It’s not just about performance, even though that’s what most people look for at first, but also and more importantly about stability.
Manufacturers in this field tend to run with a model into production as fast as they can, so they can keep up with their competitors, and as such they may sell defective, or lacking products.
I see it quite often. Even from market leaders. It makes little difference if the product is a 100+ USD new flagship, or an OEM’s first attempt at a branded TV box. They hurry to make their launch window before new chipsets will come along and make them obsolete.
The result is (mostly) really annoying and disturbing for the end user. The brand new shiny box you spent your (or your parents) hard earned money will have multiple bugs, crashes, freezes, and will generally bring you more grief than joy. At least in the first few weeks if not longer.
What can be done?
Quite simple: don’t go for the newest model. Let others shave and cut on the bleeding edge. Give it time to mature, get several firmware & hardware update rounds before you consider upgrading.
In the mean time, you might be better off getting the previous generation. Yes, it seems counter productive, but for most users it isn’t.
Example: The newest and hottest chipset out there these days is the AMLogic S905, with support for 10 bit HEVC video, great video performance and a low price (as long as you keep off the known brand path).
However.. Most boxes out with this brand new chipset have repeating bugs. The infamous 10 MB bug (connected large USB hard drives show up as having 10 MB capacity and don’t allow large files to be written and prohibit file operations on existing content), compatibility in existing Kodi version is only partial and use of customized versions with special codecs is quite common. Even general performance is showing issues with Google play services crashes and other symptoms.
In the two market leader offerings for this chipset – the Minix U1, and the Tronsmart S95 Vega, a few firmware updates already ironed out some of the issues encountered. That’s what the extra money is for – good tech support.
But even so, the products are so new, you can never tell what other issues will pop up.
So, better options for the non-early adopters are to take a step back. In this case, it’s AMLogic S812 (or even S802), Rockchip RK3288 or Hi3798M V100. The boxes (especially the branded ones) based on these chipsets may not have all the bells and whistles offered by the newer S905, but they do offer stability, more features courtesy of multiple firmware updates (built in samba server for instance), and a much better user experience.
As I mentioned before, it’s not just the hardware that counts. The software side is just as important, so you’ll need to make sure that the brand you pick is one which offers persistent and reliable (and enduring) support for your product – even several years after it came out to market. This is not just for the firmware updates, but also for issues that occur during regular usage – that may require a hot re-flash or other advanced user intervention, even after the warranty lapses. This stipulation shortens the list of viable candidates considerably, but I see it as an advantage rather than an obstacle.
Notice that the top two are the older models – based on AMLogic S802 and AMLogic S812, and the third and last place is the new AMLogic S905 based Minix Neo U1 – that got in despite the short comings that still plague it, but thanks to the continuing support and rapid improvements that firmware updates had shown over the last month.
I did not include HiSilicon based models even though they are somewhat stable, because their lacking integration into Kodi makes them less desirable for the average user. I also did not include the aforementioned RK3288 simply because I did not get to review one of those till now. As for Windows 10 boxes, I’ve only tested two so far, and their stability is still lacking. It may be due to overheating issues, or to a need in better software-hardware integration, but for now they don’t really make the cut when it comes to stability.
In conclusion, choose wisely, and consider your real needs – not just what’s the newest and shiniest. Being on the bleeding edge usually involves some metaphorical bleeding of your own, and getting a model that has been around for a while and gone through several rounds of improvements may be exactly what you need, even if it means giving up on some advanced features which are likely to be seldom or even never used.