First Look at the UG007 and Other Android 4.1+ MiniPC Devices

Background Articles:

Latest Updates:

Many articles about Tronsmart and similar quad-core devices were transfered to a new Tronsmart MK908 and Other Quad-Core RK3188 MiniPCs and TVBoxes article on 8/25/2013.


Introduction and Background

imageIncreasing sales of battery-powered smartphones and tablet computers have generated a large demand for CPUs that deliver high-performance computing together with low power consumption and small physical size. Currently, the majority of these low-power CPUs use 32-bit ARM architecture. According to Wikipedia, ARM architecture describes a family of RISC-based computer processors designed and licensed by British company ARM Holdings. ARM Holdings reports that, in 2010 alone, producers of chips based on ARM architectures reported shipments of 6.1 billion ARM-based processors, representing 95% of smartphones, 35% of digital televisions and set-top boxes, and 10% of mobile computers.

imageMost tablet and many netbook devices use the ARM Cortex A-Series (ARMv7) system on a chip (SoC) CPUs. Dual-core and, more recently quad-core, Cortex-A9 CPUs combined with ARM Mali or similar graphic processing units (GPUs) are a popular choice for today’s tablet, netbook and TV set-top box devices. Quad-core Cortex-A9 CPUs are beginning to appear in higher-end tablets and other portable devices. Chinese semiconductor manufacturers, including Rockchip and Allwinner, are major producers of Cortex-A9 CPUs under licenses from ARM.

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The majority of portable computing devices powered by ARM CPUs run Google’s imageAndroid operating system. According to Wikipedia:

Android is a Linux-based operating system[12] designed primarily for touchscreen mobile devices such as smartphones and tablet computers. Initially developed by Android, Inc., which Google backed financially and later bought in 2005,[13] Android was unveiled in 2007 along with the founding of the Open Handset Alliance: a consortium of hardware, software, and telecommunication companies devoted to advancing open standards for mobile devices.[14] The first Android-powered phone was sold in October 2008.[15]

Android is open source and Google releases the code under the Apache License.[12] This open source code and permissive licensing allows the software to be freely modified and distributed by device manufacturers, wireless carriers and enthusiast developers. Additionally, Android has a large community of developers writing applications (“apps“) that extend the functionality of devices, written primarily in a customized version of the Java programming language.[16] In October 2012, there were approximately 700,000 apps available for Android, and the estimated number of applications downloaded from Google Play, Android’s primary app store, was 25 billion.[17][18]

The quest for lower-cost computing devices to supplant traditional PCs and laptops led to the production of netbooks, a category of small, lightweight, legacy-free, and inexpensive laptop computers, many of which run the Android OS. Netbooks commonly use solid-state rather than fixed-disk data storage and limit onboard storage capacity to reduce manufacturing cost. Subscription-based Internet (cloud) storage providers, such as The Box, DropBox, Microsoft SkyDrive and Google Drive, and media packagers like Netflix and Amazon Instant Videos supplement on-board storage. The netbook category appears to be in limbo because the incremental price reduction doesn’t compensate for the devices’ operating limitations.

The availability of low-cost HDTV sets with multiple High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) inputs, combined with the economy of Chinese CPUs, GPUs and manufacturing processes, has created a new category of miniature, low-power, computing devices without displays, keyboards and pointing called Mini-PCs, PC-sticks or TV-boxes. These devices, most of which which cost between US $40 and $100 and run Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) or later, consist of an approximately 1.25 x 3-inch (30 x 75 mm) printed circuit board (PCB) with CPU, GPU, RAM, NAND storage and other integrated-circuit chips soldered to both sides. A micro-USB connector accepts 5V power, and a full-size USB connector accommodates input devices, and other peripherals. (Most Mini PC devices also support Bluetooth peripherals.) A micro-SD slot enables upgrading to a maximum 32 GB of additional storage. A male HDMI connector delivers 720P or 1080P video and stereo audio signals to a HDTV or conventional PC monitor. Built-in WiFi (802.11b/g/n with an internal antenna) provides Internet connectivity. You can use a USB Ethernet dongle to connect to wired networks.

Benedict Evans asserted “Android/ARM has become a new de facto platform for any piece of smart connected electronics”

Benedict Evans (@BenedictEvans) explained The Meaning Of Really Cheap Android in an 11/20/2013 article for the Seeking Alpha blog:

image… Then there’s this TV dongle – no screen, but does it have a “tablet” chip? A “phone” chip? If you used it to watch YouTube, what would Google think it was? (Note also the memory card slot, used for side-loading pirate movies.)

Screen Shot 2013-11-20 at 8.51.14 pm.png

Now what about this, from Steelcase? An meeting room door with a 7″ capacitive touch screen. To a component maker, this is also a tablet. I have no idea if it runs Android today, but if it doesn’t, it probably should. And if Nest doesn’t, the copies of it will.

RoomWizard_NEW_10-0003449.jpg

The important dynamic here is that a combination of very cheap off-the-shelf chips and free off-the-shelf software means that Android/ARM has become a new de facto platform for any piece of smart connected electronics. It might have a screen and it might connect to the internet, but it’s really a little computer doing something useful and specialized, and it probably has nothing to do with Google. [Emphasis added.]

As should be obvious, this makes counting total “Android” devices as though they tell you something about Google or Apple’s competitive position increasingly problematic. But to me, pointing out that Android doesn’t necessarily compete with iPad is rather boring – what’s really interesting are the possibilities that these new economics might unlock …

Read Evans’ entire article here.


Consumers Reluctant to Connect SmartTVs to the Internet, use Standalone Devices Instead

Update 5/30/1013: Jamie Beach (@jamie_beach) reported UK Consumers lacking ‘conscious desire’ to hook up Smart TVs in a 5/23/2013 post to the IPTV blog:

imageDespite a growing ownership base of Smart TVs, there is still a lack of conscious desire to use the sets to connect to the Internet, with most consumers preferring to connect their televisions to the Internet with other devices like games consoles, according to new research from UK pollsters YouGov. [Link added.]

imageAn estimated 13% of the UK population is now thought to own a Smart TV, although less than half of these owners currently use their device as the primary means of accessing online content. Furthermore, fewer than half (47%) of Smart TV owners currently use the set to go online on a weekly basis.

Dan Brilot, media consulting director at YouGov, observes that while viewers increasingly want to view on-demand and other internet-delivered services on their TV, they see getting online through their televisions “either as a job for their TV provider or as an extension of their existing online devices”.

Brilot adds that there is a real opportunity for TV manufacturers to sell additional services such as apps that would provide them with increased revenue, provided that they first communicate clearly what their devices are capable of.

It’s likely that US Smart TV owners have a similar preference for TVBoxes, such as Roku, and even MiniPCs compared to built-in “Smart TV” features. I have a 2012 Samsung 43-inch Smart TV but use a UG007 II MiniPC or a living-room laptop to watch NetFlix, Amazon Instant TV and related services.

Beach also reported BSkyB helps raise extra $60mn for Roku on 5/30/2013, supporting the previous observation:

US firm Roku, a provider of popular media streaming devices, has closed a new round of funding worth US$ 60mn, led by an unnamed institutional investor and shared by existing investor BSkyB.

Other investors include US media company Hearst, and existing investor News Corporation. BSkyB has already invested US$ 12mn dollars in Roku, in exchange for the option to rebrand and distribute Roku devices in the future, which would fit nicely with its existing over-the-top (OTT) video services ‘Now TV’ and ‘Sky Go’.

Describing the new round of funding as a “tremendous endorsement” of Roku’s potential, CEO Anthony Wood said: “BSkyB and News Corporation are exceptional partners and we look forward to deepening our relationship with Hearst in the months to come.”

The new investment is expected to fuel Roku’s growth, which has accelerated in the last year since the launch of its Roku 3 device. The company is also extending its streaming platform by working with other consumer electronics brands.

The Los Angeles Times posted Paresh Dave’s Many people who buy smart TVs don’t use web features, survey says article on 5/29/2013. This article begins:

imageSmart TV manufacturers need more intelligent marketing, according to a survey by Analysys Mason.

Fewer than half of people who own a television set that comes with applications to stream content from the web have connected their TV directly to the Internet. That doesn’t bode well for manufacturers looking to monetize television sets beyond the initial sale.

Analysys Mason said the manufacturers, such as Samsung, LG and Sony, must improve their education of consumers, build simpler user interfaces and strike deals to bring more relevant applications into the TVs. …

The survey queried 6,600 consumers in France, Germany, Poland, Spain, the UK and the U.S. Falling in line with other surveys this year, about one in five owned a TV with Internet capabilities. Of that group, actual connection rates ranged from 50% of people aged 18 to 34 to 32% of those aged 55 and older. …

Update 5/14/2013: There is a recently created ArmTvTech.com Web site that has individual forums for most popular Android MiniPC devices.

Update: 4/27/2013: The Android MiniPC/PCStick business is growing by leaps and bounds. Brad Linder asked Want to help create a database of Android TV sticks? in a 4/27/2013 post to his Lilicomputing.com blog:

imageIt’s been about a year since the MK802 Android TV stick hit the market and changed the way many of us think about tiny computers. Since then we’ve seen dozens of little devices with low power ARM-based processors and Android software arrive.

Some have dual or quad-core chips. There are models with built-in cameras. Others come with wireless remote controls. And while they all tend to ship with Android, some can even run full desktop Linux software like Ubuntu.

Liliputing has been covering these devices pretty regularly over the past year, but one thing that readers regularly ask for is some sort of comparison chart. I’ve sort of put off that idea because I know how much work it takes to create a good comparison chart and keep it up to date.

But if y’all are willing to help out, there may be another way. Ian Morrison posted a link on Google+ to a tool called SocialCompare that lets anyone with an account contribute to a crowd-source comparison table.

There’s already USB-dongle computer chart that’s a work in progress. While I’m not in love with that name, I’m also not looking to reinvent the wheel here.

So this afternoon I took a few minutes to update the chart with an entry for the Tronsmart MK908 which is sitting on my desk. The process is pretty fast and simple (if you’re doing one device at a time). Entering dozens of devices would be a bit more time consuming.

But if you’ve been following this space for a while and have a minute to update the chart with a device that’s missing, all you have to do is register for a free account or login with Facebook to start editing.

And if you notice any mistakes, you can edit the chart as well.

That means its accuracy will depend on user contributions. We’re also relying on a third-party service that may not be around forever, which is something I’m always a little wary of doing. But right now this may be one of the best tools available for folks looking to compare new Android TV sticks against existing models to find out which best suits your needs.

If this takes off, I’ll think about adding a permanent page to Liliputing featuring the comparison chart.

In the meantime, I’ve embedded the work in progress here. Just hit up the main page if you want to start contributing.

Note: The Tronsmart MK908 appears to be very similar to the Tronsmart T428, which I purchased in from Geekbuying.com in mid-April, 2013 with a US$10 lower price. See the Tronsmart T428, the First RK3188 Quad Core Mini PC, Coming section below.

The UG007 Android 4.1 MiniPC

imageI received a CozySwan UG007 Android 4.1 MiniPC device from Amazon (US$69.50) on 1/14/2013. I ordered the MiniPC based on James Threw’s The RK3066 Android 4.1 mini PC is the MK802′s younger, smarter, cheaper brother, we go hands on Engaget review of 1/12/2013, which begins as follows:

imageWhen the MK802 Android mini PC landed in our laps, it caused more than a ripple of interest. Since then, a swathe of “pendroids” have found their way to market, and the initial waves have died down. While we were at CES, however, we bumped into the man behind the MK802, and he happened to have a new, updated iteration of the Android mini PC. Best of all, he was kind enough to give us one to spend some time with. The specifications speak for themselves, and this time around we’re looking at a dual-core 1.6GHz Cortex A9, 1GB of RAM, 4GB of built-in flash (and a microSD slot), WiFi in b/g/n flavors, DLNA* support and Bluetooth, all running on Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. There’s also a micro-USB, full-size USB, female HDMI port and 3.5mm audio out. [Emphasis added, see notes below.]

imageFor anyone who has used one of these types of devices, the two standout features mentioned above should be the audio jack, and the addition of Bluetooth. Why? Because this expands the potential functionality of the device manyfold. Beforehand, the lack of Bluetooth made adding peripherals — such as a mouse of keyboard — either difficult, or impractical. However, with Bluetooth, setting up this device to be somewhat useful just got a lot easier. Likewise, with the dedicated audio out, now you can work with sound when the display you are connecting it to (a monitor for example) doesn’t have speakers. Read on after the break to hear more of our impressions. …

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* imageDLNA is an abbreviation for the Digital Living Network Alliance, which Wikipedia calls “a non-profit collaborative trade organization established by Sony in June 2003, that is responsible for defining interoperability guidelines to enable sharing of digital media between multimedia devices.”

I wasn’t able to find a 3.5-mm audio output connector on the device I received. The male, not female, HDMI connector provides digital stereo audio channels. The Micro-USB connector is for power only; it doesn’t provide other OTG features.

image

Update 5/14/2013: ArmTvTech.com’s UG007 forum is here and the UG007 II forum is here.

Update 5/2/2013: MiniPCs with model numbers beginning with UG appear to be manufactured or distributed by by Ugoos.com, 3B19 Gaokede Communication Market, Huafa Road, Futian District, ShenZhen, China 518048. The Ugoos UG007A appears to be a repackaged version of the UG007, which CozySwan Electronics distributes as an Amazon Partner and VALI Storefront delivers from US stock.

Update 3/13/2013: GeekBuying.com recently began offering the UG007 II Mini PC Android 4.1.1 TV Box Dual Core Cortex-A9 RK3066 1GB RAM 8G Storage HDMI USB Black for US$49.99 56.99 with free shipping. GeekBuying also offers accessories, such 7-port USB hubs and Ethernet to USB adapters at the lowest prices I’ve seen to date.

Tool available from Google Play (click for original 1280 x 720 graphic size):

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Update 3/17/2013: Brad Linder (@bradlinder), Lilliputing’s editor, posted UG008 dual-core Android mini PC with Ethernet, WiFI about an updated UG007 on 3/15/2013:

imageThe UG008 is a palm-sized device which you can plug into a TV to run Android apps on a large display. Like many other Android mini computers that have been released in the last few months, it has a Rockchip RK3066 dual core processor and runs Android 4.1 Jelly Bean.

UG008But unlike many of its peers, this inexpensive Android computer has an Ethernet jack.

One problem that plagues many of the small Android TV sticks that we’ve seen has been poor WiFi reception. If you buy a cheap Android device with the hopes of streaming Netflix, YouTube, and other media to your TV, a good internet connection is kind of important.

While the UG008 is a little larger than some of its peers, the addition of an Ethernet jack means that you should be able to keep a reliable internet connection by running a cable straight to your router.

The UG008 also has an external antenna which should help with WiFi performance if you choose to go wireless.

The box features a microUSB port, a full-sized USB port, a microSD card slot, HDMI port, AV port, power jack, and power button.

GeekBuying sells the UG008 for $68, but you can also find it at AliExpresss, where it sells for about $60 and up (although not all sellers offer free shipping).

(Via GeekBuying blog)

As I mentioned in a comment, I would have preferred a UG007 with a telescopic antenna and type F connector for an off-air ATSC tuner feature, instead of WiFi, with capabilities similar to the Pinnacle PCTV 80e or its Hauppauge equivalents.



The goMiniPC Site Surveys the Current Crop of Android MiniPCs

goMiniPC’s Get Smarter with an Android TV Stick article of 12/28/2013 describes the current state of the Android TVBox market:

An Android TV Stick, commonly known as an “Android Mini PC” can make your big-screen, the centerpiece of your home entertainment system much more intelligent. Even if you already have a so-called “Smart TV”, the functions are often limited to certain apps (e.g. Netflix, Yahoo Video) that your manufacturer has included – with a rudimentary Internet browser at best. If your HDTV is an older model, you probably won’t have “smart” functions at all. An Android stick, or set-top box that connects via HDMI would particularly breathe new life into your existing equipment in that case.

Google TV LogoAndroid Mini PCs enable your TV to do more, running a full operating system with hundreds of thousands of apps you’re probably already familiar with on your smartphone or tablet. They are distinctly separate from the current generation of Google TV devices, which run a “skinned” version of Android that’s locked down from most apps in the Play Store. Official Google TV boxes, such as the Sony Internet Player ($122.00), offer more of a “walled-garden” experience that integrates with existing cable subscriptions and paid services such as the aforementioned Netflix, Amazon Video, and Play Music and Movies. The upside to this is a more user-friendly experience with a polished UI and remote control.

But if you’re a “cord cutter” who has disavowed cable TV, or an advanced user who lives by “root” access and sideloading apps, you may be happier with an Android Mini PC. These Android sticks or boxes run ordinary Android (not Google TV) and don’t require cable, simply using your TV as its display. So far, Android Mini PCs tend to made by small Chinese companies which aren’t a household name in the US. Therefore, quality varies from device-to-device and support is limited – although there are vast communities online where users share tips and do troubleshooting.

Android Mini TV with Bluetooth KeyboardAndroid Mini TV with Bluetooth Keyboard

Mini Android dongles are also an excellent alternative to the Google Chromecast, which is limited to mirroring apps such as Youtube or Chrome from a phone or tablet. While seemingly inexpensive at $35 (and hugely popular, at that), its functionality is much more limited compared to a mini PC, as it cannot run as a standalone device. If you stretched that dollar just a little further, you could have a full Android experience well under $100.

Rikomagic MK902 Android Mini PCRikomagic MK902 Android Mini PC

Rikomagic, based in Shenzhen, is one of the largest makers of Android Mini PCs. Their line-up of Android mini PC boxes go up to Android 4.x, with unique accessories such as a “fly mouse” that detects the user’s motions across a 3D-plane. The experience is designed to replicate sitting down at a huge computer, instead of surfing through channels in conventional TV fashion. With dual and quad-core options based on ARM Cortex-A9, users report surprisingly good performance. The Quadrant Benchmark indicates that the Rikomagic MK802 III is faster than the HTC One X and Asus Transformer Prime. It is available for under $50 shipped.

Rikomagic MK802 III Quad-core Android PC benchmarkRikomagic MK802 III Quad-core Android PC benchmark (Source: MakeSmartTV.net)

Rikomagic’s MK902, just launched in Nov. 2013, is loaded with Android 4.2. It sports a 1.6GHz processor, 2GB of RAM, and has built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. On the TabletRepublic forum, a rep shows off the device’s 16,434 AnTuTu score, placing it above the original Google Nexus 7. While you can buy the MK902 from Rikomagic directly, it may be worth buying on Amazon ($119.99) for the buyer protection, and avoiding customs charges if you are from the U.S.

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Note: The Rikomagic MK902 is available from third-party suppliers, such as GeekBuying.com, only and all such suppliers as of 12/29/2013 ship from China. Therefore, purchasing through Amazon doesn’t affect custom duty obligations, if any. GeekBuying.com offers the 2GB RAM/8GB Flash version for US$104.99 and the 2GB/16GB version for US$112.99 with free shipping via China Post.


New Quad-Core ARM Cortex-A50 64-Bit Chips Coming from MediaTek

Brad Linder (@BradLinder) posted MediaTek working on ARM Cortex-A50 chips to his Liliputing blog on 10/9/2013:

imageTawianese chip maker MediaTek recently announced it was working on an ARM Cortex-A15 chip with big.LITTLE technology. Now the company has announced that it’s licensed ARM Cortex-A50 technology, which means we could see 32-bit or 64-bit ARMv8 chips processors from MediaTek in the coming year.

arm cortex-a57

MediaTek has sort of come out of nowhere in the past year or two, producing a series of low-power, moderate performance processors for smartphones and tablets. Soon the company’s chips might be competitive with those from big-name companies such as Qualcomm, Samsung, and NVIDIA.

While you’re still most likely to find MediaTek processors in phones and tablets from Chinese companies you’ve never heard of, some major device makers including Lenovo and Acer have started to use MediaTek chips in their low-cost tablets.

Now that MediaTek is moving into ARM Cortex-A57 and Cortex-A53 territory, its upcoming chips could be even more attractive.

These chips would enable a new line of high-performance, quad-core MiniPCs and TVBoxes, as well as phones and tablets.


Dell/Wyse PocketCloud Apps and Cloud Client Manager Agent

imageDell/Wyse offers free PocketCloud Remote RDP/VNC, Pocket Cloud Explore and Cloud Client Manager Agent, as well as PocketCloud Remote Desktop Pro (US$14.99) apps from Google Play for Android devices.

The free Cloud Client Manager Agent app enables the Dell Wyse Cloud Client Manager to provide:

image[A] simple, secure, cloud-based management system to securely manage and enable corporate access to any device. With Cloud Client Manager, IT administrators have access to a unified console providing visibility into the relationship between users, devices, and their applications. …

Note: The Dell Wyse Cloud Client Manager Agent requires authentication to the Dell Wyse Cloud Client Manager server. Consult with your IT organization for further details.

Only 30 downloads of the Cloud Client Management Agent had occurred from 12/13/2012 to 3/13/2013, which indicates Android user indifference to this technology.

You must purchase Dell/Wyse’s PocketCloud Pro (US$14.99 from Google Play), rather than install the basic (free) version, to display your PCs’ desktops in wide screen 1280x720p mode by rescaling for Remote Desktop Services, as shown here for a UG007 remote desktop session with my Windows 7 Professional development PC:

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The free version displays only the portion of the desktop to the left of the empty column above in 4:3 aspect ratio. I’ll provide a better wide-screen shot when I discover how to capture screens with the UG007. (I can’t capture with the Hauppauge Collosus card while logged on remotely to the development PC running Windows 7.)

PocketCloud Explore enables transferring files between devices running Windows RT, Windows 8, Android and iOS and PCs or Macs on which Pocket Cloud Companion is installed. PocketCloud Explore’s three screens let you choose between the device or PC/Mac:

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The device on which it’s running:

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Or the host PC/Mac:

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Note: You must sign into the Pocket Cloud Companion application each time you reboot the PC you access with PocketCloud.

I’ve installed the three PocketCloud apps, as well as the Cloud Client Manager Agent on my UG007 and will report my experiences in updates to this post.



Low-Cost Windows Media Center Infrared Remote Control Works Partially with the Tronsmart MK908 MiniPC

I use VRC-1100 Vista MCE Remote Controls, which I purchase from Amazon for US$13.59, freight included for Prime subscribers, with Windows Media Center on my Microsoft Surface tablet, Acer Aspire 5750-6690 laptop and Windows 7 development PC. (See A Diagram of the OakLeaf Systems Video Component Test System for more details.)

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I ordinarily use USB keyboards and trackballs, as well as Logitech K400 wireless keyboard/trackpad combos with the Android MiniPCs I test. Today, I plugged the VRC-1100’s IR receiver dongle into a passive USB hub connected to the Tronsmart MK908’s USB 2.0 host port.image

I found the following IR remote control buttons worked more or less as expected:

  1. Directional (up, down, left, and right) and OK buttons navigated lists similar to corresponding buttons on a Roku remote.
  2. Mouse emulator controlled the pointer as expected.
  3. Left and right mouse buttons worked properly.
  4. Numeric buttons entered numbers in text boxes.
  5. Volume buttons raised and lowered audio level in 1/15 full-scale increments without scrolling.
  6. Power button toggles HDMI output off and on; power stays on.

It was disappointing that the VCR (start stop, pause, rewind and fast-forward) controls didn’t manipulate video playback in the Gallery’s default video player.


CNX-Software Adds Details of MK908 Rockchip RK3188 mini PC Android 4.2.2 SDK

CNX-Software (@cnxsoft) reported MK908 Rockchip RK3188 mini PC Android 4.2.2 SDK Leaked on 8/10/2013:

imageWe’ve had the Linux source code for RK3188 for a little while, which allowed a preliminary Ubuntu image to boot on devices such as Tronsmart T428. But AFAIK, we did not have any Android SDK for RK3188 HDMI TV Stick, until now. A new user on ARMTvTech has uploaded 5 rar files that can be decompressed into a single 3.2GB file called mk908_RK3188_R-BOX_ANDROID4.2.2-SDK.tar.gz. [See post below.]

I’ve had a look, and this is the content of the file which appears to be a complete Android 4.2.2 SDK for MK908.
MK908_RK3188_SDK

There are 2 documents in Chinese:

  • mk908_checklist.doc – Apparently some instructions, or recommendations specific to Android
  • MK908_checklist_kernel.docx – Some details about the kernel config

There are also more documents and directories in RKTools/docs, but I haven’t checked the details:

image

Back to the root directory, we’ve got a Makefile, and mkimage.sh script, but both are called by 3188.sh script which apparently builds all, and generates a firmware upgrade image. I’ve tried to run 3188.sh, but the build failed with the following error:

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I haven’t tried to investigate the error further. If one of you is successful with the build, please do let us know.


ArmTvTech User Finds What Appears to be an MK908 SDK

User androidminipc62 posted an MK908 message to the ArmTvTech.com site on 8/9/2013:

While browsing through some sites I saw a interesting looking file.
mk908_RK3188_R-BOX_ANDROID4.2.2-SDK.tar.gz
After extracting it appears to be the sdk for making firmware for the MK908.

I haven’t yet had the chance to really experiment with it, but from what I can see it includes the kernel source!

Since the original file is 3.1GB I’ve split it into .rar files in order to make uploading easier.

Hopefully someone can get this going!


CNX-Software’s How to Flash Firmware to Rockchip RK3188 HDMI TV Sticks

imageCNXSoft (@cnxsoft) described How to Flash Firmware to Rockchip RK3188 HDMI TV Sticks using the Tronsmart MK908 as an example in a 4/27/2013 post to the CNX-Software blog:

Yesterday, I’ve received [a] MK908 mini PC featuring [the] Rockchip RK3188, and a new firmware is available, so before further testing I’ll flash the firmware to the device basically using the instructions from Geekbuying. This method use standard Rockchip tools, so it should work for any RK3188 devices.

But first a little rant. Those instructions only work on Windows operating systems, so if you’re using Linux or Mac, you’re out of luck until you find a Windows PC, or launch Windows in a virtual machine. This method should just be used in case the device can’t boot, or you have serious issue with the device firmware, but it is also used for firmware upgrade[s] for Rockchip mini PCs. This is just wrong. Typical users should not be asked to install software and drivers, press the recovery button, just to upgrade their firmware. The best very way would be OTA updates, but maybe this is asking too much. The alternative would be to just copy some files to a micro SD card, insert it in the mini PC, boot the device, and wait for the firmware to complete. This method could also avoid to complete wipe out your settings  and installed applications, although apps like Titanium Backup can help restore those after a full firmware update.

The steps to install firmware to RK3188 based mini PCs, in this case MK908, are as follows:

    1. Download RkBatchTool 1.6 (password: GEEKBUYING.COM), the Windows only tool to flash firmware to RK3xxx devices, as well as RockUSB drivers v3.5, the USB drivers for Windows 2000/XP/vista/7/8.
    2. Download the firmware file for your device. For MK908: update_mk908_100j1101_6210.rar
    3. Uncompress those 3 files in a directory in a Windows PC.
    4. Get the mini USB to USB cable, and connect it to your Windows PC. Now look at the back of MK908 with the HDMI connector pointing upwards, you should see 2 small holes at the top of the device. The right hole is the power LED, and the left hole, the recovery button. Press the recovery button with a paper clip, and at the same time insert the other end of the USB cable into the OTG port of your device. Wait a few seconds before releasing the recovery button, and your windows PC should start installing the drivers automatically, but you don’t want that, so don’t let it install the drivers now, and move to the next step.

      MK908 Recovery Button (Left) and OTG Port (Right)

      MK908 Recovery Button (Left) and OTG Port (Right)

    5. There are different procedures depending on the version of Windows, but you should point the drivers installer to Rockusb_v3.5/Rockusb_v3.5/Rockusb/x86 (32-bit Windows) or Rockusb_v3.5/Rockusb_v3.5/Rockusb/x64 (64-bit Windows) and finally select the directory corresponding to your Windows version. Click OK or Next to complete the installation. In Windows XP, you should see “Class for rockusb devices->Rockusb Device” in the Device Manager.
    6. Now go to GEEKBUYING_Rockchip_Batch_Tool_v1.6/Rockchip_Batch_Tool_v1.6 and double click on RKBatchTool.exe to launch the tool.
    7. Click on “…” at the top right of the window, select the firmware file (e.g. update_mk908_100j1101_6210.img), and RKBatchTool should now indicate one device is connected by showing a green square in the “Connected Devices” section of the windows.
    8. Click on “Restore” (and not Update) to flash the firmware. It will take a few minutes (It took 1204 seconds, or about 20 minutes). Once it’s finished, the device will reboot, Windows will install the adb drivers, and you should see the windows below.RKBatchTool_MK908I’ve included the full log below for your reference:

      11:34:08 674 Rockchip Batch Tool v1.6.8.1 start run
      11:40:35 799 Rockchip Batch Tool v1.6.8.1 start run
      11:40:50 236 **********Restore Start Total**********
      11:40:50 267 Test Device Start
      11:40:50 283 Test Device Success
      11:40:50 299 Lowerformat Device Start
      11:40:59 346 Lowerformat Device Success
      11:40:59 377 Test Device Start
      11:40:59 408 Test Device Success
      11:40:59 424 Check Chip Start
      11:40:59 439 Check Chip Success
      11:40:59 455 Get FlashInfo Start
      11:40:59 471 INFO:FlashInfo: 0 0 0 1 0 10 10 28 2A 4 1
      11:40:59 502 Get FlashInfo Success
      11:40:59 517 Prepare IDB Start
      11:40:59 533 INFO:CS(1) (8192MB) (MICRON)
      11:40:59 580 Prepare IDB Success
      11:40:59 611 Download IDB Start
      11:41:00 299 Download IDB Success
      11:41:00 330 Reset Device Start
      11:41:01 346 Reset Device Success
      11:41:01 361 Wait For Loader Start
      11:41:02 846 Wait For Loader Success
      11:41:02 908 Test Device Start
      11:41:02 955 Test Device Success
      11:41:02 971 Download Firmware Start
      12:00:51 736 Download Firmware Success
      12:00:51 767 Reset Device Start
      12:00:52 783 Reset Device Success
      12:00:55 111 **********Restore Done Success Fail Time < 1204828>ms**********

    9. Connect your device to the TV and enjoy!

I first tried the procedure in a Windows 7 virtual machine running in Ubuntu 12.04 64-bit, I could detect the device 2207:310b, and start the firmware, but I pressed the wrong button “Upgrade” and it failed. Subsequently Linux failed to detect the device, even after closing Virtual Box, so I switched to a Windows XP netbook to complete the procedure.

Somecooltech1 posted a 00:04:56 How To Update The Firmware On The Tronsmart MK908 & Other Android Mini PCs video to YouTube on 5/4/2013:

Published on May 4, 2013

The Finless 1.4 ROM just came out http://bitly.com/10aKcLn. It allows you to upgrade the size of the NAND storage. Nice! I just tried out the ROM and I would recommended waiting a little bit longer before installing this ROM. It seems to have a few bugs still. Some programs will cause it to reboot.

The update procedure should be very similar on most AMPS so if you don’t have this exact model you can still use this video just download the image/ROM for your model and follow along.
Android 4.2 should be coming to the MK908 soon. Here are the files you’ll need to update the MK908 http://bitly.com/18FWRqK The image file is just a stock ROM right now. I’ll keep you updated in this description and on Facebook as soon as an update comes out https://www.facebook.com/Somecooltech.

You can buy the Tronsmart MK908 here http://bitly.com/11OBn8T

The Tronsmart T428 also looks like a nice performer http://amzn.to/YpcinY

CNXSoft (@cnxsoft) published a favorable Tronsmart MK908 Quad Core HDMI TV Stick Review with updated firmware on 4/27/2013.


Videos and Test: Mini PC Android MK809 III

Riccardo Palombo (@netbooknewsit) posted Videos and Test: Mini PC Android MK809 III (translated by Bing) to the NetbookNews.it Web site on 6/7/2013:

imageMK809 III is a Mini PC next generation Android. Part of the models with Rockchip CPU Quad Core and is available for about 70 euros on w2comp.com. The Hong Kong shop sent me a review unit, and here I am to leave you my credits.

In addition to CPU RK3188, datasheet of MK809 III provides 2 GB of RAM, 8 GB of ROM, microSD, Wifi N, Bluetooth, microUSB and 2 USB OTG. The package includes the usual stuff: wall charger + USB cable, adapter > USB microUSB and HDMI extension by 15 cm. The building is one that is, but among all the Mini PC Android here are decent levels, with hard plastic and a frame reduced to the essentials really; weighs less than 40 grams and is as thin as the models came out in 2012 (remember UG802?).

Inside (to open it, just do a bit of force on the joints) has a decidedly Spartan manufacture, with the chip and a single mini-installed heatsink on the CPU side; on the other, missing the metallic material that we’ve seen on MK908 but in spite of this the Mini PC is able to maintain acceptable temperature during use.

There are two antennas, very amateur, but the WiFi has a metal strip and adhesive tape reinforcement (see photo just below) installed on the chassis so as to prevent loose over time; is an inelegant solution, but it works. MK809 III should use the same card to MK802 IV (the next review) but unlike this has no problems with WiFi and one of the reasons might just be this “technical”.

mk809-3-recensione_1

For general considerations for using I refer you to the (long) start movie article. The current firmware is a Android OS 4.2.2, then integrates new features such as switching off via software (there is a button on the dock), the full screen and support for Native WiFi Display; with this focus, the Mini PC becomes a Miracast receiver capable of receiving (and play) audio and video from a compatible smartphone or tablet (used Android 4.2).

I could not test this feature, but I promise to find information online and update this review. In the months to come we will always have more Miracast devices on the market (even Windows 8.1) then having a Mini PC as MK809 III can come in handy in the future.

mk809-3-recensione_2

The firmware is stable, the UI fast and not alarming temperatures. Captain problems of incompatibility with apps on Google Play, but unfortunately not a boredom that deals only with this model; to solve it will wait for the custom ROM. Antutu Gets a score of 15,176 points, Quadrant comes to 5,062 points. We are on excellent levels, but not yet at the top of the category; Here, too, will serve a custom ROM to reach 19,000 points of MK908. At the bottom of the hardware is the same, you just tweak. Does not have root access, but you can use the procedures that apply to other Rockchip RK3188.

With MK809 III managed to play HD videos flawlessly, play 3D titles in decent manner (in the video, there is also a test with Real Boxing) and surf the web at full speed; I recommend buying a good wireless controller because it makes a difference.

The Mali GPU integrated in 400MP4 Quad Core SoC Rockchip lets you play with hardware acceleration, MP4, MOV, MKV up to 1080 p; you have different results depending on the codec but it is something that concerns over the high-bitrate streaming movies, where Captain stoppage and delay in the first seconds of playback.

mk809-3-recensione

XBMC 12 stable turns to perfection, even if you are forced to set an external player for playback of HD movies (MXPlayer is fine); like all XBMC for Android captain of the crash, but it’s really unimportant stuff. If you have a DLNA server ready you will have no trouble reading its contents from MK809 III because the WiFi connectivity is stable and fairly fast, and is a fundamental aspect for these products. Everything ok with Bluetooth.

For the rest, even if the firmware should allow it, I failed to recognize my Logitech camera to Skype (or even another old model Trust) as I was not able to start voice calls; I also noticed some slowdowns in UI with multiple open tabs on Chrome.

But aside from that the final judgement is good for this MK809 III, I think better than proven MK908 last week because better built, cooler and with microUSB instead of miniUSB. Lacks a custom ROM, this has to be said, but now that Rockchip has released the source code of the kernel for this processor, I am sure we will have some news in the summer. You can buy MK809 III on w2comp.com with free delivery.



CNX-Software’s List of RK3188 MiniPCs /  HDMI Dongles

CNXSoft (@cnxsoft) posted a List of RK3188 MiniPCs /  HDMI Dongles on 5/11/2013:

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.

  • 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.

Read more: http://www.cnx-software.com/2013/05/11/list-of-rk3188-mini-pcs-hdmi-tv-dongles/#ixzz2VjZczSpU 


Tronsmart MK908, another RK3188 QuadCore Mini PC

Brad Linder (@BradLinder) reported Tronsmart MK908 gets Android 4.2 firmware (and custom ROM) in a 5/30/2013 post to his Liliputing.com blog:

imageThe Tronsmart MK908 is an Android TV stick with a Rockchip RK3188 quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM, and 8GB of storage. You can plug it into any TV with an HDMI port and hook it up to your WiFi network to stream internet video, play games, surf the web, or run other Android apps on your TV.

It sells for about $86, and it’s one of the fastest devices of its type that I’ve tested. Right now the MK908 ships with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean pre-loaded. But if you want to install Android 4.2, there’s an official software update. You can find download links and instructions at the Geekbuying blog.

908_01

Among other things, the new release resolves problems some users have had with audio and Netflix performance. The update should also let you use the RkRemoteControl app to turn your Android phone or tablet into a wireless remote control for the MK908.

If you want a little more control over your device, there’s also already a custom ROM based on the official Android 4.2 firmware.

Developer Finless from FreakTab has built Finless ROM 1.5 for the MK908. It comes pre-rooted, removes some of the pre-loaded apps to free up space, and includes a tweak so that even apps Google things aren’t compatible with the device will show up in the Play Store.

Amazon sells the Tronsmart MK908 Google Android 4.1 Mini PC TV Box RK3188 Quad Core 2G/8G BT Black for US$99.98 with free shipping from GeekBuying.com in Shenzhen, China. The price is US$85.99 if you purchase it directly from GeekBuying.

I’m waiting for my MK908 to arrive from GeekBuying in exchange for a Transmart T428, which wouldn’t output Netflix videos via the HDMI port. Here are its specifications (from GeekBuying.com):

image

image

Geoff Fox reported a problem with the MK908 he received from GeekBuying.com in his The Android TV Stick That Almost Works – My MK908 Story post of 5/18/013:

image… It has a fatal ailment that’s also tantalizing. The unit powers on and plays for a while, then shuts the HDMI output (audio and video) for a second. It does this 40 to 50 times an hour! It works enough to see what it can do, but not enough to want to do it!

I’ve replaced every cable¹. I reflashed the ROM. The problem persists.

I’ve been in touch with Anna at geekbuying.com, where I bought it, following her instructions. I’m afraid the MK908 is going to have to go back. …

I’ll report any problems I find when mine arrives.

Riccardo Palombo (@netbooknewsit) published Videos and Test – Mini PC Android MK908 to the NetbookNews.it site on 5/17/2013. Following is the Bing translation:

imageMK908 is one of the first Mini Android PC with Quad Core processor RK3188. Costs about $ 90, less than 70 euros, in usual shops of import from China. I’m trying a couple of weeks, and here I am to leave my remarks.

My last experience with “pc-sticks” as this dates back to the Dual Core models with RK3066 ( UG802see review) and I must say that at first glance the performance differences are substantial. On MK908, without a custom ROM, everything is very fluid and responsive, there is a quick rendering and browser in scrolling, as well as the power required to play HD movies.

This applies to MK908 but also for most Mini PC Android to new generation. The difference is in the details, because they are the nuances that they recommend a model over another. MK908 is definitely good compared to rivals, but now we see why.

Packaging and accessories

In packaging (cardboard, pleasant) comes the Mini PC, a mini HDMI extension adapter > HDMI, its wall power supply 5V 2A on/off led, a microUSB cable USB cable > microUSB OTG and some manuals. There is everything you need to connect to your TV MK908.

The chassis is familiar because it is identical to that used in some models of the previous generation. MK908 is a rectangle measuring 88 x 31 x 16 mm with a weight of 48 grams. The finish is matte black, almost soft to the touch, and is of good quality for the category (a completely different thing than the first models as a CX-01); Accessories, cables, are thick and finished with the same materials.

mk908-recensione-4

On both sides there are ventilation grids; the latter one has a Blue led to indicate the presence of food and a small hole to activate the rescue mode (see internal picture just below). The Datasheet of MK908 provides 2 GB of RAM, 8 GB of internal space, WiFi N (2.4 Ghz) and Bluetooth 4.0, with a budget of doors where we find microSD (protrudes slightly when inserted), USB 2.0, microUSB OTG and microUSB for feeding. In the future, some models will have a third microUSB port, a camera and a microphone inside, just as happened with the previous generation.

Build quality and hardware

The poor construction of these Mini PC often leads to overheatingproblems, so it’s interesting to see how it was designed the motherboard and what precautions were taken to dispose of the heat generated by the internal components. Open the MK908 frame is simple: lock, just pry with a pick or a credit card, but be careful not to break the welds of the WiFi antenna. Once inside, it turns out the sheet of adhesive copper applied over memory chips (GEIL) and above the CPU, the little button to reset the firmware and the antenna welded to an adhesive plate attached to the frame.

mk908-recensione

The other side shows a big heatsink, responsible for a good 60% of the total weight, the WiFi chip AP6210 and the pressure switch (I think) for earthing. It’s a simple structure, more elegant than that seen in previous solutions that could be significantly improved in the components responsible for the dissipation of heat. Certain weldings (see the WiFi antenna) does not seem exceptional but this is the quality that allows us to buy Mini PC so powerful for a few euros.

The RK3188 Rockchip CPU is a 28nm with 4 core Cortex-A9 which can reach to 1.8 Ghz. The standard firmware, that provided by Tronsmart, limited to 1.3 Ghz frequency but installing custom ROM like File:finless 1.4 (the one I used for these tests) resets the maximum rate and you will get the best performance (also in benchmark).

mk908-recensione-2

Run MK908 to 1.6 Ghz does not create stability issues, but tends to overheat the case until levels, in my opinion, important. I read on the forum of the authors of the CD-ROM DRIVE that you do not reach alarming temperatures, but personally I preferred Master CPU install and adjust the frequency around a little more than 1 GHz; the tablet has root access, then it is simply moving a cursor. The performances don’t change that much, there’s still all the power for games, videos and web browsing, but after 2-3 hours of using the gain in terms of temperature is remarkable. Recommend to everyone to take this.

Performance and user experience

Let’s move on to the tests. I ran all the tests with the custom ROM File:finless 1.4 (Android 4.1), just for this model (download from here), the most popular Mini PC sector and absolutely recommended in place of the stock firmware (of dubious provenance, not updated, to avoid). With this, MK908 gets over 17000 points on Antutu, better than possible with products and the most famous and well-known chip used in the tablet and smartphone. Rockchip RK3188 platform has yet to be known by developers, but at the moment is undoubtedly the best solution available on Android Mini PC.

MK908 with File:finless 1.4 has an Android environment virtually naked, with access to Google Play and some utility …: Rotation lock, Root Checker and Full screen on all. Unlike the stock firmware, lets you choose (during installation) the amount of free space to be left to the user data (1 or 2 GB) to which we must add the 5.6 GB data partition.

tronsmart-mk908-4

Let’s get down to business. The Android environment is fast and responsive in all contexts of use. 2 GB of RAM ensures a smooth multitasking and handling heavy and complex apps. Although most of the Android software does not take advantage of the four cores, you notice a difference between the performance of this MK908 and RK3066 models or other Dual Core that preceded it. And it bodes well for the development of Mini PC Android since we are still at the beginning with this new hardware.

The web browsing with the stock browser is fluid, even in multi-card; Captain rendering problems in some cases (certainly attributable to a software issue) but nothing so important in the use of web content on Web browsers. MK908 you eat all basic apps that you may come to mind, and with the File:finless ROM shows up on Play Store as Samsung device, so it has no compatibility issues.

tronsmart-mk908-2

Good games. The GPU is a Mali400-MP4 with maximum frequency of 500 MHz; It gets better in the Quad Core (such as PowerVR of Allwinner A31) but we’re still on excellent levels by category. I played with satisfaction to some 3D games by connecting a USB JoyPad for PC; Watch the video at end of article for filming with Dead triggers.

The GPU can play 1080 p movies smoothly, many of them with hardware acceleration. MX Player is a choice on a Mini PC like this, but I found myself just fine with Archos Player. Movies and TV series can also be read from external drives from microSD or network (we’ll talk about shortly), but keep in mind that could use a powered usb hub to run some hard disk.

XBMC not working standard, freezes on first startup, but you can fix by installing this version. Similarly, the player XBMC has hardware acceleration not integrated at this time, so you have to set the MX external player Player by following this guide.

tronsmart-mk908-1

Warning: this is what there is to do now, but you are reading this review weeks after publication you should check for updates and new procedures. The changes in this area are daily and usually improve the operation of the products.

I tried to read media from three DLNA server, one connected to the router via Ethernet and two via WiFi. 1080 p playback of mkv best was that of Ethernet server (a minidlna on ubuntu) so I recommend to use this solution if you want to watch a full movie without copying it on MK908. No problem, however, for music and pictures.

Final thoughts

tronsmart-mk908-3

To be clear: the experience of using with MK908 isn’t perfect, let’s talk about getting a machine that may need some “adjustments” from time to time, where maybe an app can stop responding for a few seconds or where an add-on of XBMC can not work. In the USA, for example, have serious problems with Netflix. But it is precisely this that makes products like MK908 so cheap and so fun to develop. [Emphasis added.]

I was pleasantly surprised by the maturity of this software solution. If we’re going to look at the details we discover that Tronsmart is a minor mark with a reputation is not flawless, almost absent when it comes to software support.

Behold, in spite of this, MK908 behaves just fine and with T428 twin Mini PC is more powerful than you can buy at the moment, and then recommended for the current selling price. Think about what it will be when you finally put on the market the most popular and well-known solutions with software and firmware Android support of a certain quality (I have much confidence in MK802 IV). We are really at a turning point for the Mini PC sector. It may be a good time to buy one.

Brad Linder (@BradLinder) posted a Tronsmart MK908 quad-core Android TV stick performance video on 4/25/2013:

imageThe Tronsmart MK908 is an Android TV stick with a quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM, 8GB of storage, and strong WiFi performance. Like other Android sticks I’ve tried, it’s designed to let you run Android apps on a TV, and it’s probably one of the best devices of its type I’ve tested in the past year.

Geekbuying sells the MK908 for about $90, and the company sent me a unit to test.

908_01

The MK908 looks a bit like a chunky USB flash drive. But it’s a full-fledged mini computer with a Rockchip RK3188 ARM Cortex-A9 quad-core processor. Out of the box it runs Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, but it’s possible to upgrade the firmware and new software (or custom ROMs) become available.

On one end of the stick you’ll find a mini HDMI port. The other features a full-sized USB port and a mini USB port. On one side there’s a microSD card slot, and on another there’s a second mini USB port.

Use the included HDMI cable to connect the MK908 to a TV and plug the power supply into the mini USB port on the end and the device should boot into Android in under a minute. There’s also a mini USB to full-sized USB adapter in the box in case you want to plug in more than one USB peripheral.

For instance you could connect a keyboard and mouse, a remote control and a gamepad, or other hardware that Android should automatically detect.

In my tests I used two different wireless keyboard and mouse or touchpad options, and both worked just fine.

The MK908 features built-in 802.11n WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0. I haven’t really tried out the Bluetooth function, but WiFi performance is great. I’ve had problems getting some other Android TV sticks (and tablets) to work in my third floor office because my wireless router is on the first floor. The MK908 works just fine anywhere in the house.

It’s also one of the fastest Android devices I’ve ever tested. While it doesn’t score quite as well in benchmarks as the Cube U30GT2 tablet (which is interesting, since they both have the same processor and the same amount of RAM), it’s faster than the Google Nexus 7 tablet with an NVIDIA Tegra 3 quad-core CPU or the Coby MID8065, which has an Amlogic AM8726 dual-core processor.

MK908 benchmarks

In terms of real-world activities, the MK908 opens web pages quickly, streams audio and video over the internet without problems, and has full access to the Google Play Store, where you can download hundreds of thousands of apps.

For $90 you can get a device capable of running far more apps than you’d get on any set-top-box running Google TV. Unfortunately you also get a user interface that’s designed for touchscreens rather than remote controls — and some apps that are available for Google TV such as Amazon Video aren’t available for Android devices like the MK908.

Still, if you connect a wireless keyboard and mouse you can use the MK908 to turn your TV into an internet-connected media center. It streams videos from Netflix and Google Play Videos without any problems at all.

I was also able to stream videos from a shared network drive. Since I have a home theater PC set up as a digital video recorder, I have hundreds of TV shows and movies hanging out on a hard drive. Rather than transfer those files to the MK908, I can stream them using a video player such as MX Player.

Unfortunately performance was a bit shakier when I tried using the XBMC media center app for Android. Right now it appears there’s not support for hardware-accelerated video playback in XBMC, so some videos had low frame rates and audio/video sync issues.

It also took longer to load my video folder and launch videos using XBMC. That’s a shame, because XBMC is designed for big-screen devices like televisions, while MX Player is designed for smartphones and tablets. But XBMC is also still under active development and it’s possible that future builds will work better on devices like the Tronsmart MK908.

As it is, I wasn’t able to run XBMC 12.1 at all. It was only after installing XBMC 13 Alpha 2 that I was able to run the media center software on this mini PC.

Tronsmart ships the MK908 pre-rooted, which means you can install apps that require root permissions such as Titanium Backup.

The Tronsmart MK908 is available for purchase from Geekbuying for $90.


Tronsmart T428, the First RK3188 Quad Core Mini PC

Update 5/27/2013: GeekBuying.com reported a Tronsmart MK908 Android 4.2 Beta Firmware Release in a 5/27/2013 post to their Geek Gadgets blog:

Ok, guys, it’s a long time since the last update. Tronsmart sent us the new beta firmware for Tronsmart MK908.

For all of the bugs you guys report in Android 4.1, Tronsmart has known them,and want to solve them all in the Android 4.2 update. This beta firmware just base on the newest Rockchip Android 4.2 SDK.

Firmware Download LINK CLICK HERE

Password: geekbuying.com

Please notice: This is just work for the original Tronsmart MK908 which you ordered from Geekbuying.com.

Firmware Update Instruction, you can check this blog: http://blog.geekbuying.com/index.php/2013/04/23/tronsmart-mk908-firmware-upgrade-guide/#.UaMTV0BNt-s

Here is some screenshot after you update:

 image

image

Some Known Problem[s]:

  1. Netflix don’t work with Android 4.2 TV STICK now
  2. Still 720p upscale, but factory will give me a 1080p kernel tomorrow for Tronsmart MK908 and you can flash to make it to 1080P

The Netflix problem is the same as that I reported for my Tronsmart T428, which I returned to GeekBuying to exchange for a MK908. Needless to say, I won’t be updating the MK908 to Android 4.2 anytime soon. I might consider flashing it to 1080P, if it doesn’t upgrade the Android version.

Update 5/14/2013: There is a recently created Tronsmart T428 forum on the ArmTvTech.com forum. The site has individual forums for most popular Android MiniPC devices.

Update 5/4/2013: My (@rogerjenn) Tronsmart T428 Quad-Core MiniPC Fails to Display Netflix Videos post of 5/4/2013 describes in detail my bad experience attempting to view videos from Netflix when I replaced my UG007 II with an T428.

The Tronsmart T428 was the first Android 4.1+ MiniPC with a Rockchip RK3188 quad core Cortex A9 CPU to become readily available for purchase from Chinese distributors retailers. For a detailed description of the Tronsmart T428 and newer MK908, see the Tronsmart T428, the First RK3188 Quad Core Mini PC section of my Android MiniPCs and TVBoxes post.

I pre-ordered a Tronsmart T428 Quad Core Mini PC Android 4.2 Rockchip RK3188 2G DDR3 Wifi/BT TV BOX from GeekBuying.com on 3/12/2013, which was scheduled become available to ship on about 4/10/2013. I received it on 5/3/2013 and, on 5/4/2013, replaced my primary UG007 II MiniPC with the T428, and installed the current Netflix application from Google Play. Downloading an “Inspector Lynley” TV episode produced the following image after a few seconds of multiple interlaced images:

TronsmartT428Netflix

This is typical of the problems that many early adopters risk when purchasing v1.0 or earlier hardware from no-name manufacturers. Read more.

Update 4/29/2013: Brad Linder (@BradLinder) posted Tronsmart MK908 quad-core Android TV stick performance (video) to the Liliputing.com blog on 4/25/2013:

The Tronsmart MK908 is an Android TV stick with a quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM, 8GB of storage, and strong WiFi performance. Like other Android sticks I’ve tried, it’s designed to let you run Android apps on a TV, and it’s probably one of the best devices of its type I’ve tested in the past year.

Geekbuying sells the MK908 for about $90, and the company sent me a unit to test.

The MK908 looks a bit like a chunky USB flash drive. But it’s a full-fledged mini computer with a Rockchip RK3188 ARM Cortex-A9 quad-core processor. Out of the box it runs Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, but it’s possible to upgrade the firmware and new software (or custom ROMs) become available.

On one end of the stick you’ll find a mini HDMI port. The other features a full-sized USB port and a mini USB port. On one side there’s a microSD card slot, and on another there’s a second mini USB port.

Use the included HDMI cable to connect the MK908 to a TV and plug the power supply into the mini USB port on the end and the device should boot into Android in under a minute. There’s also a mini USB to full-sized USB adapter in the box in case you want to plug in more than one USB peripheral.

For instance you could connect a keyboard and mouse, a remote control and a gamepad, or other hardware that Android should automatically detect.

In my tests I used two different wireless keyboard and mouse or touchpad options, and both worked just fine.

The MK908 features built-in 802.11n WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0. I haven’t really tried out the Bluetooth function, but WiFi performance is great. I’ve had problems getting some other Android TV sticks (and tablets) to work in my third floor office because my wireless router is on the first floor. The MK908 works just fine anywhere in the house.

It’s also one of the fastest Android devices I’ve ever tested. While it doesn’t score quite as well in benchmarks as the Cube U30GT2 tablet (which is interesting, since they both have the same processor and the same amount of RAM), it’s faster than the Google Nexus 7 tablet with an NVIDIA Tegra 3 quad-core CPU or the Coby MID8065, which has an Amlogic AM8726 dual-core processor.

MK908 benchmarks

In terms of real-world activities, the MK908 opens web pages quickly, streams audio and video over the internet without problems, and has full access to the Google Play Store, where you can download hundreds of thousands of apps.

For $90 you can get a device capable of running far more apps than you’d get on any set-top-box running Google TV. Unfortunately you also get a user interface that’s designed for touchscreens rather than remote controls — and some apps that are available for Google TV such as Amazon Video aren’t available for Android devices like the MK908.

Still, if you connect a wireless keyboard and mouse you can use the MK908 to turn your TV into an internet-connected media center. It streams videos from Netflix and Google Play Videos without any problems at all.

I was also able to stream videos from a shared network drive. Since I have a home theater PC set up as a digital video recorder, I have hundreds of TV shows and movies hanging out on a hard drive. Rather than transfer those files to the MK908, I can stream them using a video player such as MX Player.

Unfortunately performance was a bit shakier when I tried using the XBMC media center app for Android. Right now it appears there’s not support for hardware-accelerated video playback in XBMC, so some videos had low frame rates and audio/video sync issues.

It also took longer to load my video folder and launch videos using XBMC. That’s a shame, because XBMC is designed for big-screen devices like televisions, while MX Player is designed for smartphones and tablets. But XBMC is also still under active development and it’s possible that future builds will work better on devices like the Tronsmart MK908.

As it is, I wasn’t able to run XBMC 12.1 at all. It was only after installing XBMC 13 Alpha 2 that I was able to run the media center software on this mini PC.

Tronsmart ships the MK908 pre-rooted, which means you can install apps that require root permissions such as Titanium Backup.

The Tronsmart MK908 is available for purchase from Geekbuying for $90.

The Tronsmark MK908 appears to be the successor to the T428. Most of the differences between the two models appear to be connectors. However, the T428 scored 18,706 on the Antutu benchmark (see below), while the MK908 achieved only 13,943, a significant difference.

imageCNXSoft (@cnxsoft) published a favorable Tronsmart MK908 Quad Core HDMI TV Stick Review with updated firmware on 4/27/2013.


Update 4/17/2013: GeekBuying and Liliputing report the Tronsmart T428 is shipping with Android 4.2 Jelly Bean. Read GeekBuying’s review here. I’ll update this post when I receive my pre-ordered unit, expected in about 10 days. From the review (with minor edits to the Chinglish):

XBMC. OK, this really takes some times for us, because the old 12.1 Frodo didn’t work on this, so we tried this XBMC 13.0 beta version, and yes, it does work now. Maybe the XBMC team added some support for RK3188 to this beta version. [We would appreciate] anyone who knows [sharing their knowledge] with us. But anyway, the good news is that the quad-core Tronsmart t428 can support XBMC 13.0.

GeekBuying.com’s Geek Gadgets blog reviewed the forthcoming Tronsmart T428 in an illustrated Tronsmart T428,The First RK3188 Quad Core Mini PC Coming post of 3/8/2013 [edited for brevity and clarity]:

Tronsmart, is an innovative company based on cutting-edged Android devices. We have sold lots of their Prometheus, and we got the firmware upgrade and tech support really fast every time. Now they plan to release their new model: Tronsmart T428, which will be based on Rockchip RK3188 quad core chip.

  • imageThe RK3188 is a 28nm quad-core ARM Cortex-A9 chip with speeds up to 1.8 GHz.
  • It has Mali 400 quad-core graphics with speeds up to 500 MHz, and support for OpenGL 2.0 and OpenVG 1.1.
  • The chip can handle 1080p HD video playback at 60 frames per second, or 1080p HD H.264 and VP8 encoding at 30 frames per second.
  • It can also handle dual panel displays and resolutions up to 2048 x 1536 pixels.

Today we just get a sample from Tronsmart, and here [are the] basic specifications:

  • CPU: Rockchip RK3188 quad core Cortex A9
  • GPUS: Mali-400MP4
  • System Memory – 2GB DDR3
  • OS: Android 4.2 4.1.1 Jelly Bean (will upgrade to Android 4.2 soon)
  • Storage – 8 to 16GB internal flash + micro SD slot (up to 32GB)
  • Connectivity – Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n
  • Video Output – HDMI (male) up to 2160p
  • Video Codecs – VP8, AVS, MJPEG, RV8/9/10, H.263, H.264, VC-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, DIVX
  • Video Container Formats – AVI, RM, RMVB, PMP, FLV, MP4, M4V, VOB, WMV, 3GP, MKV, ASF, 3G2M4V.
  • Audio Codecs/Formats – MP1/2/3, WMA, OGG, AAC, M4A, FLAC, APE, AMR, RA, WAV. USB – 1x USB Host 2.0, 1x micro USB for power

Tronsmart staff tell us they are still busy designing the cover, so we just got a PCBA board for this little MiniPC. The review is based on this board. …

The Tronsmart T428 uses the original Android 4.1 Jelly Bean OS. [Here’s the system screenshot:]

According to Rockchip news, the RK3188 will get [an] Android 4.2 upgrade soon. …
[Here are the reported HDMI resolutions (click for full size screen capture):]

image

I like the ScreenShotSetting option. I’ve not discovered how to take screen shots with my UG007 device.
It still has no real 1080P output. Like their dual core RK3066 chip, it still scales to 720P. However, I think, like the RK3066, developer[s] will find methods for setting real 1080p output.

We have released a shopping link for pre-orders: http://www.geekbuying.com/item/Tronsmart-T428-Quad-Core-Mini-PC-Android-4-2-Rockchip-RK3188-2G-DDR3-Wifi-Bluetooth-TV-BOX-314524.html

All of the pre-orders will get a free USB Ethernet dongle.

Update 4/17/2013: Tronsmart was conducting a contest for the best artwork to apply to the T428’s enclosure. Apparently, no one won:

image

Lilliputing.com reported “Rockchip includes and embedded GPS baseband” in its Rockchip’s RK3188 quad-core processors coming in the first half of 2013 post of 1/10/2013, which includes a video of the processor connected to a touch-screen display. Unlike phone and tablets, MiniPC devices are likely to be attached to a large LED HDTV or monitor so geolocation isn’t an important feature.

Brad Linder (@bradlinder), Lilliputing’s editor, posted Rooting Android 4.1 on devices with Rockchip RK3188 quad-core chips to the Liliputing.com site on 3/17/2013:

imageThe first tablets and TV sticks with Rockchip RK3188 quad-core ARM Cortex-A9 processor are just starting to hit the streets. But it hasn’t taken long for early users to figure out how to roo an Android device featuring the new processor.

Spanish blog AndroidPC.es has posted instructions for rooting a device with an RK3188 chip and Android 4.1 software.

Rockchip RK3188

The process looks remarkably similar to the steps you’d take to root Android 4.1 on a device with a Rockchip RK3066 dual-core processor. In other words, while the RK3188 chip is faster and has twice as many CPU cores as it predecessor, Rockchip is using a similar hardware architecture and offering similar software on the two chips. So you can exploit the same security vulnerabilities on the new processor as on the older one to gain root access to Android 4.1.

Rooting an Android device lets you access files and settings that might otherwise be unavailable, which lets you run apps that require root access such as Titanium Backup or SetCPU.

You can find instructions for rooting a device with an RK3188 chip at AndroidPC.es — or if you can’t read Spanish (or don’t want to struggle with Google Translate), you can try following instructions written for RK3066 devices at the xda-developers forum.

Here are Tronsmart’s results with AnTuTu Benchmarking Tool available from Google Play:

image

imageNotice that the 2D and 3D Graphics data is for 1232 x 720, not 1920 x 1080 pixels. The score is 2.65 times that of the UG007.

I have a T428 on order and will report my initial results after it arrives.


New Roku 3 with Improved UI and Media-Only USB Connectivity

Richard Lawler (@rjcc) reported Roku 3 goes on sale tomorrow for $99 with upgraded CPU and a new UI in a 4/5/2013 post to the Engadget blog:

Roku 3 goes on sale tomorrow for $99 with upgraded CPU and a new UI

imageAlmost two years after its last major set-top box rollout, Roku is ready to introduce its first third generation player. Other than a new curvier design outside the Roku 3′s main differences are a more powerful processor inside, the addition of dual band WiFi and a tweaked remote with audio out (headphones included) for private listening.

imageOf course, hardware is only half the story and the new player debuts a reworked interface that will also spread to “current generation” players (read: Roku 2, new HD, LT and Streaming Stick) as an update in April. Roku 3 goes on sale tomorrow through Roku.com and Amazon.com for $99, taking the place of the current top of the line XS model. We’ll go more in depth about what’s new this time around, including a video preview of the new UI, after the break.

Roku 3 hardware, interface

Roku 3 goes on sale tomorrow for $99 with upgraded CPU and a new UI

The company wouldn’t share specific performance info on that new CPU but called this box “the most powerful Roku ever,” claiming the Roku 3 will feature substantially faster performance when browsing or changing apps. Outwardly, as you can see from the pictures it’s showing off a design that executives compared going from the brick of previous versions to a smooth pebble — its overall footprint is largely unchanged from previous models, counter to our assumption from the measurement of its FCC label. The remote still features motion sensing for gaming, while the box itself brings the usual assortment of Ethernet, USB and microSD ports. While the hardware control of the remote has not changed (beyond the addition of two volume buttons for the headphone output) how users will interact with the Roku has been altered significantly now that the channel UI has gone from a horizontal bar to a grid of icons that spans across the vertical axis as well.

Roku 3 goes on sale tomorrow for $99 with upgraded CPU and a new UI

The reason for the change? The company claims user feedback indicated that while the old simpler menu worked well enough for 10-15 channels, in a world where it’s offering 750+ channels and offering features like search across multiple providers, a new look is needed. We can’t argue with the logic, and we’ll be waiting for our hands-on impressions to see how much easier this is making it for users, and not just additional channel operators looking for a little more homescreen exposure.

Roku 3 goes on sale tomorrow for $99 with upgraded CPU and a new UI

As you can see from the pictures and video, the UI is largely focused on the left and right halves of the screen, with users selecting content on the left and viewing details on the right. It’s also capable of displaying nine channel icons at a time now and it wraps around so you can scroll either way. There’s one other software tweak worth noting, the addition of themes. The player defaults to “graphene”, but if you’re a heavy user and need to switch your look up there will be five separate options available at launch that change the colors and background details.

Roku 3 goes on sale tomorrow for $99 with upgraded CPU and a new UI

Other details we were interested in were whether the pumped up processor would enable the return of an official YouTube channel for Roku and what kind of new features may be on the way for its mobile remote apps, but so far there’s nothing to report there. The press release did reveal a few new channels on the way however: Fox Now, PBS and PBS Kids.

With slightly bumped specs and a refashioned menu the Roku 3 is unlikely to turn the ever-crowded set-top box market upside down. Still, viewed as a logical evolution reflecting the services offered and the possibility to do more in the future, it will be interesting to see if this company can continue to expand beyond the expectations of its initial aim as a Netflix box to offer even more types of entertainment, and adapt more easily to a changing market than its larger competition. We’ll have hands-on with a unit in the coming days and will be able to let you know then how this version compares to its predecessors.

Following are the Roku 3 specs from Roku’s site:

Networking
  • 802.11n Wi-Fi (b/g/n compatible) with WEP, WPA and WPA2 support
  • 10/100 Base-T Ethernet
Video Outputs
  • 480i (over composite video)
  • 480p (over HDMI)
  • 720p (over HDMI)
Video Output
  • 480p
  • 720p
  • 1080p
Audio Output
  • Digital over HDMI (7.1 and 5.1 surround pass through)
Remote Control
  • Roku 3 enhanced remote with headphone jack and motion-control (uses Wi-Fi Direct)
  • Streaming player includes IR receiver (compatible with various universal remotes)
Power Consumption
  • Less than 3.5W (typical) when streaming HD video
Power Input
  • 12V – 1A power adapter
USB Media Formats
  • Video: MP4 (H.264), MKV (H.264)
  • Audio: AAC, MP3
  • Image: JPG, PNG
Storage Expansion
  • microSD card slot for additional game and channel storage
Size
  • 3.5 x 3.5 x 1 inches
Weight
  • 5 ounces

The Roku 3 competes directly with Google TV and Apple TV; it doesn’t offer a conventional Android UI as an alternative to the built-in browser.

Sam Biddle (@samfbiddle) wrote a glowing Roku 3 Review: The New Best Streaming Box for Gizmodo on 3/22/2013. Following are selected excerpts:

imageHow many Roku models are there? Like, twelve? But it doesn’t matter: the newest one is here, and thankfully (predictably?) it’s the best one yet. So good that you’ll stop using other crap you own. So good you’ll use your cable box less. That good.

imageThe Roku 3 is very, very simple. It’s more or less like every single other Roku: a little black thing you plug in to your TV that’ll deliver streaming media (Netflix, Hulu, Vudu, Spotfiy, et al.) on demand. The Roku 3 is still very much this same thing—but it’s reached a critical mass of how much stuff you can stream and how easily you can stream it. So much so that it really feels like an entirely new Roku. So much that it’ll make your TV fun again. …

Like

imageRoku beat Google TV without even trying. The new interface makes the prospect of navigating hundreds of channels—thousands and thousands of shows and movies—a non-nightmare. It makes streaming music on Spotify or Pandora a cinch, without horrendous Android app residues.

And lo: for the first time, search on a TV isn’t a convoluted horror. Gone are the confusing duplicate results of Google TV. Type in something you want to watch, and if one of the Roku channels you use has it, it’ll be listed. You’re not flashbanged with options. It’s simple. Roku insisted on keeping everything simple.

And this is what matters: the interface is everything. Everything. There’s simply never been a better way to watch stuff.

No Like

Most of Roku’s 700+ channels, just like most apps, most art, and most people who raise their hands to comment in class, are terrible. Obscure junk that nobody really needs or wants. But while Roku’s gone for volume over quality, none of these worthless channels are foisted on you. Just choose not to install “WealthTV 3D” or “The Man Channel” or “Asian Crush Plus.” It’ll be as if they never existed. No loss.

What might be a real loss, though, is the richness of Roku that you can only hit if you’re spending a non-insignificant amount of money on subscriptions. I have a Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime, Spotify, and a Time Warner Cable account. This yields me all the streams from all of these companies—and man, having 300 channels of live HD cable TV is a dream—and really makes my cable box feel stupid and senile. If you’re signed up for fewer of these services, you won’t have the same Oh My God, Here Is Everything media experience, but frankly they’re largely redundant, and you can get away with much less than I used for testing.

But keep it in mind: the Roku is a thing you pay for that just reroutes things you also pay for, albeit in a lovely way. …

I’ve ordered a Roku 3 from Amazon and will report my results when it arrives. I’m especially interested to learn if the Ethernet port enables configuration for an Internet service provider’s fixed IP address, such as my AT&T DSL connection, or whether DHCP is required, as is the case with Dish Network. (See my Changing AT&T DSL Fixed IP Addresses to DHCP to Accommodate DISH Network’s Broadband Configuration post of 8/15/2012 for details.)


ZeroDesktop’s MiiPC for Kids with Remote Adult Supervision App

ZeroDesktop (@ZeroDesktop) launched a Kickstarter campaign to supply an Android 4.2-powered MiniPC called the MiiPC with a larger-than-usual circuit board and enclosure by July 15, 2013:

image

The firm differentiates its MiiPC from other Android MiniPC offerings by providing parental control software for iOS and Android-powered phones and tablets. According to ZeroDesktop:

imageMiiPC [@MiiPC4kids] is a compact personal computing device that runs on the Android operating system. Connect MiiPC to a computer monitor or TV and instantly turn it into a learning, media and entertainment station. It is designed for large screen connectivity and optimized to provide a true keyboard and mouse experience.

imageWith MiiPC, the user can surf the web, play games, watch videos, edit documents, and run Android apps. Simply set up different user accounts for each person in your family and each user will have their own private MiiPC desktop.

A companion mobile app provides parental control for MiiPC. You can set guidelines for kids. online activities and get real-time monitoring. Help keep your children safe and eliminate everyday hassles by defining who gets to use the device at what time and specifying the apps & websites that your kid can access.

Our mission is to create a simple and effective way for families to take back control of online experiences, letting MiiPC create a safe and relaxed environment for your family computing.


Update 5/3/2013: Brian Hecker reported MiiPC offers backers double the memory for $15, throws in a free mic in a 5/1/2013 post to the Engadget blog:

MiiPC offers backers double the memory for $15, throws in a free mic

imageWith a week left in an already successful Kickstarter campaign (approaching three times its initial $50,000 goal), the makers of the MiiPC are giving backers the chance to increase their system’s memory. Add $15 before the close of the project and you’ll be able to double things up, from 1GB to 2GB of RAM and 4GB to 8GB of storage — the move comes in response to pledger feedback, according to the company. And speaking of listening, the makers of the parental-friendly Android PC are also tossing in a free built-in mic for those who pre-ordered, just for good measure.

To read the full press release, click here.


Jason Evangelho (@killyourfm) wrote On Kickstarter: The $99 Android-Powered MiiPC May Be Your Child’s Next Computer for Forbes Magazine on 3/26/2013:

imageWhen we think about Google‘s Android OS, traditional home PCs are probably the last item in that thought process. San Mateo, California-based ZeroDesktop, Inc. (headed up by eMachines co-founder Young Song) are out to alter our perceptions of what a family computer can be with the $99 MiiPC, which reached its $50,000 Kickstarter goal in less than 24 hours.

imageThe MiiPC (pronounced “Mee PC”) is targeted at parents who wish to go beyond merely blocking certain websites and online activities, and tackle the addictive nature of the internet.

MiiPC’s free companion app for iOS and Android ties everything together, offering parents real-time monitoring of their child’s activity on the computer. But the app has a suite of comprehensive features extending beyond what we’re used to with, for example, the Xbox 360.

Microsoft‘s Xbox lets parents define which games can be played and how long a child can use the console on a daily or weekly basis. The MiiPC app takes it a step further by saying “you can play Angry Birds for 30 minutes and use Facebook for 2 hours today.”

The MiiPC Companion App

The MiiPC Companion App (for iOS and Android)

Read more.

From the Kickstarter site:

Desktop Computing Experience:

  • Powerful and optimized for fast internet surfing, an accurate web experience (instead of mobile sites with big fonts) flash content support, customize your own desktop, drag & drop … and more
  • Large screen monitor that gives true desktop PC resolution (up to 1920×1080)
  • Multiuser log-in for family members (or you can use this as a public kiosk for visitors)
  • Super smooth movie and video playback using the latest Android Jelly Bean 4.2 OS
  • Miracast Receiver – remote wireless display video feeds from Miracase enabled devices (tablets, phones) through MiiPC to the big screen (Monitor or TV)
  • Free bundled productivity software such as KingSoft Office suite, Splashtop2 to connect to other PC or Mac, eReader, Multimedia players… and more

Technical Specifications:

  • Processor: Marvell New Armada Dual Core 1.2GHz SoC / Memory: 1GB RAM
  • Storage: 4GB Internal Flash (expandable via SD Slot and USB port)
  • Connectivity: WiFi (802.11 b/g/n), Ethernet Port, and Bluetooth (4.0)
  • I/O: 2 USB 2.0 Ports, Speaker & Microphone Jack, HDMI (1080p/720p) output

MiiPC includes Main Unit, Power Adapter, and Quick Guide.  (Keyboard, Mouse, Monitor and HDMI cable sold separately)

The MiiPC differs from most current MiniPCs by using a Marvell processor and manufacturing in Korea, rather than China. According to ZeroDesktop’s About page:

imageZeroDesktop, Inc. is headed by Chief Executive Officer, Young Song [@ygsong], an entrepreneur whose career focus has been on bringing to market synergistic desktop computing products that deliver life-enhancing value to education, business and consumers.

Young Song founded NComputing Inc (www.ncomputing.com), a $60 million venture-backed company with patented technology that leverages PC power and cloud computing to create a shared computing resource that connects multiple users at a low cost. NComputing products are used today by millions of customers in over 140 countries. He also co-founded eMachines, Inc. (www.emachines.com), the low-cost computer brand that pioneered affordable PC ownership and Internet adoption for consumers (later acquired by Gateway).”

ZeroDesktop reached their initial Kickstarter goal of US$50,000 in less than 24 hours and raised more than US$90,000 by 3/27/2013. Whether ZeroDesktop can maintain an acceptable profit margin selling the MiiPC with two printed circuit boards and a costly case for $US99.00 remains to be seen.


Infinitec’s Overpriced Android 4 (ICS) Pocket TV and Air Remote

Update 3/31/2013: Infinitec of Dubai, UAE claimed US$501,321 pledged by 3,164 backers for its Pocket TV Kickstarter project in July 2012. The Pocket TV appears to be a repackaged MK802 or similar MiniPC device running Android 4 Ice Cream Sandwich. Infinitec sells a package consisting of a Pocket TV and Air Remote (keyboard and air mouse) for US$159 and the Air Remote with USB cable separately for US$40:

image 

The UG007 II MiniPC, US$49.99 at GeekBuying.com, appears to offer all the Pocket TV’s features with the added benefit of a later Android version (4.1.1, Jelly Bean.)

Following is an excerpt from an Android-HDMI-stick “Pocket TV” receives first stable firmware review of 2/25/2013 for an update to the Pocket TV’s firmware [translated from German by Bing]:


Version 4.0 follows the release 1.3a. It is an update with a large number of changes and revisions. In particular the hitherto existing performance problems should be taken through better use of the CPU and new drivers for the Mali-400 GPU in attack. So far, the Pocket TV due to performance deficits was only restrictedly suitable for everyday use (see WebStandard-test).

Air Remote appears to be similar to the RC11 Android Monitor Wireless Keyboard Air Mouse Remote Controller With Gyroscope for Android Google TV Box, which GeekBuying.com sells for US$19.99, freight prepaid, and Amazon offers from a partner for US$21.50 plus $4.49 freight from China:

image

It appears to me that Infinitec is simply a reseller of a Chinese MiniPCs and air mice to individuals who aren’t aware of competitive Android specs and pricing for MiniPCs and accessories.

Update 5/2/2013: I ordered an RC11 from Geek Buying to test with my UG007 II connected to a 46-inch Samsung Smart TV in our living room. I found it difficult to type on the small keyboard and was unable to become accustomed to using the air mouse. I replaced the RC11 with a US$30 Logitech Wireless Touch Keyboard K400 with Built-In Multi-Touch Touchpad (920-003070) from Amazon.com.


Kingnovel K-R42-1 Android TV box with RK3188 CPU, Ethernet jack

Brad Linder (@bradlinder) reported US availability of the Kingnovel K-R42-1 Android TV box with RK3188 CPU, Ethernet jack in a 6/2/2013 post to his Liliputing.com blog:

imageA growing number of companies are using the powerful Rockchip RK3188 ARM Cortex-A9 quad-core processor in small boxes designed to run Android apps on your TV. But many of those small boxes are so small that there’s only room for a few USB ports, a microSD card slot,  HDMI output, and not much else. The Tronsmart MK908 is a pretty good example.

imageBut the Kingnovel K-R42-1 is a slightly larger box that also packs a full-sized Ethernet jack, among other things. It sells for around $96 at AliExpress, China Post airmail prepaid, where it’s called the MK888.

image

That 10/100 Ethernet jack can come in handy, since a reliable internet connection is useful if you plan to use this type of device to stream video from a shared network drive or play internet music or video. Like most devices of its type, the K-R42-1 also features built-in WiFi, but you can typically get a much more reliable connection over Ethernet.

Other specs for this box include ARM Mali-400 MP4 graphics, 2GB of RAM, and 8GB of storage. It supports 802.11b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 2.0, has a microSD card slot, 2 USB ports, and an IR port for use with the wireless remote control that comes with the TV box.

It has a 3.5mm headphone jack (which is surprisingly tough to find on this sort of device), an HDMI port, and an external antenna which should help boost WiFi performance.

The K-R42-1 runs Android 4.1.1 Jelly Bean, although it should support Android 4.2 as well.

via CNX-Software

A larger housing and Ethernet port for US$96, China Post airmail prepaid, indicates that the gross margin is quite high for corresponding Mini PC sticks selling for US$80 to $90. Kingnovel’s specs for the device don’t mention an IR port or remote control:

Remote Control Support: Smart phone remote control, 2.4GHZ  wireless air mouse/Remote controller.

but the Accessories page shows:

    • Standard Package: 1xGif box, 1xManual, 1xAdapter(DC 5V/2A), 1xHDMI Cable and 1x IR Remote Controller
    • Optional Package: 2.4G Air Mouse, 2.4G  Wireless mouse and keyboard

CNX-Software’s $96 Kingnovel K-R42-1 (MK888) Android Set-top Box Powered by RK3188 Processor article of 6/2/2013 states:

The device is said to come with a power adapter, an HDMI Cable, and a user’s manual. In the picture below from Aliexpress, there’s one additional port referred to as “micro HDMI”, just next to the full HDMI port, but I’m not convinced… It might be a micro USB port instead.

MK888_rear_panel

The specs on CNS-Software’s page refer to two USB ports, so the Micro HDMI connector might be Micro USB. (Micro HDMI connectors have a greater width to height ratio.) The unmarked WiFi antenna is on the left. CNS posted on 5/11/2013 an apparently complete List of RK3188 mini PCs / HDMI TV Dongles (at that time)


Neo G4 Mini PC from MINIX

Click here for GeekBuying’s list of all Android Mini PC “TV Box” variations with prices. The US$97.99 NEO G4 Mini PC from MINIX, for example (see below), has three USB 2.0 ports, a Micro USB OTG port (see my Get the Right On-The-Go (OTG) Micro-USB Cable and Bluetooth Peripherals for Nexus 7 Tablets for details), headphone and microphone jack, and a IR receiver built-in (remote included). Click here for recent firmware upgrades.

image

The Neo G4’s housing appears similar to that of the Apple TV device:

image

To properly qualify as TV or PCTV Boxes, devices should have built-in ATSC/cable tuners with type F connectors for the US market.

Update 4/13/2012: Geekbuying.com posted What products does MiniX show us in 2013? New Quad Core Model Neo X7 and X5+ Coming! and Liliputing.com reported Minix unveils X7 quad-core Android media box, among other things on 4/12/2013.

Note: Shenzhen ZKYelectronic Technology Co., Ltd. offers what it calls the Fastest! Google Android TV Stick PCTV HD Box USB 2.0 TV Tuner (model ZKYDSB008) but product photos don’t show a type F connector and specifications don’t include a reference to ATSC or DVB-T tuners. It appears that Chinese manufacturers/traders are missing a significant market opportunity for MiniPCs with built-in over-the-air tuners. (Including the word “tuner” in the description implies that the device can capture over-the-air HDTV programs.)

imageThe only Android-compatible USB PCTV tuner stick that I’ve been able to find is the Elgato EyeTV Micro Tuner (US$75.99), which receives only live DVB-T standard-definition video. I’m surprised that Hauppauge or other PCTV tuner stick suppliers haven’t written Android apps for their ATSC devices that support 1080p broadcasts.

See Also: Intel Next Unit of Computing (NUC) Kits Offer Better Performance than Android MiniPCs at a Much Higher Price, which describes three relatively new Ultra-Small Form Factor (USFF) Celeron and Core i3 motherboards in ~4.5 x 4.5 x 1.5 inch boxes similar to the Neo G4 housing.


MarsBoard Allwinner A10 Board

imageThe MarsBoard development system, which sells for US$49 (including freight), competes with the US$35 Raspberry Pi Model B (see the Building a Low-Cost Media Center with XBMC Running on a Raspberry Pi section below.) The MarsBoard uses the Allwinner A10 (aka sun4i) SoC, which includes a Cortex-A8 (55nm process) CPU with Mali400 GPU and CedarX VPU, and has the following specs:

CPU
  • ARM Cortex-A8
  • 32KB I-Cache
  • 32KB D-Cache
  • 256KB L2 Cache
GPU
  • ARM Mali-400
Video
  • UHD 2160P video decoding
  • 3D video decoding
  • Support various video decoding formats, including VP8, AVS, H. 264 MVC, VC-1, MPEG-1,2,4, etc
  • H.264 HP video encoding up to 1080p @ 30 fps or dual-channel 720p @ 30 fps
Display
  • Multi-channel HD display
  • Integrated HDMI 1.4
  • YPbPr, CVBS, VGA
  • Multiple LCD interfaces, including CPU, RGB, LVDS up to Full HD
Memory
  • 32-bit DDR2/DDR3
    Memory capacity up to 16G bits
  • SLC/MLC/TLC/DDR NAND
    - 8 flash chips, 64-bit ECC
    - Memory capacity up to 64GB
    - Support NAND of 5xnm, 4xnm, 3xnm, 2xnm, etc
    - Support NAND of Samsung, Toshiba, Hynix, etc
Boot Devices
  • NAND Flash
  • SPI NOR Flash
  • SD Card
  • USB
OS

* MarsBoard specifies Android ICS (4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich) or Ubuntu as operating systems.

A SATA connector for mass storage distinguishes the MarsBoard from other MiniPCs, but it doesn’t offer built-in WiFi. Here are the MarsBoard specs:

CPU 1.2GHz Allwinner A10 ARM Cortex A8
GPU Mali400 with hardware 3D acceleration and hardware video decoding
SATA port Supports mass storage devices
Operating System Android 4.0 ICS, Linux, Ubuntu, Fedora
USB 2 x USB host, 1 x USB OTG
Internal storage 4GB NAND storage, 1.5GB available in user partition in Android
SDHC slot SDHC card slot supporting up to 32GB
External Expansion 140 extend pin 2.0mm headers
Networking 10/100 Ethernet, supports USB WiFi (not included)
Memory DDR3 1GB, 100MB is reserved for the GPU
Boot Boot from SD card and internal storage via u-boot
Dimensions 80mm X 55mm
Digital video output HDMI up to 1080p (cable not included)
Analog Audio output 3.5mm plugs Analog Audio output
Power DC 5V Input

The MarsBoard is of interest primarily due to its low price and built-in Ethernet and SATA ports. Lack of a housing and WiFi connectivity make it less suitable than the UG007 for TVBox applications. You can purchase MarsBoards for US$49 (freight included) from Thaoyu Electronics in Shenzhen, China. The firm has no international distributors.


Xi3 Corporation’s x64 Modular Computer

Ten times the price of a UG007 II or MarsBoard (US$499) will get you Xi3 Corporation’s (@xi3) basic modular PC, sans display and keyboard/mouse with specs similar to those for a mid-range laptop. Xi3 Corporation  emphasizes their Modular Computers’ low power consumption, but the 9 Vdc @ 3.3A rating on the power connector = 30 Watts:

image

Basic Xi3 computers come with openSUSE Linux installed on a 16 GB SSD. Windows 7 is an extra cost option and requires a 32 GB or larger SSD. The Acer Aspire AS5750-6690 15.6-Inch Laptop I purchased in July 2011 cost US$430 with Windows 7 Home Premium installed.

Jonathan Blum (@blumsday) reviewed the Xi3 in his Why This Tiny Cube Might Be Your Next Office PC article for Entrepreneur magazine or 2/24/2012:

imageOne startup is reimagining the traditional business PC, and the result can be a useful new computing option for entrepreneurs.

Salt Lake City-based Xi3 Technologies has been quietly developing a computer that’s roughly four inches by four inches, or about the size of a grapefruit. But what sets this gadget apart from other portable PCs is that the Xi3 splits the core functions of a traditional PC into three separate, easily replaceable components. Think of it as a high-tech equivalent to Ford’s model T, which was considered so simple that anyone could repair it.

imageEach Xi3 device is made up of three separate modules: one for the processor, one for how the unit communicates on a network and a third for power. This means you can upgrade any of these components — say, to swap out for a faster processor — with little effort. Just unscrew the back panel, slide out the required part, put the hatch back on and you’re done.

Being able to conveniently access individual parts of a computer allows users to upgrade the device as software needs change or when specific parts fail. Entry-level models cost $850 and come with 16 GB of memory built in. Expandable drives are optional and cost extra.

Here are some additional reasons the Xi3 just might find a place in your business:

Size and adaptability: The Xi3 can fit anywhere: crowded desktops, sales kiosks or attached to a high-definition display to support interactive advertising. Dedicated and expensive server rooms aren’t necessary to house these PCs. They can be stacked densely in small racks in just about any room or closet.

The Xi3 can also be used as a virtual work station. The company sells an outboard processor ($250) that allows four users to work on a single device. Monitors are not included.

And it can save on electricity costs. The Xi3 requires only 20 watts of electricity to operate compared to most other units that drain 100 to 400 watts on average.

Durability: The Xi3 is built from a forged metal case, similar to how Apple’s Macs are made. And the electronic components inside the Xi3 are a level or two sturdier than what is usually found in entry-level work computers.

On top of that, the company says the Xi3 can last up to 10 years. That’s more than double the lifespan of traditional PCs.

Bottom line: Despite its cache of convenient features, the Xi3 isn’t perfect. Possibly the Xi3′s biggest downfall is that it isn’t easily portable like a notebook or tablet. These units still need full wall power, a monitor, a keyboard and network access.

Also, at $850, it is roughly double the cost of a standard work desktop. But you can potentially save money over time as the PC could live longer than those traditional computers.

I’m not sure what combination of upgrades Blum used to arrive at the $850 price. I don’t see any longevity advantage to the Xi3 product line.

As to the “forged metal case,” I don’t believe drop forges or blacksmith’s forges and hammers are part of the supply chain for the Xi3’s housing. They appear to be a combination of die-cast aluminum and sheet metal.

See Also: Intel Next Unit of Computing (NUC) Kits Offer Better Performance than Android MiniPCs at a Much Higher Price, which describes three relatively new Ultra-Small Form Factor (USFF) Celeron and Core i3 motherboards in ~4.5 x 4.5 x 1.5 inch boxes similar to the Neo G4 housing.


UG007 II Specifications and Accessories

According to GeekBuying, the specs for the upgraded CozySwan UG007 II device (with 3/13/2013 updates underlined) are as follows:

  • imageOperating System: Google Android 4.1.1 Jelly Bean with Bluetooth
  • CPU: RK3066 1.6GHZ Dual ARM Cortex-A9 processor
  • GPU: Mali 400MP4 quad-core; supports 1080P video (1920 by 1080 pixels)
  • RAM: 1GB DDR3
  • Internal Memory: 8 GB Nand Flash
  • External Memory: Supports Micro-SD (aka TF = TransFlash) card, up to 32GB
  • Networking: WiFi 802.11b/g/n with internal antenna
  • Ports: 1 USB 2.0 host and 2 1 Micro USB host* and 1 Micro-SD card slot (see photo at right); 1 HDMI male under a removable cover (see photo at right)
  • External reset switch simplifies upgrading firmware (1 mm hole for paper clip, similar to CD/DVD release feature)
  • Power: 90-230V, 50/60Hz, 30 W input to wall-wart [with US-standard European (round pin) power plug*]; output: 5V/2A
  • Video Decoding:MPEG 2 and 4/H.264; VC-1; Divx; Xvid; RM8/9/10; VP6
  • Video Formats: MKV, TS, TP, M2TS, RM/RMVB, BD-ISO, AVI, MPG, VOB, DAT, ASF, TRP, FLV
  • Audio Decoding: DTS, AC3, LPCM, FLAC, HE-AAC
  • Images: JPEG, PNG, BMP, GIF

The UG007’s HDMI output is limited to 720p. Following are the the three choices offered by Settings | Screen | HDMI Mode:

  • 1280x720p
  • 720x576p
  • 720x480p

Adding 1020p support to the UG007 II requires upgrading to the Finless iMitoX1/2 Custom ROM, which also provides a soft reboot feature. You can reboot with a keyboard by pressing Ctrl+Alt+Del.

* The instruction sheet says the original Micro USB connector is for power; see Startup Issues below.

The original UG007 (not II) package I received contained the following items:

  1. The UG007 Mini PC device
  2. imageA 5V/2A power supply with Euro-style round power pins, not US standard blades.
  3. A USB 2.0 male to Micro USB type A male power cable
  4. A six-inch female HDMI to male HDMI cable to connect to an HDTV HDMI input
  5. An 8-1/2 x 11 inch instruction leaflet printed on both sides and written in Chingrish.

Note: There are many similar first-generation devices, such as the MK802, which use the RK3066 CPU, run Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) and don’t support v4.1+ (Jelly Bean) or Bluetooth. As another example, DealExtreme offers the U2 Mini Android 4.0 Media Player w/ Wi-Fi / Video Call / HDMI – Black (1GB RAM / 4GB) for US$20.50 with freight prepaid from China to the US. This device has half the Nand Flash memory of the UG007 and doesn’t support Bluetooth accessories. (When this item was added, DealExtreme’s Web site stated, “Item is temporarily sold out.”

Make sure you purchase a second-generation device.

Update 4/27/2013: Geekbuying.com announced the availability of the Measy H2V 1080P HDMI to VGA convertor cable for Android TV Box / TV Stick / MINI PC, which enables connecting monitors and projectors that don’t support HDMI but have conventional D-sub VGA connectors , for US$19.99 with free shipping:

image

A 3.5-mm stereo connector provides audio output.

imageWhy the Measy H2V doesn’t have a female HDMI connector is a mystery. You’ll also need a female/female HDMI coupler to use the H2V with your MiniPC (US$4.99 plus postage from SFCable.com). If you’re into MiniPCs, you need to keep a couple of these on hand.

Here’s the UG007 II’s score, device info and system info with the Antutu Benchmarking Tool available from Google Play, captured with my Hauppauge Colossus HDMI capture card (click for original 1280 x 720 graphic size):

image

image

image

image  



Recommended Wireless Keyboard/Pointing Devices for Android MiniPCs

Update 4/24/2013: Although most Android MiniPCs support Bluetooth peripherals, It’s common for prospective Android PC users to order a low-cost mini-keyboard with air mouse, similar to the ~US$20 RC11 Android Monitor Wireless Keyboard Air Mouse Remote Controller With Gyroscope for Android Google TV Box described earlier. Many folks, including me, find these keyboards’ tiny keys aren’t suitable for touch typing and also discover substituting an air mouse for a more familiar touchpad or trackball isn’t a walk in the park.

My favorite keyboard/trackpad combination is a Logitech Wireless Touch Keyboard K400, which Amazon sells for US$34.99 plus freight and sales tax, where applicable.

image

The K400’s keys are those of a full-size keyboard, and the touchpad is large enough to enable precision pointing when you hold the keyboard on your lap. You should consider paying the additional $5.50 or so to substitute the K400 for the MK260 keyboard/mouse combination in the following section’s cost table.

Many Bluetooth keyboards I’ve purchased have problems pairing with Android MiniPCs and several weren’t able to reliably work with MiniPCs mounted near our living room HDTV set, which is about 10 feet from the viewing couch.

Estimating the Cost of a MiniPC Workstation

Updated 3/13/2013 for US$7.00 reduction in price of the new UG007II, lower cost European-US plug adapter, and correction to HDMI cable specs. Following is the estimated cost for the MiniPC equivalent of a Netbook or tablet PC but with a larger (24-inch) display and wireless router included:

Item Description Source Cost Sales Tax Freight Total
MiniPC Bluetooth UG007II MiniPC Android 4.1 Dual Core Cortex A9 1080P Geek Buying $49.99 - -
 
$49.99
Monitor Insignia NS-24E340A13 24” 1080p LED TV BestBuy 159.00 14.31 - 173.31
Input Logitech Wireless Combo MK260 with Keyboard and Mouse Amazon 24.99 2.25 7.99 35.23
WiFi Buffalo AirStation N150 Wireless Router Amazon 19.99 1.80 4.99 26.78
HDMI Cable 2m High-Speed HDMI M/F Cable (6.56ft) Monoprice 6.44 - 3.50 9.84
Power VP-7 Plug Adapter for USA Voltage Converter 1.00 - 3.99 4.99
  Total system cost, less ISP charges         $294.24

imageUpdate 2/26/2013: The Insignia TV has excellent image quality, two HDMI inputs and weighs about eight pounds. The HDTV synced immediately to full-screen display of Netflix videos at 720p when plugged in to the UG007. Audio quality is diminished by small, “tinny” speakers, but stereo RCA output connectors are provided for integration with home audio gear. The TV appears to be well suited as a low-cost, large screen computer monitor.

imageIf you want to send HDMI data to a TV monitor and an HDMI capture card, such as the Hauppauge Colossus card (see the Recording HDMI and Capturing Screens with a Hauppauge Colossus Card section below), purchase an EnjoyGadgets Powered HDMI Splitter from Amazon for US$18.99.

imageSupporting additional USB accessories requires an unpowered USB hub, such as the 4-Port USB 2.0 Hub (Black/Silver) ($8.95 plus shipping from SF Cable.)

imageIncreasing internal memory to its maximum capacity of 40 GB requires a 32 GB High Capacity MicroSD flash memory card, such as a SanDisk 32 GB Mobile microSDHC Flash Memory Card SDSDQ-032G-AFFP ($22.40 plus freight from Amazon.)

I have tested all the above components, including the Insignia HDTV, for compatibility with the UG007.

The above package costs less than typical 10-inch tablets that include the Android OS, such as Google’s Nexus 10 (US$399) and the ASUS Transformer Pad TF300 (US$346 to $380 for 16 GB).

Updated: If you now have an HDTV with a spare HDMI input and a wireless router for a cable or DSL Internet connection, the cost is only US$112.29. The current surcharge for adding “Smart TV” features, which include wired or wireless Internet connectivity and a collection of video-related apps, such as Netflix, Amazon Instant videos, Hulu and the like, is about US$100 to $150, depending on the manufacturer and screen size. Adding Internet browsing capability usually costs another $100. Thus, the cost of a MiniPC “TV box” is likely to be less than the surcharge for non-programmable Smart TV apps. You’ll also find the wireless mouse and keyboard provides a much better user experience than an infrared remote.


UG007 Startup Issues

image1. I used temporarily the 5V/2A battery charger with a female USB output connector for my Nexus 7 and the supplied power cable for the tests. I ordered a Travel Power Plugs Adapter Kit 4 pc Universal Worldwide for US$6.88 from Amazon to obtain a Euro-to-US power plug adapter. Note: The UG007 II version I received on 3/26/2013 has a US power connector.

2. Neither of my LED PC monitors (19-inch 4:3 Sony SDM-HS95P and 24-inch widescreen Samsung) would synchronize to the UG007’s HDMI output and displayed a black screen, despite their capability to display the HDMI output from my Acer laptop. (Both monitors require DVI-to-HDMI adapters.) Our 46-inch Samsung UN46D6050 HDTV in the living room displayed video in the device’s available HDMI formats with no problem. It’s likely that more recent monitors with HDMI inputs would work as expected. (Tests follow.)

image3. The UG007 reported poor or out-of-range WiFi signal strength from our Buffalo Air-Station in the second-story office, although other devices in our living room reported good or excellent signal strength. The problem probably is a too-small antenna; other UG007 users have reported similar problems. I purchased a Netgear Universal WN3000RP Wi-Fi Range Extender – Manufacturer Refurbished (Amazon, US$39.99) to solve the problem by brute force.

imageNote: The UG007’s Settings menu includes an Ethernet choice for a wired connection with a USB 2.0 Ethernet Adapter 10/100M (US$16.50 from SFCables). I have one of these on order and will report later on its effectiveness.

4. The device failed to pair with my K1280C keyboard or Logitech Wireless Headset, both of which work fine with my Nexus 7. The USB keyboard and trackball I normally use with the Nexus 7 worked fine with the UG007.

5. The Dual Core Cortex A9 Android 4.1 Mini PC Manual sheet provides only cursory instructions for use of the device and its included apps. Illustrations are very small (about 1 by 2 inch) screen captures, most of which are unreadable. A user unfamiliar with the Android Jelly Bean UI would find it very difficult to configure and use the UG007 with the required USB or Bluetooth mouse or trackball and optional keyboard. Following are sources of additional information about the UG007:

image5. Shift+PrtScreen doesn’t appear to capture the HDMI output to a file. Google Play offers several screen capture apps that purport to be compatible with the Nexus 7 and Rockchip RK3066.

To provide more more details of the included and downloadable applications, I attempted to install Tomorrowkey’s Screen Capture Shortcut Free app from Google Play on both the Nexus 7 and U2007, which Google Play says it supports. However, attempts to start the app report that it is incompatible and sends an email with device data to the developer.

In the interim, I’ve used my Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS8 and Hauppauge Colossus HDMI to hard-disk transfer card to capture the Samsung’s video display. For more details of the Colossus card see Recording HDMI and Capturing Screens with a Hauppauge Colossus Card.


Selected UG007 Screen Captures

The device takes about 15 seconds to boot to an “R-BOX” screen and displays the ugliest home screen I’ve ever seen about 45 seconds later (see first image below; please excuse the parallax):

UG007HomeScreen

Fortunately, Google Play offers innumerable free wallpaper apps to replace the above screen (click for full size 1020P captures):

image

Only an experienced Android user would be likely to know that clicking the six dots at the upper right opens the built-in Apps screen:

image

Following are preinstalled Widgets:

image

Clicking Explorer from the Apps screen and navigating to a Flash drive with MPEG4/H.264 video segments showed the folder contents:

image

Here’s the Chrome browser displaying Titan TV listing for San Francisco Bay Area stations:

image

OakLeaf Systems Retail Survey HTML5 Client Autohosted by SharePoint Online 2013 and Windows Azure

Logging into the LightSwitch HTML 5 Client Preview 2: OakLeaf Contoso Survey Application Demo on Office 365 SharePoint Site with the Chrome browser provides a different (and better) experience than that described in Running the SurveyApplicationCS Demo Project under Android Jelly Bean 4.2 on a Google Nexus 7 Tablet:

  • Navigating to the http://oakleafsystems210.sharepoint.com Office 365 Developer Edition site the first time without the Fiddler2 proxy specified opens a sign-in form to enter Office 365 credentials. This page doesn’t appear when using the Nexus 7. Subsequent logins require use of the Fiddler2 proxy, as with the Nexus 7.
  • The home page of the Developer Edition doesn’t require opening a menu page to start the Survey app, as described for the Nexus 7. Instead, the home page appears with a link to the Survey app as shown here:

SurveyAppHome

Successive pages appear as expected:

SurveyLandingPage

SurveyPhoto

1080P Video Segments from a Flash Drive

Clicking a segment item lets you choose between the Video (Gallery) and the Video Player app. Here’s the Video Player app displaying a scene from PBS’ Downton Abbey season 2, episode 1 (1080P):

image

Commercial Streaming Video from the Internet

The following capture is with Video Player from Al Jazeera streaming video in High Quality format:

image


Note: Pat Moss posted [ROM] FengHuang 4.1.1 V04 for UG007 to the DragonDevs blog on 1/6/2013:

  • imageFor any brave souls who have a UG007, I am releasing the RC (V04) of FengHuang for this device.
  • It is unbranded, but ready to go.
  • It fixes the market, roots the stick, supports xbmc, fixes some wifi negotiation issues.
  • If you get any ‘force close’ issues, please do a factory reset to wipe data.

Note: TF (TransFlash) is another name for MicroSD memory cards.

See Pat’s post for download and installation instructions. I haven’t tested his ROM as of yet. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)


Testing XBMC App Compatibility and PVR Potential 

Media Centers and Personal Video Recorders (PVRs) are common applications for MiniPCs. Whitson Gordon (@WhitsonGordon) wrote How to Watch and Record Live TV on Your XBMC Media Center for LifeHacker on 2/5/2013. It begins:

imageBuilding a media center is a killer way to watch or stream your favorite movies and TV shows, but if you miss being able to watch live TV—and record it so you can watch it later—you can turn your XBMC box into a personal video recorder (PVR) with just a bit of setup. Here’s what you need to do.

imageXBMC 12 Frodo finally brought official PVR support to our favorite media center software, and it integrates very nicely. It still takes a bit of setup to get running though, so we’re here to detail all the steps involved for your XBMC media center. If you don’t have one yet, check out our guide to building one and setting everything up before continuing. …

From XBMC.org’s About page:

XBMC is an award-winning free and open source (GPL) software media player and entertainment hub for digital media. XBMC is available for Linux, OSX, and Windows. Created in 2003 by a group of like minded programmers, XBMC is a non-profit project run and developed by volunteers located around the world. More than 50 software developers have contributed to XBMC, and 100-plus translators have worked to expand its reach, making it available in more than 30 languages.

While XBMC functions very well as a standard media player application for your computer, it has been designed to be the perfect companion for your HTPC. Supporting an almost endless range of remote controls, and combined with its beautiful interface and powerful skinning engine, XBMC feels very natural to use from the couch and is the ideal solution for your home theater.

Currently XBMC can be used to play almost all popular audio and video formats around. It was designed for network playback, so you can stream your multimedia from anywhere in the house or directly from the internet using practically any protocol available. Use your media as-is: XBMC can play CDs and DVDs directly from the disk or image file, almost all popular archive formats from your hard drive, and even files inside ZIP and RAR archives. It will even scan all of your media and automatically create a personalized library complete with box covers, descriptions, and fanart. There are playlist and slideshow functions, a weather forecast feature and many audio visualizations. Once installed, your computer will become a fully functional multimedia jukebox.

It is difficult to put into words all that XBMC can do, head to the gallery to see some examples, or take the plunge and Try it Today.

Later XBMC versions include an add-on manager for installing a variety of user-contributed features. Here are the categories for the latest Frodo version from the XBMC Wiki:

image

An Official XBMC Remote Control for Android phones is available from Google Play, but it doesn’t support XBMC v12 or Jelly Bean (last supported Android version was a beta for Honeycomb.) Remote control details from the Wiki are here.

My initial attempt to download the Frodo 12 XBMC RC3 for Android 4 failed due to the poor WiFi connection.

XBMCDownload

I previewed it with my Nexus 7, which had no problem downloading and installing, and reattempted download and installation on the UG007 after setting up the NetGear WiFi range extender. The download and installation was successful:

XbmcSplashScreen

Stay tuned for my results with 1080P videos from a 64 GB Flash drive and 32 GB Micro-SD HC Flash memory card. …

My interest in XBMC stems from it’s PVR capabilities, which use a client/server architecture to record off-air or cable broadcast TV as described in the The XBMC Live TV and PVR/DVR Setup Guide:

Introduction:

As of v12 (Frodo), XBMC features live TV and video recording (DVR/PVR) abilities. This allows you to watch live TV, listen to radio, view a TV guide (EPG), schedule recordings and enables many other TV related features.

Due to the somewhat complicated nature of setting up PVR for XBMC, this guide was created to help users from start to finish.

How does live TV/PVR work in XBMC?

Logically, the XBMC PVR / Live TV consists of two parts:

  1. The Live TV backend server, which communicates with a TV tuner adaptor to create a video or audio stream, and
  2. The PVR client – an XBMC Add-on which controls the presentation of that content

The PVR backend is a process/application that performs the task of tuning, streaming and recording over-the-air and cable television and radio programming. It can either run on the same host running XBMC, on a stand-alone host or completely by itself with XBMC only running when needed. Some servers may be able to serve several clients simultaneously, which may be XBMC clients or others.

When paired with a matched backend, a configured PVR Add-on enables XBMC to handle the interface, or frontend, allowing the user to watch live TV (with pause/time shift, if supported by the backend), schedule recordings or listen to radio, giving the same sort of functionality as Tivo-style video recorder devices.

Next Step: Setting up the backend software

Graeme Blackley provides a free third-party XBMC PVR client, which you install from XBMC’s System | Add-ons | Get Add-ons | XMBC.org PVR Add-ons | PVR clients page (shown in a Nexus 7 for readability):

XBMC PVR Clients

Update 2/26/2012: Alexis Santos reported XBMC now available for Apple TVs with software update 5.2 in a 2/22/2012 Engadget article:

Jailbroken Apple TVs with software update 5.2 (iOS 6.1) snagged Bluetooth keyboard compatibility roughly a week ago, and now Cook and Co.’s hockey puck is in store for a heftier perk: support for XBMC. Memphiz, a developer on the entertainment hub project, has managed to tweak XBMC to run on Cupertino’s TV box with its latest software release. Ready to load up your hardware with the alternative media suite? Hit the bordering source link for the download and instructions, or check out the “Manage Extras” section if you’re running aTV Flash.

What’s Needed from xbmc Developers

An Android 4.1.1 or later backend with support for the Hauppauge WinTV-HVR850 and WinTV-HVR950Q sticks that’s compatible with xbmc v12 (Frodo) RC3 or later frontends and will run in Nexus 7 and 10 tablets, as well as UG007 and similar Android devices. See the Using the Pinnacle PCTV USB Mini Stick 80e with a NextPVR Windows Back End for details of connecting to a popular PVR/TVTuner combination which, unfortunately, requires access to a PC running Windows Vista or later.



Running XBMC on RK3188 Quad-Core MiniPCs

imageGeekGadgets described How to Play 1080p Files with XBMC and an External MX Player on RK3188 TV Sticks, Such as Tronsmart MK908 or Tronsmart T428 in a 5/9/2013 post to the GeekBuying.com blog [edited for syntax]:

imageXBMC is very good media center and a must-have app for your TV stick, in my opinion. Recently, we received some questions about to runn XBMC better with the newest RK3188 quad-core MiniPC. After searching for information, we found this solution:

  1. The official 12.0 XBMC version doesn’t work with RK3188 devices. I still don’t know why, but it crashes your MiniPC when you load it. Therefore, you should install this XBMC version: http://mirrors.xbmc.org/test-builds/android/xbmc-20130403-6200f76-Gotham_alpha2_stagefright-armeabi-v7a.apk
  2. Install the MX player from here: http://s3.amazonaws.com/1.7.15/videoplayer_ad__1_7_15a_neon_market.apk
  3. Install the XBMC app to your RK3188 device, which adds a  hidden org.xbmc.xbmc folder to the /sdcard/Android/data folder. Note that .xbmc is a hidden folder; to see it in File Manager you must select the “show hidden files” option.
  4. Download this file: https://nuskunetworks.box.com/s/wzzbunuqew9rh3ospczj and copy it to /sdcard/Android/data/org.xbmc.xbmc/files/.xbmc/userdata

After you finish the above, you can open 1080p videos in XBMC, which will use MX Player to render the video.

We have tested this process with Tronsmart T428 and Tronsmart MK908 devices, both of which work.