sticks for use with 3G/4G cellular networks. You can make the Neo X5 act a wireless router to share the wired or USB WWAN connection with a smartphone, laptops, or tablet.
In Use and Conclusions
The Neo X5-116A is a very customizable system, and that will add an intimidation factor for novice users. If you’ve tried building your own home theater PC using Windows, Mac OS, and Linux, the Neo X5-116A might be a good project PC if you want to explore Android as an alternative. It will support the myriad video players in development out there, including beta builds of XBMC, though reports from online forums on xbmc.org warn it’s still a work in progress. If you’re an Android developer, the Neo X5 is an appealing platform, since it’s a rootable Android device that’s relatively inexpensive. Sure, the Raspberry Pi is a third of the price, but it doesn’t come with an OS pre-installed and you’ll have to source an exterior case for the Raspberry Pi. Since it doesn’t have the hype the Raspberry Pi has associated with it, the Neo X5′s forums aren’t quite as lively as the ones for Raspberry Pi, but they are still active.
As a performance machine, the Neo X5-116A is comparable to some of the midrange Android phones and tablets like the Motorola Droid Razr M and Amazon Kindle Fire HD. The Neo X5′s components will get the job done, particularly viewing streaming video when the Mali-400 GPU can help with decoding, but it’ll be left behind by most of the flagship phones and tablets available today. The 1GB of system memory is sufficient for day-to-day use, but it caused a lockup when we ran out of memory during a GFXbenchmark run. If you’re a multitasker, it would behoove you to learn how to quit out of apps to free up system memory.
In summation, the MiniX Neo X5 is made for the Android aficionado that has a lot of time and patience on his hands. You’re OK if you plan on viewing videos and other media from online sources like Google Play, but then again many current smart TVs already have Netflix, YouTube, and HBO Go capability built in. Using a smart TV remote will certainly be easier than trying to use the Android interface without a touch screen. If you want to playback media files off of a hard drive or NAS, then set top boxes like the WD TV Live Hub have better codec support. And if you want to use Android as a normal user without all the aggravation, then a tablet like the Google Nexus 7 is your best bet.
|Internal Storage||16 GB|
|Online Content Services||Hulu Plus, Spotify, Pandora, YouTube, NetFlix|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc