A while back I wrote a review of the Rikomagic Android Mini PC that turned out to be a bit of a lemon that still sits in the bottom drawer of my desk along with other gadgets that I bought that turned out to sound better than they really turned out to be. Last month I spent 3 weeks in the US and while there picked up a Nexbox TV box that had excellent reviews and has been around for a while.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with this kind of thing I suggest you first read my review of the Chromecast device as this explains how that particular product can turn your regular ‘dumb’ TV into a smart one. Well, this device goes a lot further than a Chromecast – and for not much more money too.
An Android TV box runs the same or similar Android operating system that your phone or tablet runs and instead of displaying the apps on a built in screen it outputs the display on an HDMI cable (just as the Chromecast does). There are many models and capabilities of Android boxes and this one is at the higher end of them. The particular model of Nexbox I bought has 2Gb of RAM and 16Gb of storage for your apps etc. You can buy cheaper ones with less of both kinds of memory but the price difference isn’t enough in my opinion to warrant doing so. I got mine through Amazon with free delivery in the US and it worked out at AUS$80 (US$59) so it wasn’t an expensive purchase. Australians can’t buy most products through Amazon of course (yet) but I see the same product is available on eBay from a Sydney seller for around AUS$100 which isn’t much more than I paid for mine.
Brief specs for the geeks among us are the Nexbox runs a Quad core cpu, a Penta (5) core graphics chip, runs Android 6.0 and has dual band WiFi, Ethernet and Bluetooth plus 2x USB ports and an SD card slot for expansion so it is certainly well equipped. It came with Kodi preinstalled – this is the main reason people buy these boxes, more on this later – and also many useful apps for watching videos like Netflix, YouTube HD and Pandora to play music. Google Play store is installed so most Android apps can be installed too, just remember that you control the apps using the remote control. While the remote does have a ‘mouse mode’ it isn’t easy to use – it works but you need patience. As most Android apps are designed with tap and swipe input you need some way to control them without being able to touch the screen so as I mention below, installing a remote keyboard / touchpad makes sense and really means you can get the best out of it.
The acid test for me was to stream some 4K videos (which actually are 1080p on YouTube but still very high quality) from YouTube HD and check if there was any stuttering of the video playback and there was none. Provided you have reasonably fast internet of course, our ADSL broadband connection has 10Mb/s download speed so it was fine – the only issue I had was some ‘buffering’ after school when all the kids get home and go online, but that is usual where we live. After using the box for 2 weeks now I can say that I have never had an issue with video playback on the Nexbox.
As I said, the box comes with Kodi preinstalled. This software has been around for several years and was originally called XBMC which stood for XBox media centre and was used by XBox users to watch video etc on their devices. Now Kodi can be installed on many kinds of devices including Windows PCs, Apple computers and Androids. It is free software and you may have seen it mentioned in the news lately. The makers of the software allow ‘addons’ to be installed and many of these permit the user to watch copyright protected movies, TV shows and sports – this is the ‘grey area’ of Kodi. The makers say that their software is completely legal and take no responsibility for what their users do with it, which is fair enough. I don’t make any judgement on this and understand that many seniors simply can’t afford say, a Netflix account, but be aware that some of these addons are not legal to use in most countries. My viewpoint is that you are simply watching the content and not downloading or sharing it, but ultimately this is up to you.
I also discovered a feature that wasn’t mentioned in the small instruction booklet that came with it. The remote control button that looks like a TV starts the CloudTV app. The first time you run this you have to connect via WiFi but once that has been done you can plug your LAN cable back in if that is what you are using for the internet connection. After an update of the app you see ‘Trial’ and ‘Free’ TV channels. These channels include many paid TV channels as well as live TV channels like CBS, MSNBC, BBC etc. If you try the Trial channels you will get an idea of if the content is going to play smoothly on your system. Mine did, so I paid for a month subscription to the service (US$6) to test it out. I then had access to the premium channels – 52 from the US alone – most of which played very well. As I am writing this I have MSNBC from the US playing in 720p high definition and it is perfect. However the free channels are all unwatchable due to constant buffering. According to the CloudTV website they follow the content copyright rules so it all seems legitimate. I look forward to watching the America’s Cup races live on Sky Sports as we have little coverage here in Aussie as there is no Oz team in the cup this year.
The Nexbox actually came with many of the ‘not quite legal’ addons ready to go if you want to install them and one in particular does work very well to watch very recent movies and TV shows. I just won’t tell you which one (it starts with ‘E’…). As well as the not quite legal ones, there are thousands of completely legal addons available from the Kodi ‘repository’ (the term used for where to obtain addons from) and also many others that can be found and installed with a Google search and a little technical ability. A couple I found are one that provides Pandora, the music streaming service within Kodi and is much easier to control than the app that came installed on the Nexbox. Another provided all the Auckland radio stations and as a kiwi I was delighted to be able to listen to my old favourite stations. All the Australian TV stations have Kodi apps available as addons too, like iView, SBS On Demand, Plus 7, TENPlay and 9Now.
I found that using the onscreen keyboard became a pain when searching for things so plugged in a Logitech wireless keyboard with trackpad (the model is the K400). It just worked without any settings needing to be changed and this makes it much easier. As the box has bluetooth I expect any keyboard with that connection method can be used also – this frees up both USB ports. The USB ports can be used to plug in USB sticks or external hard drives. I plugged in a laptop USB 1Tb drive and it worked fine and I could play videos and movies from it with no problem. I suggest that you completely down power the box first before plugging a drive in though.
The included remote control works well too – I loved having the 5 programmable buttons that learn from other remotes. I used one of these to control the power on my stereo so I could turn it on and off without using the receiver’s remote. I also programmed the volume up/down and mute blue buttons to control the stereo so I have the ‘one remote to control them all’ now! Update: you can program other remotes too, so my last ‘blue button’ turns the TV on and off – I’ll never have to leave the couch again… Turning the Nexbox on is ‘instant’ as, like all Android devices, the power button just puts it to sleep. A long press however brings up the ‘Power Off’ menu item and you then press Ok on the remote to shut it off completely. Start up time from a ‘cold boot’ only takes 30 seconds anyway.
So in summary, I am very impressed with the Nexbox unit and for the price it’s excellent value in my opinion. If you haven’t bought a Chromecast yet, I recommend considering one of these as it can do everything the Chromecast can do plus so much more. Maybe a little ‘geeky’ for some, but with a little patience the average reader of this blog would have no problems setting it up I reckon as you are a clever lot. You must to be to be reading this anyway!
Where to buy: Just search for ‘Nexbox A95X Android TV Box’ on eBay (just watch that there are different, cheaper models and many come from China/Hong Kong). The one I bought was the ‘Pro 2Gb RAM, 16Gb’ storage model. A friend has the 1Gb/8Gb model and says it works fine, but as I said I preferred to get the top model to ensure I have no memory issues.