MINIX NEO U1 Media Hub Review

MINIX NEO U1 Review
Reviewer: Tyler DeGiacomo
Category: 
Systems
Model: 
U1
Price: 
$129.00

Whereas most other Amlogic S905 boxes have adopted the typical cost down approach, MINIX has done the reverse and built what they believe will be the number one Android box on the market. Their newest device, the NEO U1 is expected to surpass their own high-end flagship model – with more features at a lower price.

If you're unfamiliar with MINIX NEO, this Android-powered device transforms any conventional TV or monitor with an HDMI connection into a Media Center / fully functional PC. Enabling you to run Apps, browse the Internet, access Google Play Store, Netflix, Skype and even comes pre-installed with a new custom version of KODI which uses an audio pass-through mechanism not found on any other versions of KODI on the Android platform.

MINIX NEO Reviews

Over the years I've had an opportunity to review several MINIX NEO products. Aside from variations in hardware, generally the experience has been very similar across all NEO devices, with the exception of software and firmware updates.

That being said, I will be modifying commentary or reusing dialogue from past NEO reviews in this document where no noticeable changes are present or applicable to my experiences with the MINIX NEO U1 product.

Hardware

MINIX has introduced several fantastic Media Hubs for Android. This time around they have differentiated themselves by delivering much stronger hardware specifications, even in comparison to their own current high-end model, NEO X8-H Plus. The newly release MINIX NEO U1 is priced at a modest $129 and offers some additional features such as "True" 4K @ 60Hz (NEO X8-H Plus only supports 4K @ 30Hz), 10-bit color depth, HDMI 2.0, HDCP 2.2, Bluetooth 4.1 and Dual-Band 2 x 2 MIMO ac WiFi.

NEO U1 is built upon Amlogic System on a Chip (SoC) ARM Cortex-A53 next generation 64-bit architecture featuring a Quad Core processor (CPU) clocking in at 2.0GHz and Penta-Core Mali-450 Graphics Processing Unit (GPU). Though the GPU has only 5 (Penta) cores versus 8 (Octo) on NEO X8-H Plus, the frequency is higher with better energy efficiency.

On-board is 2GB DDR3 SDRAM, 16GB eMMC (embedded MultiMediaCard) for application storage, one Gigabit Ethernet port, three USB 2.0 ports, one OTG port, MicroSD Card Reader, Mic Jack, Headphone Jack and IR Receiver. Support for 7.1 and 5.1 surround sound pass through over HDMI, DD+/DTS (pass-through) and Dolby TrueHD (pass-through) are all present.

MINIX NEO U1 Retail Box Content

Contents of the retail box has everything you need to get started. One MINIX NEO U1 Media Hub, IR remote controller, WiFi antenna, HDMI cable, USB cable, multi-language setup guide and DC 5V (2A) power adapter. When purchasing, pay special attention to which power adapter type is included as there are different options. If you reside in the USA or Canada, select NEMA (North America).

NEO U1 shares the same form factor as NEO X8-H Plus but ports have been repositioned (all 3 USB ports on the right-side), a small, but welcome change in design. The matte black housing is constructed of formed plastic and build quality is exceptional. Top of the unit has their signature MINIX logo in gloss black piano finish, this of course doesn't add any functionality but is aesthetically pleasing. The detachable external WiFi (dual-band) antenna is positional which makes it easy to tuck the unit into a small vertical space and inclusion of a new internal antenna adds superior WiFi performance.

MINIX NEO U1 Ports

Bundled is an infrared (IR) remote control powered by two AAA batteries (not included). Conventional menu, home, power, volume, navigation, settings and return buttons are present. Line-of-sight is required for operation and overall this standard remote offers basic features. For those of you looking for more control, I'd strongly suggest purchasing the NEO U1 and NEO A2 Lite bundle for $149.90 USD (saves $10 compared to purchasing the two separately). The NEO A2 Lite is a gyroscope & accelerometer mouse with built in keyboard. A must have for your new MINIX Media box.

MINIX NEO U1 IR Remote

In past MINIX reviews I've documented an IR remote design flaw and outlined some other on-going constructive criticisms. Let's take a moment to revisit these.

Firstly, when the new IR remote was introduce I reported on a flaw which made batteries extremely difficult to remove once inserted - a small pry tool was needed to overcome this challenge. This issue has been fixed. As you can see below, all it took was a small cleft near the battery contacts. Minor, but important fix.

MINIX NEO U1 IR Remote Flaw Fixed

Repetitively I've praised MINIX NEO Media Hubs for their incredibly low power consumption and how the units are designed to be left on or stand-by mode when not in use. However, in conjunction the included IR remote could not power-on the device while shutdown. This was intended function and has always been an objection of mine. Well worry no more couch potatoes, the NEO U1 can be powered on/off using the remote, no need to use the physical power button on the side of the main unit like previous models.

Furthermore, I griped about barely visible illumination of the power status LED and then later commended MINIX for addressing this hindrance in our MINIX NEO X6 Review, a mistake on my part. This was perceived as being fixed because the X6 uses a different housing where status LEDs are brighter while powered on (Blue LED) and in stand-by mode (Green LED). As seen in our MINIX NEO X8-H Review, MINIX NEO X8 Plus Review and MINIX NEO X8-H Plus Review all utilize a larger housing which does NOT take advantage of brighter LED illumination. I am happy to report this too has been changed with a brighter status LEDs on the U1 housing!

Proof that MINIX listens to their customers and cares about developing a quality product. Good on you MINIX!

Specifications

  • Amlogic S905 SoC
  • Quad-Core ARM Cortex-A53 CPU (64-bit) @ 2.0GHz
  • Penta-Core Mali-450 GPU
  • 2GB DDR3 RAM
  • 16GB (eMMC 5.0) Storage
  • WiFi 802.11ac 2 X 2 MIMO Dual-Band
  • RJ-45 GIGABIT Ethernet
  • Bluetooth 4.1
  • HDMI 2.0, up to 4K @ 60Hz Supports HDMI-CEC
  • 3.5mm Stereo Jack, Optical SPDIF
  • USB 2.0 port x 3, OTG port x 1 Kensington lock ready
  • MicroSD Card Reader (256GB Max)
  • Mic Jack, Headphone Jack, IR Receiver (Remote included)
  • Dimensions: 128mm (l) x 128mm (w) x 20mm (h)

Software

MINIX NEO U1 runs Android 5.1.1 (Lollipop) with Kernel Version 3.14.29. There is no longer an initial system setup on first boot, simply choose your preferred launcher and the device is ready to use.

MINIX NEO U1 Metro

Launcher decision is that of personal preference. You'll need to select a Home Screen by keeping the default custom MINIX Metro interface (shown above) or Android Launcher (shown below).

MINIX NEO U1 Android

MINIX Metro takes design influence from Metro, a typography-based design language by Microsoft. The interface is straight forward and layout works great for Television format. Eight of the nine predefined categories allow for easy addition & removal of Application shortcuts to their associated sub menus. Quick launch shortcuts can also be managed and placed directly on the Home screen too.

Overall MINIX Metro has potential, but isn't polished enough for my liking as I always switch back to the default Android interface. Not much has changed since we last reviewed the MINIX interface with the exception a KODI tile replacing XBMC, VPN status indicator, a voice search and power menu quick launch shortcuts have been added. There is still a lot of unnecessary clicking and user experience needs work. It would also be nice to see some configuration options such as color scheme, custom icons and button assignment. My recommendation would be try out both Launchers to see which you like best, or search Google Play for other options. For the record, I saw nearly an identical interface on a competitors Android based device, this leads me to believe MINIX Metro may not be exclusive to MINIX, rather a re-branded Launcher.

Significant changes can be found within the settings interface. Gone is MINIX branded settingMbox application, replaced with visually appealing menus similar to that of Android TV. These new menus integrate seamlessly with Android 5.1.1 (Lollipop) flat interface design. Overall the aesthetic changes are great and intuitively positive.

MINIX NEO U1 Settings

As with all current models, a Firmware Over the Air (FOTA) update system is in place - no more manual updates are required, all future updates are available to download from Amazon hosted servers mirrored worldwide and install automatically.

MINIX NEO U1 firmware

Pre-installed are popular applications such as Netflix, Skype, Gmail, Google Maps, AirDroid, Miracast, Google TV Remote and custom a build of KODI. Complete access to Google Play is available to download all your favorite Android Apps too. There is no needless bloatware installed from what I've observed, just a clean Android environment with a good mix of the essentials.

MINIX NEO U1 Apps

For those unfamiliar, KODI (formally known as XBMC) is a popular Open Source home theater application which is freely available for Linux, Mac/iOS, Windows, Raspberry Pi and Android.

KODI for Android is available through Google Play Store, but there is also a custom "XBMC MINIX Edition" APK available for download and eventually will be included in a future FOTA update, so customers won't need to install it separately. This new version of XBMC MINIX Edition already includes all the work found in KODI 16 and in fact has features that won't appear until KODI 17 - mostly relating to the audio pass-through options. For an optimum experience it is highly recommended using XBMC MINIX Edition until this customization is pushed to an official KODI release.

Back in April of 2015 MINIX became a Diamond Sponsor of the XBMC Foundation. Speaking with MINIX, I've learned this custom version is developed by the head KODI for Android development, so the project is 100% involved in what MINIX is doing and fully transparent with the work that is being done. KODI is a trademarked term, and it is not legally possible to use this name for any custom versions of KODI - so MINIX still calls it "XBMC MINIX Edition" even though it's based off KODI. The work MINIX does benefits the Amlogic S905 platform as a whole, as they bring the KODI developer and Amlogic together and push through the changes that are needed, not just for their hardware but for the chipset in general. So far, we haven't seen any of the other S905 manufacturers doing this type of work that benefits the entire community.

MINIX NEO U1 KODI

Performance

Timing Results

  • Power on: 19 seconds
  • Power off: 5 seconds

AnTuTu Benchmark v6.0 Results

  • Overall Score: 38682

MINIX NEO U1 AnTuTu Benchmark

AnTuTu Video Tester v3.0 Results

  • Overall Score: 916

MINIX NEO U1 AnTuTu Video Test

Current Model Comparisons - Overall Results

To aid your purchasing decision and for sake of comparison, we run the latest version of AnTuTu Benchmark with 3DBench and AnTuTu Video Tester on current model MINIX NEO Media Hubs that Linuxlookup.com has on-hand. For best results, current stable firmware and App updates are applied prior to benchmarking and test software versions are identical across all devices.

Below are overall benchmarking and video test scores for the MINIX NEO X6, MINIX NEO X8-Plus, MINIX NEO X8-H-Plus and MINIX NEO U1.

MINIX NEO AnTuTu Benchmark Results

MINIX NEO AnTuTu Video Tester Results

Video Playback Performance

4K Ultra High Definition video content is years away from being mainstream and unless you have a television/monitor capable of supporting 4K resolutions there really isn't any benefit. But for the sake of evaluation I've tested "real world" playback performance of 4K video along with 1080p video, on both WiFi with a strong signal and Gigabit Ethernet, over a Local Area Network (LAN) connection to Network Attached Storage.

Perceivably the WiFi connection performs better than any other model I've tested. 4K video playback over WiFi experiences an initial buffering upwards of 25 seconds, fills the cache and then stays ahead of current playtime with no further buffer interruptions. Ethernet connection on the other hand had an initial 2 second buffer and played seamless from that point forward. Playback of 1080p video instantly plays with zero buffering on either WiFi or Ethernet connections.

MINIX NEO U1 KODI 4K Video Playback

Energy Efficiency

Our energy efficiency test measured power consumption under heavy load fluctuating between 2.7W to 3.6W, idle fluctuation at 2.5W to 3.0W and stand-by (sleep mode) fluctuation 0.4W to 1.0W. Your results may very depending on system load.

Energy efficiency averages are fractionally better under high load, where as both idle and stand-by are somewhat worse than we've documented on previous MINIX NEO models. Very marginal, but worth mentioning.

MINIX NEO U1 Energy Efficiency

Gallery

Conclusion

The Good - Pros
  • True 4K/Ultra HD @ 60Hz playback (10-bit color depth)
  • 64-bit architecture featuring a Quad Core processor (CPU)
  • New settings interface is uniform & integrates seamlessly with Android 5.1.1
  • Custom "XBMC MINIX Edition" offers audio pass-through mechanism currently not in KODI
  • Remote battery removal design flaw fixed
  • Power-on device with IR remote now present
  • LED status indicator now brighter
  • No bloatware pre-installed
  • MINIX assists in furthering KODI development
  • Excellent support - historically MINIX firmware updates are frequent
  • DTS-HD support (Requires latest firmware and MINIX XBMC APK)
The Bad - Cons
  • XBMC MINIX Edition is a manual download for now (Will be in FOTA at a future date)
  • Marginal increase in idle and stand-by power consumption vs. other models
  • I'd like to see USB Type-C ports instead of the current USB 2.0
The Ugly - Problems
  • N/A
The Verdict - Opinion
  • This is what I love about MINIX, they take constructive criticism and respond to consumer concerns. Of the several gripes and issues I've identified in past MINIX NEO reviews they have addressed them all with the MINIX NEO U1.

    Keep this in mind when you're shopping around. You may find a similar specification media hub product with lower cost, but the reasonably priced MINIX NEO U1 is a worthy purchase as there is high value in having a manufacture which continually supports their products and evolves.

Innovation: 
4/5
Performance: 
5/5
Compatibility: 
5/5
Cost / Value: 
5/5

18/20

Overall score


Category: