MINIX NEO U9-H Media Hub Review

MINIX NEO U9-H Media Hub Review
Reviewer: Tyler DeGiacomo
Category: 
Systems
Model: 
U9-H
Price: 
$139.99

Get ready for the latest addition to the MINIX NEO product line. Introducing a new high-end model, the MINIX NEO U9-H.

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 KODI Home Theater Software.

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 U9-H product.

Hardware

The newly release MINIX NEO U9-H is priced at a respectable $139 and delivers top-tier levels of performance such as 4K Ultra HD video playback (4K@60Hz), High Dynamic Range (HDR10) support, 10-bit color depth, HDMI 2.0, HDMI-CEC, Bluetooth 4.1 and Dual-Band 2 x 2 MIMO ac WiFi.

NEO U9-H is built upon Amlogic System on a Chip (SoC) ARM Cortex-A53 next generation 64-bit architecture featuring an Octa Core processor (CPU) clocking in at 2.0GHz and 750MHz+ ARM Mali-820MP3 Graphics Processing Unit (GPU).

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 Fully Licensed Dolby Digital (pass-through) are all present.

This progressive U9-H model is a direct successor to the older generation X8-H Plus and in comparison to last years MINIX NEO U1 review, MINIX NEO U9-H offers a positive gain in hardware specifications but not a replacement. If you currently own a U1 don't feel cheated, both are excellent choices it's just that the new NEO U9-H will benefit from 4K HRD10 and Dolby Digital pass-thru support.

MINIX NEO U9-H Retail Box Content

Contents of the retail box has everything you need to get started. One MINIX NEO U9-H 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 U9-H shares the same form factor and layout as NEO U1. 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 U9-H 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.

MINIX NEO U9-H IR Remote

For those of you looking for more control I'd strongly suggest purchasing the NEO U9-H and NEO A3 bundle for $159.90 USD. This includes the newly released NEO A3, a six-axis gyroscope & accelerometer mouse with built-in QWERTY keyboard and microphone for voice controls.

MINIX NEO A3 Remote

Made exclusively for MINIX Media boxes the NEO A3 wireless air mouse is a must have.

Specifications

  • Amlogic S912-H SoC
  • Octa-Core ARM Cortex-A53 CPU (64-bit) @ 2.0GHz
  • 750MHz+ ARM Mali-820MP 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 U9-H runs Android 6.0.1 (Marshmallow) with Kernel Version 3.14.29. On first boot simply choose your preferred launcher and the device is ready to use.

MINIX NEO U9-H Metro

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

MINIX NEO U9-H 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 there is a lot of unnecessary clicking and user experience needs refinement. With the exception of current weather forecast making an appearance on the right menu once again, nothing else has changed since we last reviewed the MINIX interface. My recommendation would be try out both Launchers to see which you like best, or search alternative launchers on Google Play. For the record, I saw nearly an identical Metro 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.

While on the topic of launchers, it should be noted that the stock Android Launcher included isn't exactly eye candy either. However, with a little bit of customization on your part, the interface can be rearranged to look however you wish. Below is an example of a more useful layout.

MINIX NEO U9-H Custom Android

The settings interface offers visually appealing menus similar to that of Android TV. These menus integrate seamlessly with Android's flat interface design and have now become standard.

MINIX NEO U9-H Settings

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

MINIX NEO U9-H Firmware

Pre-installed applications has been kept minimal as complete access to Google Play is available for you to download all your favorite Android Apps as required. 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 U9-H Apps

In all the MINIX NEO models I've reviewed over the years there has never been an issue while poking around within the software, until now. When the device is put into stand-by mode (Green LED) and then powered on (Blue LED) an inappropriate and useless "ES Smart Lock screen" appears.

This is caused by a pre-installed App named "ES File Explorer". Not only does this App enable an unsuitable lock screen, but it also negatively affects duration of power-down on the device by 10 seconds. To address both of these issues simply uninstall ES File Explorer. In the meantime I'll report the issue to MINIX in hopes they remove ES File Explorer from future builds.

MINIX NEO U9-H ES Lock screen

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. Pre-installed is KODI 17 that offers MediaCodec refresh rate switching and HD audio pass-through.

MINIX NEO U9-H Kodi 17

Back in April of 2015 MINIX became a Diamond Sponsor of the XBMC Foundation and it appears they have migrated over to installing latest stable version of KODI directly from Google Play rather than a separate APK as we've seen in the past. This means your KODI App will always be up-to-date with the current release.

Performance

Timing Results

  • Power on: 23 seconds
  • Power off: 7 seconds

AnTuTu Benchmark v6.0 Results

  • Overall Score: 42658

MINIX NEO U9-H AnTuTu Benchmark

Model Comparisons - Overall Results

To aid your purchasing decision on new models and for sake of comparison on older models, we run the latest version of AnTuTu Benchmark with 3DBench on all MINIX NEO Media Hubs that Linuxlookup.com has on-hand. For best results, current stable firmware and App updates are applied prior to benchmarking.

Below are overall benchmarking scores for the MINIX NEO U9-H, MINIX NEO U1, MINIX NEO X8-Plus, MINIX NEO X8-H-Plus, MINIX NEO X6 and MINIX NEO X8-H.

MINIX NEO Benchmarks

Video Playback Performance

I've tested "real world" playback performance of 4K Ultra High Definition 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.

MINIX NEO U9-H 4K UHD Playback

WiFi 802.11ac 2 X 2 MIMO Dual-Band connection performance is great. 4K video playback over WiFi experiences an initial buffering upwards of 16 seconds, fills the cache and then stays ahead of current playtime with no further buffer interruptions. Ethernet connection on the other hand experienced no initial buffering and plays seamless. Playback of 1080p video instantly plays with zero buffering on either WiFi or Ethernet connections.

MINIX NEO U9-H Netflix

Netflix no longer comes pre-installed but easily downloaded from Google Play, or you may also opt for the Netflix HD video quality APK directly from the MINIX website.

Energy Efficiency

Our energy efficiency test measured power consumption under heavy load fluctuating between 4.4W to 4.7W, idle fluctuation at 3.0W to 3.5W and stand-by (sleep mode) fluctuation 0.3W to 0.5W. Your results may very depending on system load.

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

MINIX NEO U9-H Energy Efficiency

Gallery

Conclusion

The Good - Pros
  • 4K Ultra HD @ 60Hz playback (10-bit color depth)
  • High Dynamic Range (HDR10) support
  • Android 6.0 (Marshmallow) OS
  • Fully Licensed Dolby Digital Audio (pass-through)
  • 64-bit architecture featuring a Quad Core processor (CPU)
  • MediaCodec refresh rate switching in KODI 17
  • HD audio pass-through in KODI 17
  • Standy-by power consumption lower than 1W.
  • No bloatware pre-installed
  • Excellent support - historically MINIX firmware updates are frequent
The Bad - Cons
  • MINIX wallpaper looks dated and needs a refresh
  • Default Android Launcher is messy & not visually appealing
  • I'd like to see USB Type-C ports instead of the current USB 2.0
The Ugly - Problems
  • ES Smart Lock on wake is inappropriate for device
  • ES File Explorer App increases power-off duration by 10 seconds
The Verdict - Opinion

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

19/20

Overall score


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