[Updated] Review | Minix Neo U1 S905 TV Box & Neo A2 Lite Air Mouse

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The new Neo U1 from Minix is the latest and greatest from the leading TV Box manufacturer in the market. It is based on the successor of the S805, but is pitted against S812 and RK3368 devices – mostly for one reason: as the new generation of SOCs, it supports 10 Bit video decoding. Meaning, it can basically play all the video formats out there (not really, but mostly).

This review unit was sent to me courtesy of the good people at Minix, so thank you all, and especially John, for the helpful communication.

What’s in the Box?

As can be seen, the box contains the following: the Neo U1 S905 TV Box, MiMO Dual Wi-Fi Antenna, DC Power adapter, HDMI 2.0 cable, USB OTG cable, Micro-USB cable, and the basic IR remote control.

Items
Items

Looks

Not much to be said regarding the look of the box, as Minix uses the exact same design (saves on production and design costs) in each and every model. It is still simple and elegant with the embossed logo on the top, a new IR sensor on the front, and a multitude of ports on the side and back of the box.

Specifications

Chipset Amlogic S905 Quad-core 64 bit Cortex A53
GPU Penta-Core Mali-450 GPU
Memory / Storage 2 GB DDR3 / 16 GB EMMC
LAN Gigabit (10/100/1000M)
Wireless 802.11ac 2 x 2 MIMO Dual-band WiFi (2.4 GHz / 5 GHz)
Bluetooth v4.1
OS Android 5.1.1
Video Output HDMI 2.0 (4K/2K 60 FPS)
Audio Output / Input HDMI out, 3.5 mm Headphone Jack, SPDIF (optical), 3.5 mm Microphone Jack
Power DC 5V / 3A
Peripheral Interface 2 * USB Host, 1 * Micro SD card (TF card) reader, 1 * SPDIF, 1 * 3.5mm Headphone Jack, 1 * HDMI(A type Male), 1 * RJ45 LAN Port
Packing Included 1 * Neo U1 1 * Adapter(DC 5V/3A), 1 * HDMI Cable ,1 * IR Remote Controller,1 * Quick Guide, 1 * Product Brochure

Benchmarks and Testing

All benchmarks have been repeated 3 times and results have been averaged to give a more accurate reading:

* Antutu Benchmark

Antutu1w

The Antutu benchmark tests single core performance over multi-core as it is a better indication of the performance of one device over others in most situations. The box shows that it’s single core performance is not the highest which is consistent with the S905 being a more “budget-y” SOC and not really meant for the high end products. It is still in the top 4 and not too far from the S812 and RK3368 based boxes. * Recently, Antutu benchmark has been updated to version 6 which uses different parameters and sub-tests, so the graphs are still based on the older 5.7.2 version for comparison, but here is the result of the new (6.0.0) Antutu version: 38260

GPU Mark Benchmark

GPU Mark tests 3d gaming performance and also provides a normalized score according to the used screen resolution (for a more accurate result). The test is quite short and should be taken as a supporting result to that of the more serious 3D Mark benchmark. The U1 had issues completing GPU Mark benchmark properly and froze either mid-test or upon the result screen. Issue has been reported to the manufacturer for correction.

A1 SD Benchmark

A1 SD Benchmark tests RAM and flash memory speeds. As can be seen in the provided graphs, RAM is much faster (by a factor of about 40) than flash memory – that is why it’s in smaller amount and is also volatile (does not keep its contents after a reboot). The RAM performance is similar between the new Minix and the Probox2, as both are using a similar chipset. But in both Internal and External SD card tests, the Probox2 seems to take a backseat to the new Minix, probably due to a better implementation of a memory reader/controller.

PC Mark Benchmark

Work performance, Photo editing, Writing and Web browsing Scores
Work performance, Photo editing, Writing and Web browsing Scores

The PC Mark benchmark tests run several productivity tests and the U1 performed well in most of them. It came second only to RK3368 based boxes which have the advantage of four more cores..

3D Mark Benchmark

3Dmark1w

3D Mark benchmark is considered as one of the best ways to test 3d performance on Android (and other platforms). The U1 did not shine in it, coming as number five out of seven in the running. As this is the budget chip of the new AMLogic generation, it is understandable.

The U1 got a new update to firmware version 003 over the weekend (11 December), which was aimed at solving some of the issues that were encountered – especially regarding video playback. However, even with the update and a specialized Kodi version made for Minix, there are still issues:

1. Long pre-buffering for heavy videos (25mb and up) – even if played from local storage
2. Degraded audio noticed in both 4K 10bit TS demo file (http://www.andytather.co.uk/Panda/Files/Video/UHD_PQ_Dive_to_New_World.ts) and in a standard 1080p DTS (2 channels) encoded film (The.Hard.Way.1991.1080p.BluRay.x264-HD4U) may be in others as well. sounds like clipping.
3. Volume bar bug – appears randomly on the screen without any remote control interaction.
4. Low volume audio. Even when defined to keep audio amplification settings on all videos, many (or all) start with low volume.
5. 10 mb bug. Unable to copy to, rename on, or delete from connected USB drives. in my case it’s a 1.5 TB hard drive that works perfectly when connected to any other TV box. Update: when testing with a smaller, 500 GB USB drive, the drive was correctly recognized (size wise) inside ES explorer and allowed copying of files. This indicates to a size related issue with the 10 mb bug. Both drives were formatted in NTFS file system.
6. Reverts to 720p. Upon reboot (not sure if it happens every time, but it happened at least twice so far), the screen resolution reverts to 720p (from 1080p) even when the “return to default resolution” is set to “off”.
7. Add-ons installation – it requires repeat action almost every time since some dependencies fail to install. the installation succeeds the second time, but this happened in any Kodi version I tried (the 16 beta included, the XBMC for minix offered with the firmware upgrade, and SPMC 15)
8. Backing up XBMC/Kodi/SPMC to a folder either on the external USB drive or a MicroSD card failed. (“not writeable” error) It seems that small files can be written correctly to the targets, but bigger files just refuse to write. The targets are formatted in NTFS, and I was using compression in the backup add-on.
9. ES Explorer, a popular file manager is unable to retain passwords for network locations (SMB shares) and asks for them anew even though “remember password” tick box is checked.
10. Torrent streaming Kodi Add-ons still do not work (pulsar, Kmediatorrent and so on) in Kodi or Kodi variants.
11. GPU Benchmark froze either in mid test or at the end of it, forcing to use “home” button and kill the program.

Keep in mind that this is a brand new model and that those are most likely growing pains that will be ironed out in time. All issues have been reported to Minix and should be dealt with in future updates.

Video Playback testing (Using KODI)

Resolution Video Format Local Playback Network (Wi-Fi/LAN) Playback
720p (1280*720) AVC (High@L4.1) Playing correctly Playing correctly
1080P (1920*1080) AVC (High@L4) Playing correctly Playing correctly
 2160P (3840*2160) HEVC (H.265) Playing correctly Playing correctly
4K (4096*2304) AVC (High@L5.1) Playing correctly Long Pre-buffering (on Wifi. PLC over LAN is worse with stutter and buffering)
4K TS HEVC files HEVC (H.265) 10Bit Playing correctly Long Pre-buffering (on Wifi. PLC over LAN is worse with stutter and buffering)
AntutuVideoTester
Antutu Video Tester

Video playback is quite great. 10 Bit TS files that never worked before are now playing quite well, but bandwidth still affects playback, and the heavier the file is, the more of an issue it is. Wi-Fi performance is noticeably better (especially AC/5GHz connection) than LAN over PLC.

  • However, when testing the latest Kodi version (16 Beta 4), I was able to use the WiFi bandwidth and play most of the heavy files consistently. Of course, once there are peaks that exceeds the measured rate (around 85 Mbit/s) the video will start to buffer. There were also a few dropped frames and skipped frames, but as long as it did not buffer, the playback was quite smooth.

Network performance

I tested the network performance using the popular Speedtest.net application from the play store. I tested both WiFi (the fastest WiFi supported – in this case 802.11ac), and wired connection (in my case AV500 Ethernet over power line). My home connection is a synchronous 200 Mb Fiber connection so it would not inhibit the testing (but the Ethernet over power line connection does):

Wired (Ethernet over Power line) connection
Wired (Ethernet over Power line) connection
WiFi - 802.11ac connection
WiFi – 802.11ac connection

Gaming performance

Rooting became available over the last few days, and for review purposes it is quite an important requirement. \

I am now able to measure frame rate and resource usage:

Asphalt 8 Airborne – a 3d graphic intensive racing game. Game performance is fine in standard settings. It is not completely smooth, but is more than playable. I cannot offer frame rate count due to the reasons mentioned above.

Asphalt 8 Airborne

Angry Birds 2 – a popular 2d action game. The gameplay was mostly smooth with a few stutters/jerks (both in picture and audio) along the way. The loading times were a little slower than I expected. Overall, a mediocre to good experience. The GPU/RAM handling may need some polishing to avoid these issues in the future, and it may also have to do with the “Google play services” bug that does not allow games to use it for game play tracking.

angry-birds-2

Walking War Robots – an online robot warfare game that requires a game-pad (I don’t have a game-pad). Game loaded fast and frame rate was quite satisfactory. The A2 Lite gyro function did not work with the game, so only directional arrows were used.

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Conclusions

Did I like it? Yes. As can be seen, on the top, I’ve given it the highest marks I gave any box, even with the list of bugs and mediocre 3d performance. I believe TV boxes are measured more by their video/audio playback performance – unless there are other issues that make them mostly unusable as anything else. In this case the general performance (gaming, web browsing, working) is quite satisfactory even if not the best. Minix has come out with the best (so far) S905 64 bit box in its class. It can play pretty much any video/audio file, and aside from no support for some new HD audio formats (DTS: X and Dolby Atmos) due to lack of licensing, it is another impressive high quality release.

Would I recommend it? Definitely. It still got some rough edges, but with Minix’s excellent support, I am sure it will shine much better in the future. And it is quite future proof.

UPDATE: A first rooting solution has been presented as of yesterday (14 December) on freaktab forum: http://freaktab.com/forum/tv-player-support/amlogic-based-tv-players/minix-aml-devices-x6-x8-etc/543706-root-minix-neo-u1-root-method

And a second one, easier by recovery: http://forum.tronsmart.com/forum/vega-s95/1454-tronsmart-vega-s95-root-method#.VnT_A-h96Ul

The rooting solution has already been reported to work. When I get the time, I will root the box and add information regarding the game performance – if the measuring tools work (rooting does not guarantee it).

The Minix Neo A2 Lite Air mouse (and keyboard) Mini Review

MinixA2Lite7w

When you buy the Neo U1, you may also get the Neo A2 Lite Air mouse bundled with it.

What makes it so great? It is one of the most comfortable air mice I ever used, and it’s also quite versatile thanks to the included keyboard.

It is compatible with Android, Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux.

It takes 2 standard (or rechargeable) AAA batteries which goes on both sides of the Air mouse. (keyboard side)

Range could not be tested seriously (the room is not spacious enough), but the responsiveness is quite good and the buttons are of the softer, quiet kind.

The keys arrangement is quite good, although somewhat different than other remotes. It does not take long to get used to.

Switching to the A2 Lite from another (Minix) air mouse I have (the Neo M1), is like moving up from a banged up Beetle VW to a Mercedes. The experience is on a completely different level and makes the TV box usage that much more enjoyable.

The “Lite” in it’s name refers to it’s bigger brother, the A2 which adds one more function: a built in Speaker and Microphone for voice commands and sound recording.

However, it is not  be aware that it is relatively bulky and heavy for a remote. If you have small hands, you may be better off with another, smaller product. Also, the mouse function reverts to remote function very fast once the remote loses it’s line of sight. On top of that, I was not able to use the Gyro functions on the (two) games I tested.

Neo A2 Lite Conclusions

Did I like it? Most definitely!

Would I recommend it? Yes. I haven’t tested it with other boxes, PCs or devices, but from past experience with other Minix remotes, I am sure it will perform on the exact same level.

I give it…  4.2/5 Stars – Great, with the only thing missing (and I am nitpicking) is true game-pad functionality (the gyro did not work in the games I tested)

So, you like it? You can buy the Neo U1 for 15 USD less, with this discount code (kodilU1) at Geekbuying (minus the A2 lite air mouse) which brings the price down to USD 114.90, Or with the A2 Lite and the same coupon (kodilU1) to bring the price down to 134.90 USD.

Comments

Comments

  1. Bw1986

    I got a Minix Neo U1

    Pros: 1.Nice looking box

    Cons:
    1. They having time zone
    2. My Sound bar volume down turns on the box
    3. It can’t auto switching on video like if you watch something in 1080p and then 720p you have to manually have to close the program goto settings then log-in and find the video then play it each time the dot pitch changes really to much work.
    You’ll find a lot more Cons: if you just read other peoples reviews. Just look at a add for this thing really sounds great but the support “Minix forum” is given from other users something the add tells you nothing about and if you show any sign your upset they say you have a bad attitude and kick you off the forum.

    Conclusion read all the the customer reviews and read all the troubles in the Minix forum before you buy.

  2. Bw1986

    I got a Minix Neo U1

    Pros: 1.Nice looking box

    Cons:
    1. They having time zone issues
    2. My Sound bar volume down turns on the box
    3. It can’t auto switching on video like if you watch something in 1080p and then 720p you have to manually have to close the program goto settings then log-in and find the video then play it each time the dot pitch changes really to much work.
    You’ll find a lot more Cons: if you just read other peoples reviews. Just look at a add for this thing really sounds great but the support “Minix forum” is given from other users something the add tells you nothing about and if you show any sign your upset they say you have a bad attitude and kick you off the forum.

    Conclusion read all the the customer reviews and read all the troubles in the Minix forum before you buy.

    1. Post
      Author
      admin

      Well, Wolley, I can’t say I encountered these issues. I have heard about the volume drop bug, but it only occurred till the new 004 firmware. As to watching videos in different resolutions, I’m using Kodi and have no issues with it. It stretches the videos automatically to my real screen resolution. I did encounter (again, mostly in previous firmwares) cases where the U1 booted up and defaulted to 720p even though it was set to 1080p and auto switch was turned off – but not so much since.
      All in all, this is a brand new model, especially if you compare it to Minix’s other models. Even at firmware 004 (which is amazing considering the small amount of time passed), there are still issues to be expected. If you wish to get something more stable, but still go with Minix’s strong support, opt for the X8-H Plus.
      Cheers!

      1. Bw1986

        That may be true for yours but I did the update of the firmware FW004-20151228 and this is what i’m left with you’ll even find others having the same trouble if you read the Minix Neo U1 forum. I guess what I’m looking for something more like plug-n-play not wanting to be a weekend android programmer. I would have liked to get it fixed.

        Here lets do this I bought a Asus Transformer TF300T in 2012 and everything worked out of the box HDMI, Sound, 1080p and 720p auto adjust and also has a Arizona time zone no remotes mess with it in anyway. I’m still using the same one with never any problem. Now that was what I was hoping to get but didn’t nor did other people.

        All I’m saying is people need to do they’re homework before they buy something.

        1. Post
          Author
          admin

          As I said, this is a brand new model. And people should always do their homework before they buy anything – as you said.
          With this type of device, especially models that are rushed out to keep with competition, you are almost always better off buying a model that’s been out for a while.
          As for Asus Tablet – It uses Nvidia Tegra 3 T30L, which has been around for a while, and got a few rounds of firmware updates. Asus also doesn’t put out devices at the same rate as manufacturers such as Minix or Tronsmart.
          If you’d like a recommendation for a TV Box according to stability and performance rating, I am considering posting a comparison like that soon.

          1. Bw1986

            Thank you for your time I’ll be looking for your comparison post.

            Good luck with your site here.

  3. Bw1986

    FYI the Minix Neo U1 new release today FW005, 20160129.
    I have only checked and have the time zone for Arizona now in not in the main android settings but in the minix time zone settings. I’ll be testing the other things as they go I now the sound bar remote can ever be fixed.

    1. Post
      Author

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