Minix Neo X7 Review

The Minix Neo X7 is an Android media device that can stream video from an iPad. That’s pretty special — or at least it would be if it actually worked.

Minix Neo X7: On the plus side

Imagine, if you will an Apple TV. An Apple TV that’s eaten just one too many pies, and can’t fit into its tiny black enclosure any more. It’s bursting at the seams, and larger than all the other identikit Apple TVs.
Congratulations — you just designed the Minix Neo X7. Not that the Minix Neo X7 is an Apple TV. Instead, it’s an Android Media Hub, as per its own description, or a small streaming box as per everyone else’s descriptions of such devices. Not that mimicking the form factor of the Apple TV is a terribly new idea; the Pivos XIOS DS Play! plays in the same kind of ground.
Mind you, Minix make a fair amount of use out of the additional space of the Minix Neo X7’s dimensions, packing in an SD/MMC card reader, 3 USB 2.0 ports, ethernet, optical audio and a microUSB OTG port to boot. Wireless is provided by a chunky antenna with support for 802.11 b/g/n 2.4/5GHz WiFi. The underlying operating system is Android 4.2.2, and Minix provides a couch based large icon launcher to make operation of whatever Android apps you’d care to throw at it relatively painless.
The Minix Neo 7’s resemblance to an Apple TV doesn’t stop with the aesthetic, either, as it’s also capable of Airplay and iOS mirroring. Not that this is something that’s been licensed from Apple itself — the odds of that happening on an Android platform seem slim, to put it politely — but due to the inclusion of the AirPin PRO app, which fools iOS devices into sending video content via AirPlay to the Minix Neo 7. The currently updated version also supports screen mirroring. More on that shortly. For what it’s worth, Minix also promotes a 4K capable Neo X8 running Android 4.4, although that model doesn’t seem to support AirPin PRO.
The default remote control that comes with the Minix Neo 7 is exactly like every other tiny media centre control; small, rubbery and not terribly inspiring. Local distributors Canohm also supplied me with the Minix A2 Airmouse, a combined remote control and keyboard that’s broadly reminiscent of the remote that came with the D-Link Boxee Box.
Remember the Boxee Box? Ah, good times. In any case, if you were keen on the Minix Neo 7, I’d highly recommend the A2 Airmouse, as it’s one of the best arm’s length keyboards I’ve tested. It certainly made setting up the Minix Neo 7 a whole lot easier.
The Minix Neo X7 sells itself as a Quad-Core device — specifically it’s packing a 1.61GHz Cortex A9 with a Mali-400MP GPU and 2GB of RAM. For those who love benchmark scores, Geekbench 3 reports a single core score of 481 and a multi-core score of 1219. While there’s still some controversy over benchmark tweaking, this doesn’t point to the Minix Neo X7 being massively powerful.
Then again, it might not need to be. While the whole wide world of Android apps is open to the Minix Neo X7, the reality is that the target market for the Minix Neo X7 is one that’s primarily going to be interested in streaming music and video to their TV from local, networked and online sources.

Minix Neo X7: On the minus side

The Minix Neo X7’s rounded design is attractive in the same way that the Apple TV is attractive, but it’s all rather spoilt by the antenna and the variety of other cables that will inevitably snake around it, especially as they run across three of its four sides. It’s feasible to hide away an Apple TV, but the Minix Neo X7 is just a little bit too big for that.

It's like an Apple TV armed with its own inbuilt cricket bat.
It’s like an Apple TV armed with its own inbuilt cricket bat.

Minix provides its own couch-friendly launcher for the Minix Neo X7. I’ve seen worse in the Android space — or, as was the case with the Kogan Agora Smart TV Quad Core HDMI Dongle, none at all — but the Minix Neo X7’s launcher is still a weird one. It presents as though you’ve got large screen icons for simple functions such as media playback, browser and game applications, but these are really just folders into which you’re expected to drop apps. It’s a weird UI choice given there are a few pre-installed apps on the Minix Neo X7.
The unit supplied to me was released just prior to a recent firmware and AirPin update, which meant I had to go through the interesting process of firmware updating. I’ll give it a tick of approval for updating at all, because so many Android devices never actually manage that, but the process is one that’ll only appeal to hacker types. It took me multiple attempts, including several days where the entire Minix domain (and thus all downloads) was MIA. You can read the full process here, but I have the gut feel that many consumers would baulk at that list of requirements.
The big hook for the Minix Neo X7 over competing Android hubs would have to be its ability to fool iOS devices into mirroring content without being locked into Apple’s ecosystem. That’s especially important given that the 3rd Generation Apple TV is, to date, a hack-free zone.
Or at least it would be if it worked reliably. I’ve tried around a dozen different apps streaming video to the Minix Neo X7, and while it’s easily detected by a variety of iOS devices, whether or not you’ll get onscreen video and audio is very much in the lap of the gods. For the record, I got ABC iView working — once, but not subsequently — and files stored on a Netgear ReadyNAS to stream via Media:Connect to work — again, sporadically — but could never get files stored in Apple’s own Video app to work in any way at all. It would just loop a meaningless error message, drop to the launcher and try again fruitlessly.
Or in other words, if you were eyeing off the Minix Neo X7 because you already have an iPad or iPhone, you’re still better served with an Apple TV, even though the Minix Neo X7 has a far wider range of apps available to it.

Minix Neo X7: Pricing

Canohm lists the Minix Neo X7 with an RRP of $249, and the accompanying A2 Air Mouse at $74.95. For what it’s worth, there appear to be a number of online stores selling it for around $100 less than that asking price.

Minix Neo X7: Fat Duck Verdict

The Minix Neo X7 has a lot of promise, and with multiple USB ports plenty of expandability, putting it in the space of a small Android PC in many ways. If that’s what you’re after, and if you can get one for that rough $150 price point it’s a reasonable entry.
As a pure media hub, however, it has some serious problems. AirPin PRO simply doesn’t work smoothly enough to make it a selling point for this particular hub, and the inbuilt launcher is a bit too rudimentary to be a really compelling couch surfing option.
It’s also another Android Media PC that’s been heavily undercut by the Google Chromecast if it’s only media streaming that you’re after; you could buy three Chromecasts for the price of the Minix Neo X7 alone, and that’s not a comparison that favours the Minix Neo X7 in any way.

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