Minix Neo U1 review: the best Amlogic S905 Mini PC
Minix NEO U1
I've been playing with Minix Neo U1 for more than two weeks and I must say the device is exactly how would you expect a Minix to be: runs very cool (no overheating, that is), good file format support, much easier to use (with A2 lite) than most other Android-based Mini PC's.
Details about the aesthetics of this little device you can find in our Minix Neo U1 unboxing, our comparison between the current Minix "flagships" (X8-H and U1) being very popular amongst readers.
Speaking about that: while Neo U1 might have a penta-core GPU instead of the octa-core found in X8-H, Neo U1 outperforms the previous Minix models in most of the tests we performed.
As you can see in the review, Neo U1 might not have started off like a successir for X8-H, but it could certainly fill in that position.
Setup and first boot
As you saw in our unboxing, the Minix Neo U1 media hub comes with all accessories you might need (you only need to add batteries).
So setting up the Mini PC is quite easy, simply connect the DC adapter and a HDMI cable between the U1 and your TV or monitor. If you also have the A2 lite airmouse, use one of the 3 USB ports on the left to connect it's dongle and you're ready to go.
Quick note: the tiny led from the front is blue when the device is on and green when the device is in standby(there's no light at all when powered off).
Boot time is reasonable - under 30 seconds.
After boot I was prompted to choose between the Android standard launcher and Minix Metro launcher.
After playing briefly with the standard launcher I selected the Minix UI.
Minix kept the UI used for X8-H, but added some slight improvements.
The first 4 icons are just on/off indicators for WiFi, Ethernet, Bluetooth and VPN status.
The central 9 tiles are mostly folders that you can use to group apps in based on what they do. Upon clicking on one of them a popup with the apps in that group appears and you can add other apps by clicking on the plus sign from the top-right corner.
- - Videos - by default it contains just "VideoPlayer", but you can add here other movie players, like MX Player.
- - Kodi - actually there were no apps here, I added manually the Kodi 16 app that comes preinstalled and the XBMC Minix Edition
- - Music - comes with the standard "Music" app
- - Games - there are no game apps here by default, you can add your own
- - Internet - contains the standard "Browser" app
- - Online streaming - also no apps here by default
- - Screencasting - contains the Miracast app
- - Social - there are no social apps here by default, you can add your own
- - Settings - this is not a group, points to the main device settings
Right below the main tiles there's room for several apps that you might want to add on the main screen - there's a green + sign that allows you to select which apps to be featured here.
By default Minix places here the voice search app and their "Power off" menu app (which you probably won't want to be there, as the app can be launched from the either remote by simply pressing the power off button).
On the right side we have 5 more tiles:
- - Time (and day of week) - except for the obvious use this tile can be used to quickly access Android settings
- - File explorer - group that contains File browser, AppInstaller and Minix System updater (by default)
- - All apps - lists all apps currently installed (the benchmarking apps in the video are installed by yours truly, they do not come with the device)
- - App market - group that contains Google Play
- - All tasks killer - click on it whenever you want to free up some space in RAM
Minix Neo U1 firmware updates
One of the first things we do right after unboxing is to look for firmware updates and install the newest version available for the device.
Being a new model (and using a fresh SoC), Minix Neo U1 will receive quite a few updates in the next months - for instance, it received two updates during the time we reviewed it.
Upgrading Minix U1 is very easy - Minix provides a special app for this ("Minix System Update"). When started, the app checks if there's a new version online, and it prompts you to download and install it.
If you connected the Minix U1 via ethernet, a warning will pop out notifying you that you are under non-wif-fi network and some extra charges might apply. Ignore it, that's just Android reminding us once again that it was designed for phones and tablets and not for Mini PC's (although one can hope that Android will finally recognize the Ethernet port for what it is someday).
One thing I noticed is that Minix is very transparent about what's new, you can see the changelog before starting the update. You'd think that should be common practice for TV box manufacturers, but very few do that.
Notes There's an "update" section on Settings->Device->About, but you should use the Minix app instead.
Controlling your Minix Neo U1 Mini PC
IR Remote - as mentioned, the Neo U1 comes with a simple IR remote - just 7 buttons and the arrow keys with OK button. The remote works from a reasonable good distance (~10 meters), fits well in the hand and uses good quality materials.
But using just an IR remote can be a bit frustrating in Android as even small tasks, as adding a text, are much harder to accomplish. Yes, you can use the on-screen keyboard, but your patience is really tested.
Here's where the two other solutions come to play.
Neo A2 lite 2.4Ghz wireless airmouse with qwerty keyboard is a much better way to control the Neo U1 mini PC.
Minix offers this remote as a bundle with the Neo U1 - if you don't have another airmouse already I strongly recommend the A2 lite as it definitelly brings good value for the money.
To be perfecly honest, my first impression was that the A2 lite remote is kinda bulky, but it grew on me after using it daily for the past weeks and I can honestly say that I like it.
It's a bit heavier than my other airmouse, but uses soft materials and it's comfortable to use. Being powered by two standard AAA batteries is a big plus for me and the fact that it can power on or off the U1 means that it can fully replace the standard IR remote.
Minix Neo U1 remote app : as the previous Amlogic model (X8-H, see side by side comparison here), Minix U1 comes with RemoteIME , which can be downloaded from here (it also seems to be available in Google play, look for Smart iRemote).
You will have to remember to activate it from the U1 menu first.
The Minix Neo U1 remote app is fast and easy to use and covers several scenarios (mouse mode, media mode, keyboard mode). Works great with Minix U1 and it's free!
Minix Neo U1 benchmarks
As usual, the first test performed was AnTuTu (and the AnTuTu Video Tester). I'm a little annoyed by the fact that the benchmarks done with the new AnTuTu version (6.0) are not comparable with AnTuTu 5.0 results, but I guess that was unavoidable.
Neo U1 got 38176 points in AnTuTu 6.0, which is a good result (to put things in perspective, this result is slightly better than the one got by X8-H Plus.)
As you can see in the video I tried to pair the AnTuTu tests but I was unable to because the files needed by the Video Tester weren't downloaded fast enough (something that happened to me before, notthing to do with U1 but rather with AnTuTu's hosting choice).
I had to stop the video, but the files download was completed eventually and the score received by Neo U1 in the Antutu Video Tester 2.2 was a good 693 points (over 900 points in the 3.0 version).
CPU-Z detected 4 ARM cores @2.2 Ghz and the Mali-450 MP GPU and the board as "p200_2G".
Results in Vellamo were 1574 points for MultiCore, 1268 for Metal and 1956 for browser, all in the same ballpark as NEO X8-H Plus.
3DMark results were also good: almost 7000 points for Ice Storm Unlimited and 4335 points for Ice Storm Extreme(here X8-H Plus go better results because of it's 8-core GPU).
I also run the PCMark benchmark, were it got 3110 points - video available on our youtube channel.
I kept the A1 SD bench results last as I had to re-run them several times to be sure : the results were impressive in a big way, for any Android device: 118.5 MB/s for read and 73.37 MB/s write speed!
As seen in the video above, download speed was quite good (was connected wirelessly at the time). For 802.11ac I got around 5.7 MB/s and about half on 802.11n.
Using a wired connection the transfer speed between U1 and a Windows 10 computer was around 11.5 MB/s.
Minix Neo U1 : video playback
This review won't be complete without a qyuck video playback overview.
Let's start with a little known fact that puts things in perspective: Minix is a Diamond sponsor of the XBMC Foundation! Only 2 other manufacturers contributed to Kodi this way.
This shows that Minix understood why people buy their devices and place them under their TV's and chose to invest in the best media center available now - and at the right time, I might add.
That might explain why they are allowed to use the XBMC trademark on their "XBMC Minix Edition". And speaking about that, I was surprised to find that the app doesn't come with the device, especially since there's a huge tile for Kodi on the Minix U1 launcher.
In order to install it you need to check the Minix forums, and it's enough to not complain much about it :-)
Before starting XBMC, it's better to set the volume to a comfortable level because I found volume in XBMC to be very low and using the volume keys on A2 lite while in XBMC didn't help much.
After that small annoyance, let's hear the good parts: video playback with the XBMC version customized by Minix is very good, including automatic frame rate switching!
I started with samples containing the H.265 codec, which worked just fine from USB. 4K files(4096*2304) are being rendered OK from USB also.
All my Big Buck Bunny test files (480p/720p/1080p, H.264) were played ok from both a LAN share (Ethernet) and from an USB drive. In fact, only for files above ~90Mbps I noticed buffering issues over Ethernet.
Other than the test files, I was able to play all sorts of video files you could find around the house(own recordings, SD and HD TV series episodes, ISO files, older avi/mpg/wmv/mkv files) without any problems.
You can play videos from YouTube with the dedicated app or from the Kodi addon (no surprises here also)
Netflix app comes with the device, but since Netflix is not available in my country I was unable to test it. Word of caution, Netflix HD isn't available due to the painful Netflix approval process (details are on the Minix forums).
While Minix confirmed that the U1 is not using the S905-H variant which is supposed to "unlock" HD Audio, 7.1 and 5.1 surround sound pass through (over HDMI) and DD+/DTS and Dolby TrueHD (pass-through) do work just fine.
With this we know that Minix is a step ahead of the other Android Mini PC manufacturers.
DTS-HD pass-through is not working yet.
I briefly tested the latest Kodi 16 beta and the app everyone was using before Kodi became such a big hit(Mx player, that is) - everything was OK.
Minix Neo U1 : other features
One thing I noticed after I plugged it in was the fact that it did not start automatically, as most TV boxes do. This is actually a good thing, as you won't find your Minix powered on when you get home if there was a power surge - annoying, but it happens with cheaper devices. I was surprised to see MCU options in the device settings: you can choose whether the device will boot automatically when it receives power.
Minix implemented a nice shutdown menu: when you press the power button on the IR remote there's a nice menu asking you if you want to power off, reboot or put it in standby mode. That's very nice, but as a small suggestion here for the Minix team: I think it would be better to have the device shut down on a long press, it's easier for me as an user to press two seconds to shut it down than picking the option from the menu.
As mentioned in the specs, U1 has a working blueetooth module - I was able to connect to my phone just fine.
Skype works just fine with a cheap UVC camera.
Usually manufacturers announce their new devices at least one month before their release.
This wasn't the case with Minix U1 and I have to say this device is in no way a "rushed" product: everything about Minix Neo U1 seems well thought of and the result is as close to perfection as an Android Mini PC can be.
Yes, the price is higher than any other S905 devices, but you can see the differences from the lower power consumption, the lack of overheating even in the most stressfull conditions (the huge heatsink does a great job), premium build quality and very good software support.
That isn't to say that Minix Neo U1 is perfect, as it still has some issues (like the "10Mb bug"), but unlike most manufacturers, you can be sure that Minix will release firmware updates to fix them.
Speaking about firmware: with the current version there were no slowdowns of any kind, the interface was always snappy and
Would I recommend Minix Neo U1? yes. But I would look for a deal that includes the Neo A2 lite airmouse - a perfect match for Neo U1.
Meet Minix Neo U1, newest Amlogic S905-H Mini PC
Unboxing the Minix Neo U1