I had been planning on testing one of the Android Mini PCs for some time and kept an eye out for a suitable unit to buy when I saw this one on eBay recently. One of the problems with these devices is that they are often fairly basic with low speed processors and heard that some had overheating issues, so the Rikomagic with a Dual Core processor at a good price (more on that later) really grabbed my attention.
I’m sure many of you are thinking ‘Ok, but what are they for Andy?’ So, to recap let’s begin by explaining their intended purpose.
Android Mini PCs are often marketed as ‘A Simple Way to Turn your TV into a Smart TV’. For many of us that bought an LCD or Plasma in the last few years prior to the arrival of these newer TVs that basically have one of these devices built in – they can be the answer if we want the added features. This includes the ability to browse the internet, watch YouTube videos, access photos stored online, play games etc. There are a couple of problems with buying a TV with these features – they often don’t include WiFi (or the TV makers charge an arm and a leg for the optional extra) so you need an Ethernet cable to connect it to your modem or router which of course, is often in another room. Secondly, inbuilt devices like these – which are essentially a small computer – can’t usually be upgraded and I have heard stories of some that stop being able to access YouTube for instance because Google has changed something so the inbuilt computer says ‘What? I can’t play this!’ and gives up. Not good.
So here’s where the Rikomagic comes in, it includes: DualCore processor, 1Gb RAM, 8Gb storage plus space to insert a micro SD card for more, WiFi, HDMI to plug straight into the TV, 2x USB ports (for wireless keyboard/mouse/external hard drives etc) and Bluetooth. My one was running Android 4.2 (Jellybean). The price? $68 with free postage!
I have been testing this for the last week and have been mostly impressed with what I have been able to do with it but there are problems and I’ll discuss them first. I have a 42″ Philips LCD TV from around 2006 that the device isn’t compatible with and I have tested it on a later model Philips with the same result – incompatible video signal or the input is shown as getting a ‘720p signal’ but a stable picture can’t be displayed. The device displays fine on later model (and much cheaper) TVs and I have mine running now on a 22″ Dell PC monitor using a DVI to HDMI adaptor.
Watching YouTube videos, playing music tracks or streaming a movie from an external hard drive or over my network however soon became an exercise in frustration with the video or music stopping and starting at random and sometimes shutting down the running app altogether. As this was my main intended purpose for the device it just wasn’t up to the task. I had used a separate high power USB power supply too as suggested to avoid stability issues like these.
Using the Mini PC to download and play games and other apps was fine as was browsing the ‘net using Google Chrome or Firefox and checking email and calendars with the Gmail and Google calendar apps. I could use it to browse family photos and set up slideshows of them simply by using any of the many photo apps available in the Play store too.
But that’s about it really. I came away feeling disappointed on the whole – but not that surprised considering the price of the gadget.
Will an Android Mini PC replace a Smart TV? Nope, not this one anyway. Unless I send it back for a refund I may try downloading a custom ‘ROM’ (the operating system for the device) and testing it again to see if I can improve the video performance, but this isn’t something that the average user can do. So as a ‘plug it in and use it’ appliance goes, I just can’t recommend this one I’m afraid.