ProBox 2 mini PC
The Probox2 is an Android mini PC with a dual core processor and a wireless remote control that works as an air mouse and also as a voice input device. But more importantly, it’s one of the best Android TV sticks I’ve tested so far, thanks largely to excellent build quality and strong WiFi reception.
Many of the ARM-based mini-computers we’ve seen in recent months have specs that seem to match the Probox2′s, including the same processor, memory, and operating system.
But many of the cheaper models also suffer from awful WiFi reception which makes the sticks nearly unusable for surfing the web, streaming internet video, or doing just about anything else that requires an internet connection — in other words, most of what you’d want to do with a tiny Android device that you can plug into a TV to run apps on a big screen.
The Probox2 doesn’t really suffer from any of those problems, which makes it a pretty good option if you’re looking for a device that turns your TV into a smart TV capable of running thousands of different Android apps.
W2Comp sells the Probox2 for $90, and the company sent me a unit for testing purposes.
While the stick is a bit larger than similar devices such as the MK802 or G-Box Dyno, it’s still much smaller than a full-sized computer. But it’s basically got the guts of a low power PC (or an Android phone or tablet without the touchscreen display).
Under the hood it features a 1.6 GHz Rockchip RK3066 dual core processor, ARM Mali-400 quad-core graphics, 1GB of RAM, and 4GB of storage (although less than 2GB is available for use).
There’s a microSD card slot for extra storage space, a microUSB port which you can use to power the Probox2 and/or connect it to a PC, and 2 full-sized USB ports which you can use to connect a keyboard, mouse, video game controller, or external storage.
The device also features a full-sized HDMI port and comes with a small HDMI cable which you can use to hook up the Probox2 to a TV or monitor. There’s no separate audio output, so if you plan to use the box for multimedia you’ll want to make sure to use it with a monitor or TV that supports audio input over HDMI.
Right now the Probox2 ships with Google Android 4.0.4, but it should eventually be able to run Android 4.1 or Android 4.2 as well. Still, as an Android 4.0 device, it should be able to run the vast majority of Android apps available.
I tested Netflix, MX Player, and a recent build of XBMC Media Center for Android, and the Probox managed to stream video over the internet and play 720p HD video from a microSD card without any trouble.
Streaming videos over my home network was a bit more of a challenge, with some videos looking a little choppy. But that could have more to do with wireless activity on my home network than with the Probox2 itself.
Unlike most other Android TV sticks, the Probox2 never lost its WiFi signal while surfing the web, downloading apps, or streaming videos.
In addition to 802.11n WiFi, the mini computer supports Bluetooth which you can use to transfer files, connect peripheral devices, or stream audio (although I haven’t tested performance of all of those functions, since I don’t have a Bluetooth mouse or headset handy).
Out of the box, the wireless remote control works like an air mouse, allowing you to move an on-screen cursor to select items and click on them with an OK button. You can also use it to type this way by clicking keys on an on-screen keyboard. It’s not the fastest way to enter text, but it works.
Or you can click the microphone icon on the on-screen keyboard and the mic icon on the remote to enter text by talking into the remote control. It even works with relatively obscure words like “liliputing,” although it sometimes took the mic a few tries to figure out what the heck that particular word was.
During my testing, I preferred to use a wireless keyboard and mouse, but if you plan to primarily use the Probox2 as a media center device in your living room, the remote could come in handy.
I ran a few benchmarks on the Probox2, and it scored 9324 in Antutu and 7199 in CF-Bench. While these tests don’t always indicate real-world performance, they suggest that the device is a little faster than a Samsung Galaxy S2 smartphone, but not nearly as fast as a recent top-tier smartphone like the Galaxy S3 or LG Nexus 4.
All told, of the half dozen or so Android TV sticks I’ve tested so far, the Probox2 is one of the best I’ve tested, and one of the only ones I’d recommend buying if you’re looking for a reliable device to use in your living room. The other is probably the $65-ish Minix Neo G4, which has similar hardware and excellent WiFi reception.
But the Probox2 has Bluetooth, voice input, and 2 full-sized USB ports, which help set it apart from the Neo G4.
While the Probox2 ships with Google Android, there’s a chance you may be able to shoehorn Ubuntu or other Linux-based operating systems onto it for use as a general-purpose computer with a desktop operating system.
Developers have been building custom desktop Linux-based operating systems designed to run on devices with RK3066 processors, but so far they don’t support hardware accelerated graphics, which means they might not handle HD video playback and some other functions as well as Android on a TV stick like the Probox2.
You can pick up the Probox2 from W2Comp for $90.