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Why M8 Android TV Box is a failure

19 August, 2015 | Hardware

In my pursuit to replace the smartness of my Samsung TV with something more appropriate (more about this in a new post), I eventually found interesting to research a little bit about media centers based on android (and obviously on the very trendy ARM processors). So I decided to give it a go, and find something not extraordinary expensive but powerful enough to run mainly Kodi (former XBMC). On the chinese webstores the offer is really diverse, but also the chance to end up with some crap is high. So I opted out for an Amazon purchase, at least for the returning policy, and also because the prices are kinda similar!

 

Here is an onest example that actually the prices can be bigger if you buy directly from China!

 

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and Amazon similar price (I couldn’t find exactly the 'brand' but the device is exactly the same).

 

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So, I paid around 70 euro for this hardware:

CPU: Amlogic Quad Core A9 - 2Ghz

RAM: 2 GB

ROM: 16 GB (there was an extra option for it, so I got it)

GPU: Mali 450

 

The specs looked good and they advertise 4k playing really well. I have no idea about that (because I don't own yet a 4k screen), but I felt that if it's possible to play 4k with no problem, then it will play decent Full HD.

 

First on all, on youtube you're gonna find enough videos that will praise this machine. Which is kinda logical if you take into account that the authors were sponsored with some hardware or even received money for this. Or they just want to turn some advertisements into gold, so yeah... video reviews all day long. Just take those with a pinch of salt.

 

So first impressions of the box: looks simple, plastic all day long but not ugly. It has a fancy blue LED light, and a remote control. Which is crap. Yeah, everyone said it's really good, but pressing a couple of times for a button to actually get the command is definitely not funny. Yes, the batteries were brand new. Or it might have been the box, not the remote, who knows? Point is, without an extra bluetooth keyboard, you're gonna scream at your TV. So let's put aside the remote, thanks but no thanks.

 

The interface for my model was actually good. Really GOOD. I mean not out of the ordinary, but man, comparing with other crappy chinese tv boxes, this Metro look was amazing. Big tiles on your screen. Windows feeling.... Yah! A couple of apps installed by default, and the box otherwise rooted.

Because more text will become boring, let's just dive into the issues. So...

Ready to enjoy a lot of movie/TV right away. That's true, there are some apps for that (live streaming and so), but there is no guarantee that you're gonna actually see something, or if you're luckly enough and not wait for a couple of minutes timeout, you're gonna see 1080p quality for the streams... Overall the user experience is bad, and I highly recommend a Netflix subscription (or similar). Of course, all this was known by me beforehand so I actually didn't give a rat ass about it, but maybe some of you still believes in free (as in free beer) full HD quality shows (let's not talk about torrents, ok?). Get real!

Enough juice under the bonnet. Yep, you have to go for the 2GB ram if you want something decent, even with Android. And it seems to be enough for a while, but keep in mind that a quarter of it is already taken by the pre-installed software. CPU and GPU is moving good for FullHD as well. So this is ok (but not perfect as you might expect).

Android OS. This is very common these days, but also very crap. And yeah, before you go ranting at me, I must assure you that my phone is powered by Android. Not that I wanted or I had a choice (the alternatives are just... NOPE. I'm still waiting for a reasonable priced Linux based smartphone though). And Good Lord... you have only to take a look at the (inconsistency) of the folders structure to feel something is wrong about this kid. And man...  install an app for FTP, an app for ssh (which somehow will mimic an user, that actually get roots immediately) and yes, you have to accept that a specific app will have access to your documents, pictures, wifi connections and basically everything which is on your mobile device. Private life? Screw that. The apps are owning you, not the other way around. But you know the drill... Anyway, I accepted all that, with the mention that I will keep this box in some kind of quarantine and never ever store sensitive data on it.

Wifi. And here is where the show begins. First of all, the box was unable to find my 5Ghz band even if it's advertised like that. Secondly, I was unable to find what kind of shitty chipset is there. They say wireless and that's it. And here is the problem: the wifi connection quality for such a device should be GOLD. In 99% of cases, you don't want to drag a Ethernet cable to your TV, right? And streaming for example from another server (computer, whatever) is gonna require some bandwidth. In this case, that's Achilles' heel. Probably to keep the cost down, the manufacturers sacrificed this vital component.

My connection fluctuated very badly: from 2Mbps to 14Mbps. And that was it. In the same spot, my laptop could easily get around 24Mbps if not more. There is a video on youtube showing how to improve the antenna reception (basically moving it in a different position inside the case) but that's not helping that much. I tried all the tricks, playing with the cache and so on.... not luck. Eventually a very good quality movie would end up with interruptions.

Sudden death. Because the box lacks a power button, you have to remove the power cord cable in order to restart it. I did like that, let's say for 2 times in a row in an interval of a couple of seconds. Kaboom! The box died and all I could see further was a very short blue light blinking. I'm aware that is not a general rule, but also raised a couple of questions about the quality of the electronic components inside.

 

In that moment, I gave up pursuing this dream. I just went back to a barebone mini PC, added 4 GB of ram, had plenty of juice out of a A8 AMD GPU, inserted an 120 GB SSD in it and enjoyed real computing power. Agreed, it becomes 3x more expensive* than an Android box, but you cannot really compare the experience. The interface in Kodi is _super_ fluent (on M8 box I still had some glitches). The ARM processors are good, but they cannot beat the mobile AMD/Intel alternatives. Definitely not (and we're not talking about cutting edge outrageously expensive technologies).

p.s. for the OS I went for a classic Linux that I can trust and which is a very friendly guy with the rest of my devices.

* but affordable, and way cooler than Apple TV