REVIEW Looking for a tiny, HD capable media player, or a neat and tidy way of upgrading your HDTV or traditional TV with Smart TV functionality? Then this affordable little Android based mini PC might just fit the bill!

Howdyho, fellers! If you read my last entry in this'er blawg, you know I scored some nice tech goodies on DealExtreme's holiday discount campaign they had over the days between Xmas and New Year's Eve of last season (2012). Amongst my main purchases was an Android tablet PC, as well as this HD media player, which also happens to be running Google's Android 4 OS.

Price: $59.99 at DX.com (as of Feb. 8, 2013)
Purchased 50% off with a coupon in December 2012

Mini X vs. Mini Xplus vs. MINIX

For starters, let's clear out some ambiguity regarding the actual name of the device. The media player I'm reviewing here has the name "Mini X" printed on the box as well as the device itself.

There are several variants of the Mini X. This is not one of them. The MINIX Neo X5 is a different animal, despite its confusingly similar name.
There is also a different Android device out there, otherwise unrelated to this one, called MINIX. To avoid lawsuits and other forms of unpleasantness (presumably), the company behind the Mini X renamed their little creation "Mini Xplus".  Later production runs of the "Mini X" therefore go by the "Xplus" name, while the original "Mini X" players are still being sold off at places like DX, where I got mine.

The Mini X and the Mini Xplus are hence identical - they have the same hardware and their firmwares are interchangeable. The only difference between the two, apart from the names, is a stand which comes only with the Mini Xplus, not the original Mini X. As a matter of fact, my Mini X now displays "Mini Xplus" on the boot-up screen, since I flashed it over to the latest firmware (available for download at minixplus.com).

Some of the Mini X and Mini Xplus players are also branded "Jesurun", which is the original manufacturer of the Mini X's. So if your device has that written on it, it's hence the ODM [original device manufacturer] version of the Mini X / Xplus. But again, it's just a different name, of an otherwise identical device.


So, with that confusion out of the way, let's move on with the review, shall we?

Features and connections

The Mini X is a teeny weeny guy, measuring only about 6 by 6 cm (just above 2 inches) and about 1.2 cm (roughly half an inch) in thickness. It comes in various colours, including black, blue and this lovely red, which I obviously opted for.

The Mini X / Mini Xplus have two USB ports, whereas one of them can be used to hook the device up to a computer, if you happen to have a USB cable of the "type A to type A" variety, which aren't that common. The ports can otherwise be used for mass storage devices, such as flash drives and external hard drives, as well as mice and keyboards - wired or wireless (as long as they connect via USB, they should be fine). If you want to plug a hard drive in, make sure it has its own power supply, however, as it might be to much of a load for the little device to handle all by itself.

Black Jesurun branded Mini Xplus (w/ a stand), blue plain Mini Xplus, and a red plain Mini X. All these are identical otherwise, as far as hardware goes. Same firmware upgrades can hence be applied.
Other connections include an HDMI out, a 3.5 mm jack for connecting to a regular, standard definition TV with composite video and analogue audio. It also has a connector for the WiFi antenna also included in the package. No Ethernet ports on the Mini X's, so a wireless connection is demanded for online access.

Obviously it also has an AC in, for powering the device. But that's all, as far as connections go - which is still pretty good, considering how small it is.

Comes in many flavours and bundles

As far as accessories go, DealExtreme had several different options in their line-up of Mini X's, where some included wireless mice/keyboards or remote, with or without connection cables.

The bundle I chose was packed with an IR remote, manuals in English and Chinese (I'd guess), a mini CD containing a different manual + software for flashing the firmware, the Mini X itself + an optional WiFi antenna, as well as a plain HDMI cable (which I of course had plenty of already).

Controlling the device

Bought a little keyboard with a built-in touch pad along with the Mini X. You'll still need the remote to put it on standby, however.
As we all know, Android is ultimately designed for touch. This makes controlling it with anything else seem a bit cumbersome, or "clunky", to use an already oh-so-worn-out term from the dear gaming community. Trying to control it with the included remote control was especially bulky, and it clearly doesn't suffice on its on, unless you go into "mouse mode". This allows you to control the mouse cursor on screen with the arrow buttons on the remote. Even then, I couldn't manage to "click", as pushing the "OK" button only faded the cursor. 

For a touch substitute, I would instead say a regular wireless deskset (standard keyboard + mouse connected wirelessly with a single USB dongle) would be your best bet. Having a bunch of full-sized PC accessories scattered around your living room may not sound too desirable, however, and it somewhat kills the purpose of having a small and tidy little media centre in the first place, rather than just having your regular laptop or desktop computer hooked up to the TV.

Can't be turned off

The Mini X uses a proprietary USB cable that connects the device to a power plug at the opposite end. The USB cable won't suffice on its own to power the Mini X, however.  Even if you have USB power from eg. a computer or an active USB hub, you'll still need to use the power plug to drive the Mini X, unfortunately.
As cumbersome it is to control Android with a regular remote, I'm still glad I got one, as I wouldn't be able to turn the Mini X on and off otherwise. Apart from yanking the power cord out when I'm done using it.

This is a limitation the Android OS has, as it relies on a physical power button for shutting down. Alas, there is no such functionality available in the GUI of Android, meaning if you only have a mouse or keyboard to control it with, you simply can't shut the thing off. And even with the remote at hand, all you can do is put it in some kind of standby mode (the same state you put your smartphone or tablet into when you blank the screen with a tap on the power button).

After I flashed the Mini X with the latest Mini Xplus firmware, you can't even tell if the device is on or off/standby, just by looking at it. The stock firmware made the power indicator lamp go from blue to red when in standby mode. With the new firmware upgrade, it stays blue regardless. But at least the Mini X cools off significantly as you put it to sleep, which is an improvement ensuring that the power draw shouldn't be too high in this idle state.

Part 2 >>