While Android is wildly popular on phones and is finally starting to make an impact on the tablet market, there’s a third space where I think that Android can really add value... and that’s in the realm of PC replacements / media centers.
Android hardware is becoming more and more powerful at an ever decreasing cost and coupled with maturing apps for the platform (both built into the OS itself and the likes of Chrome), I think we are approaching a time when a lot of people will be able to plug an Android device into a monitor and accomplish the majority of what they can achieve with a ‘real computer’.
The RikoMagic MK802 was one of the first devices that really looked to exploit this. Aimed primarily at enthusiasts, the MK802 was a small box with a HDMI port, providing Android on your TV / monitor at an impressively low price. The box was well received by the hacking community and the successor, the MK802 II we are reviewing here, fixes a number of criticisms of the original. But is it ready for primetime?
The review device is a full retail device, matching what is available to buy from Rikomagic UK. I had a white unit, of course.
In The Box
Bearing in mind the low price of the MK802 II, you get more in the box than you might expect! As well as the foam-packaged device itself, you get a paper manual, a microUSB power cable, a microUSB OTG adaptor (for connecting external storage) and a HDMI extension cable... everything you need to get going!
Hardware - overview
The hardware in the MK802 II is pretty much on par with a low to medium end Android phone or tablet. Specifications are as follows...
- Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich (can also run desktop versions of Linux from a microSD card)
- Allwinner A10 / 1GHz Cortex-A8 processor with MALI 400 GPU
- 1GB RAM
- 4GB ROM
- 802.11 b/g/n wireless WAPI(Ralink8188)
- microSD slot
- Micro USB x2
- USB2.0 x1
- HDMI x1 (720P, 576P, 480P, 1080P & 2160P)
- Supports virtual keyboard, supports 2.4G wireless keyboard, fly mouse
- Audio: AAC, AAC+, eAAC+, AMR-NB, AMR-WB, QCP, MP3, WMA, WAV, MIDI, M4A
- Video: WMV/ASF/MP4/3GP/3G2M4V/AVI/MJPEG/RV10/ DivX/VC-1/MPEG-2/MPEG-4/H.263/H.264/1280*720P HD 30 fps, 1080P/720*480 D1 30fps
HDMI: Output 720P, 576P, 480P, 1080P&2160P
- Powered by USB port.
- 97mm x 28 mm x 1.20mm
Hardware - around the device
Let's have a little walk round the device.
The top of the device has an Android logo (with headphones) and the Rikomagic branding. The bottom of the device has 2 sets of ventilation holes and a LED indicator, as well as labelling for the various ports on the device. Earlier iterations of the device did suffer from heat problems, so it's probably worth ensuring these are left clear of obstructions when you've sited the device.
One end has the HDMI plug. On the original MK802 this was a socket for a cable, whereas it's now built in. The top edge of the device has the microSD slot, a reset hole and one of the microUSB ports. This one is used for the OTG adaptor, to connect memory sticks or hard drives. The bottom edge has the second microUSB port (for power / ADB) and a full size USB port, which can also be used for keyboard or mouse, memory sticks or hard drives.
Hooking up and booting up
To get going, all you need to do is hook up a power input (a regular microUSB cable connected to a PC or a USB to mains adaptor), connect the HDMI output to your TV / monitor and then add an input source. This could be a wired or wireless keyboard / mouse, for my testing I used a Logitech K400 which I normally use for my media center - it works great.
The device starts to boot as soon as you connect the power, indicated by a blue LED. It first tries to boot from the microSD card (e.g. a Linux distro), before then booting the internal Android OS.
After the Rikomagic boot screens, you arrive at the Android home screen. The configuration is such that you get the regular Ice Cream Sandwich tablet UI. Out of the box my device was configured to 720P, however you can bump the resolution up to 1080P (24 / 50 / 60).
Out of the box the software included is fairly minimal, you get the standard Android base software with a (certainly unofficial) Play Store. The Play Store is interesting, the ROM could do with some permissions / fingerprint tweaks as quite a lot of apps don't show (e.g. Chrome, although this can be installed manually via APK).
By virtue of the fact the MK802 II has no hardware buttons or touchscreen there are some additional buttons on the bottom navigation bar for volume up / down, shutdown and legacy menu access.
You can plug most things in to the MK802 II. I've used USB flash drives, USB hard drives and some USB ethernet dongles are also supported. With 2 microUSB ports and a full size USB port you're not likely to go short! I believe some 3G dongles also work, but you might want to double check this if it forms part of your plans.
The port marked 'OTG' doubles up as a PC connection - you can copy files to / from the device's internal storage using this (in mass storage mode) and also get ADB access.
General navigation and browsing
In use, the UI performs as you'd expect for a 1GHz single core device driving a 720P (or 1080P) screen - that is to say that while it's generally usable, it does struggle at times, leading to occasional 'wait' dialogues (clicking wait generally does the job).
This experience is echoed in the Browser and in the Chrome browser if you download and install it. Although the device is usable, you do get occasional slowdowns which can be a little frustrating. It does very much depend on the intensity of the task you're doing.
Streaming video (iPlayer etc.)
I know a use case for the MK802 II is to enable streaming video services on a TV / monitor, so I made a point of trying out the popular services. Unfortunately I was unable to use the iPlayer app due to an incompatability message nor the ITV / 4OD apps due to the Play Store issue, but I was able to get iPlayer working through the browser, probably the most important thing to work.
Once i'd kicked off iPlayer playback it ran smoothly and was perfectly watchable.
As an additional test I installed the TVCatchup application from the Play Store and with the exception of the occasional slowdown in the UI, I was again able to use this to watch live TV. Pretty cool.
Unfortunately the latest Netflix releases closes immediately on launch, however I managed to download a 1.8.1 build which works much better!
Finally, YouTube videos are silky smooth too.
Local / network video
One thing I really wanted to do on the MK802 II was to play MKV files. I suspected that the device would be really good at this and it was! I played from a locally attached drive and over the network and playback was flawless. The MK802 II can be susceptible to getting a weak WiFi connection, but with careful placement I was able to maintain a good stream.
For my playback I used MXPlayer... and this is why I had so much success. MXPlayer supports hardware accelerated playback on the MK802 II - other players I tried that only use software mode struggled to play smoothly.
Unfortunately, the current builds of XBMC do not support hardware accelerated playback on this device and this manifested itself in the form of stuttering video playback. The menus etc. ran surprisinly smoothly so should a build of XBMC come along in the future where hardware playback can be used then this will be a great solution!
For music testing I installed Google Music to play from the cloud, which worked fine. A lot cheaper solution than a Nexus Q...?
A number of Ubuntu builds are available for the MK802 II, the main ones being from miniand and Rikomagic themselves.
I tried 3 different images (LXDE miniand, Full miniand and LXDE Rikomagic) on my 16GB class 10 microSD card (well, it claims to be class 10, but i'm not convinced now!)
Performance was pretty slow, hence my doubts about the card. I'm going to order a new card then i'll update this topic!
Rooting and hacking
The MK802 II comes 'pre-rooted' with root ADB access and is ripe for hacking. There's already quite a few hacks around for the original MK802 and the same will no doubt appear for the new version.
It's a great little device to have a good play around with!
Pricing and availability
The MK802 II is available for £49.99 with regular Air Mail delivery from Asia or £59.99 with much faster FedEx delivery.
Before the MK802 II arrived I was pretty excited and very positive about the future of such devices. Having used one, I have to say that my belief in the concept hasn't abated. What is clear however is that at present, the device is more of an enthusiasts tool than anything else. I suspect that a future MK802 III or IV with a faster CPU will be pretty fantastic and make the product more viable to a wider audience.
With that in mind whether the product is right for you today very much depends on what you're going to do with it. If the majority of your usage is going to be media playback via MXPlayer for example, then at £49.99 it's a great deal, particularly with all the Android-hacking-fun you can have too. If you're looking for a PC replacement for browsing then it's not quite there yet... but it'll happen.
Have your say
Do you have a Rikomagic MK802 II? Do you agree / disagree with my review? Post below!
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