Uhost2 (Probox2) Android Mini PC Review
The Uhost2 (Probox2) finally arrives
This is a review of the Uhost2 Dual Core Android Mini PC. The Uhost2 is also sold as the Probox2 by W2Comp and they are both the same device with the same specification. Ever since I published my preview article on the Uhost2 back in October 2012, I have been inundated by requests for an actual review of the Uhost2.
The ProBox2 Ultimate by W2COMP which includes the optional remote and comes with Bluetooth is one of the best deals at $89.99
I was very impressed with the original Uhost Android Mini PC due to its great design and built quality that was coupled with one of the most stable firmware that I have ever come across on such a device.
When Smallart, the designer and manufacturer of the Uhost2 revealed details of the Uhost2 to me, I have been waiting for chance to test it out.
Disclaimer: The Probox2 Ultimate used for this review is supplied and sponsored by W2Comp. This review was written with the understanding that the review will be impartial and W2Comp has no influence over the content of this review except to make any clarifications on questions raised during the writing of the review itself. W2Comp only got to see this review after it has been published.
Please take note that there are a few versions of the Uhost2 currently on sale with slightly different specifications. The air mouse remote in this review is not always included and some versions do not come with Bluetooth. Please check the specifications carefully before buying.
All images in this article courtesy of Roy Yap, Smallart and W2COMP
Unboxing and first impressions of the Probox2 Ultimate
The Probox2 Ultimate comes in a simple box that is similar in design to the original packaging for the Uhost. There are 2 stacked trays, the top one holds the Probox2 while the second tray holds the remote aka Umouse2.
The first thing that caught my attention was how big the Probox2 is. Compared to all the other Android Mini PCs I have seen so far, the Probox2 is by far the biggest. It is still very much a portable device though as it is still smaller (although a bit thicker) than most mobile phones and can easily slip into a front pocket.
Smallart also kept the classy rubbery surface that was used on the Uhost. I prefer this matte rubbery texture compared to the more popular glossy and shiny surface that is overused and make some devices look really tacky. Also, most glossy surfaces are fingerprint magnets.
The air mouse type remote control, named the Umouse2, looks very similar to the original Umouse that was offered as an accessory for the original Uhost. It has the same buttons and the same rubbery textured surface as the Umouse. Again, the design and the look of the controller is great and it would not look out of place if placed next to the remotes of other pricier home theater equipment.
The Probox2 has a female standard HDMI port instead of the male HDMI port on the Uhost. A HDMI extension cable is included with the package for you to connect the Probox2 to the HDMI port on your TV. Since the Probox2 is significantly larger than the Uhost, it is unlikely that you will be able to plug the Probox2 directly to the TV so this is probably a better solution. However, the included HDMI extension cable is only about 5" long and the Probox2 will likely dangle midair from the TV unless you find some way to secure the Probox2 or replace the cable with a longer one.
Last but not least, a 5V, 2A USB power adapter and a micro USB cable is included with the package. These are for powering the Probox2 either from a powered USB port on the TV or directly from the mains. I would recommend powering the Probox2 using the power adapter as insufficient power from a USB port can cause all kinds of problems.
Incidentally, the original Uhost came with a double connector USB cable that makes it possible to power the Uhost using 2 USB ports.
Probox2 Ultimate specifications
The Probox2 is based on the popular Rockchip dual core RK3066 Cortex A9 CPU paired with a Quad Core Mali 400 GPU. This is the same chipset that is used in many other Android TV stick models like the MK808, UG802, MK802 III, Neo G4 and the iMito MX4.
The RK3066 in the Probox2 is clocked at 1.4 GHz, the highest clock speed that I have come across on a RK3066 based Android Miini PC device running on a stock ROM. All the other stock ROM normally cap the clock speed at 1.2 GHz or lower due to over heating issues. Please note that many retailers indicate the Uhost2 speed as 1.6 GHz which is the maximum clock speed of the RK3066 but due to over heating and stability issues, the device's actual clock speed is usually lower at between 1.0 to 1.4 GHz.
The OS on the Probox2 is Android 4.0.4 and W2COMP claims that it will be upgradeable to Android 4.2 later on. It has 4GB of Nand Flash for storage (2 GB available to the user) and 1 GB DDR3 RAM.
Latest version of Uhost2 firmware with Android Jellybean is now available for download.
As for network connection, it has WiFi 802.11 b/g/n and more importantly, built-in Bluetooth 2.0. Only a small handful of the Android Mini PCs come with Bluetooth and it is a feature that is often requested and I am glad that Smallart has listened.
The Probox2 uses HDMI to connect to the display. The HDMI supports resolutions from 480p right up to 1080p 60Hz.
The female HDMI connector is located on one end of the Probox2 while on the other end, there are 2 standard USB 2.0 host ports, a micro USB port used for powered the Probox2, a MicroSD (TF) Card Slot that supports external microSD memory cards up to 32GB and the U-button. The U-button is used for triggering the USB storage mode which allows a PC to recognize the Probox2 as a storage device and allow the user to transfer files between the PC and the Probox2 when they are connected using a USB cable.
The included remote control has 9 buttons:
- power button
- microphone button to toggle the mic function
- search button
- back button
- volume up (+) button
- volume down (-) button
- OK button
- menu button
- home button
The remote control uses 2.4 GHz RF to connect to the Probox2. The receiver is built into the Probox2 so there is no need for a USB receiver. The controller has a gyroscope or popularly referred to as an "air mouse" function that allows you to control an on screen cursor by moving the controller around similar to the Wiimote on the Nintendo Wii.
The controller has a built in microphone that can be used for voice search or voice chat using apps such as Skype or Google Talk right out of the box. On the original Uhost, the mic was located on the device itself. Voice recognition only worked well if the user is located not too far away from the device. By moving the mic to the controller itself, where the user is located is no longer an issue.
The controller is powered by 2 AAA size batteries that are not included with the unit.
PROBOX2 ULTIMATE DUAL CORE ANDROID MINI PC TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS
- OS - Android 4.0.4 (Ice Cream Sandwich). Upgradeable to Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean)
- Chipset - Rockchip RK 3066, Dual core 1.4 GHz Cortex A9 processor CPU; Quad core Mali 400, GPU clocked at 250 MHz
- Memory - 1GB DDR3
- Built-in Storage- 4GB NAND Flash
- Network - WiFi 802.11a/b/g/n
- Bluetooth - Built-in Bluetooth 2.0
- Additional Storage - MicroSD 2-32GB
- Video Formats - AVI, RMVB, MPEG, MKV & FLV Video Format, Support 1080P HD Playback
- Audio Formats - MP3, WMA, WAV, APE, AAC, FLAC, OGG
- Photo Formats - JPG, TIF, PNG, BMP
- Video/Audio Output - Full sized female HDMI
- USB Ports - 2 standard USB 2.0 Host, 1 micro USB OTG for Power
- Size - 115 mm x 40 mm x 18 mm (Probox2) | 120 mm x 35 mm x 14 mm (Remote control)
- Weight - 67 g (Probox2) | 30 g (Remote control)
Boot up and initial impressions
Boot up is quite fast on the Probox2, taking just under half a minute. Like the Uhost, the Probox2 comes with not one but two custom launchers. Both the custom launchers are the same functionally and the differences are purely graphical with a different layout for each launcher.
The default custom launcher has a shelf theme with shortcut icons placed as items on the shelf. When you hover over any of the icons, it will animate. From left to right, the shortcuts are to the apps manager, the download manager, the default Android web browser, the settings page, the multimedia player and the file manager.
If you are an Android purist and prefer the default Android home page, that is still available to you as well. Personally, I prefer the custom launcher as they have larger icons that make it easier to select using the air mouse remote. However, as far as I know, it isn't possible to customize the custom launcher's shortcut icons with your own shortcuts.
The video player that comes with the Probox2 is the same generic and simple player that comes with all the other Android Mini PCs. While it is lacking in features, it makes up for it by being a very competent player that is capable of playing almost all of the movie files that I tested on it. It failed to play a 1080p high bitrate AVI file. However, the file played with no problems using the MX Player installed from the Android Play Store.
There is no front end for sorting and displaying media content on the Probox2. However, as an Android device, you have to advantage of adding this feature by installing an application. XBMC for Android is currently in beta and the only problem right now is that there is no support for hardware video decoding and therefore HD content is unplayable on XBMC.
If you only need some kind of front end, Mizuu is a great app and it gets my recommendation. Mizuu manages all your movie and TV show files plus it automatically downloads information about the video content such as cover art and synopsis. You can pair Mizuu with a video player like MX Player and you will get a fairly capable and very decent media player with a great looking interface.
It is unfortunate however that the Probox2 controller does not come with any media specific controls except for the volume control buttons. Dedicated buttons for play, pause and skip would have been very useful on such a device.
The dual core RK3066 CPU is ideal for streaming HD content from the internet. If you have a Netflix subscription, you can download the Netflix app and you can watch all the Netflix streaming content in HD if available on your big screen TV without the need for a computer. The same goes for Hulu Plus. With a Hulu Plus subscription, you can watch your favorite TV shows on demand on your TV.
The Probox2 comes with the default Android browser but you can always download and install one of the many alternative web browsers on the Android Play Store such as Chrome, Firefox or Dolphin browser. The experience of using a web browser on the Probox2 is quite similar to browsing on a PC especially if you connect a full sized keyboard and a mouse.
Opening multiple browser tabs does not significantly slow down the browser but switching between tabs does require more reloading due to the presence of just 1GB of RAM on the Probox2. The other notable difference is that while the Probox2 supports 1080p, it is actually just upscaling from 720p. This results in all the elements on the screen to be bigger. While this looks fine if you are sitting at a distance from a TV but if you are using a monitor and sitting right in front of it, everything seems to be a little too big.
The 1.4 GHz Rockchip CPU is more than adequate to run most if not all the Android games including processor intensive 3D games. However, due to the lack of a touch screen, games that require multi touch or those that uses on screen controls will not be playable on the Probox2. However, simple touch screen games like Angry Birds are playable.
However, as I have mentioned in my other RK3066 based Android Mini PC reviews, the one area of gaming that these Android Mini PCs excel at is classic gaming using emulators. With a USB game controller like the Nintendo Retrolink USB Super SNES Classic Controller, the Probox2 makes a great emulator. Just download the emulator apps (many of them are free) and dump to game ROMs in an external drive, you are all set to relive the glory of your classic gaming days.
Built in Bluetooth
The Probox2 is only the second Android Mini PC that I have come across after the iMito MX1 that comes with built in Bluetooth. Bluetooth has been one of the most asked for features and Smartart has listened and delivered. I only managed to test out a Bluetooth keyboard with the Probox2 and it had no problem being detected and paired with the Probox2. The only other accessory I tried the Bluetooth connection was my smartphone but all I did was try out transferring files using Bluetooth.
Umouse2 Remote Control
The controller works very well with the customized interface on the Probox2. The dedicated Android buttons like home, search, menu and back makes navigation an easy task.
However like most gyro controllers, precision is a problem. It is not easy to click on small UI elements such as the the slider on a slider bar or the keys on the on screen keyboard. Furthermore, being a 2.4 GHz RF device, it is susceptible to interference from other 2.4 GHz devices including your WiFi router. I did experience this problem once or twice so if you find the remote less responsive, it could be an interference problem.
It must be noted that the Probox2 remote is the only remote controller that I know of that allowed me to power the device both on and off. All the other controllers and even wireless keyboards I have used so far only allowed me to turn off or put the device into a sleep mode. The only way to turn the device back on again was to disconnect the power and turn it back on again.
The Probox2 remote has one other unique feature which is the built in microphone. There is a microphone button located on the upper right of the remote. Pressing this button turns the microphone on. However the button does not automatically bring up the voice search. To do a voice search, you need to press the search button on the remote, then click on the voice search button on the screen and then press the microphone button to turn it on. The microphone button glows when the mic is on. The air mouse function also gets disabled when the mic function is turned on.
I haven't had much luck with the voice search function using the mic as the device fails to recognize my speech most of the time. I tested out the voice search function with my iPazzPort KP-810-05V keyboard that also comes with a built in mic and I had no problems with voice recognition so it is not a problem with my accent.
Using the mic with Skype though is not a problem as the speech seems to be clear to the other party so I am not sure what is causing the problem with the voice recognition.
It was a pleasant surprise for me when I found that the Probox2 comes rooted out of the box. All the other Rockchip RK3066 based Android Mini PCs that I have reviewed so far did not come with root access. They all required either a rooting process or installing a rooted firmware to gain root access.
The Google Play Store that came with the Probox2 is also the full version with full access to the store unlike some models that came with a China specific version that has limited access to the Play Store.
Skype on the Probox2
Skype on the Android Mini PCs is one of the more popular functionality that many users are interested in. Unfortunately, getting Skype to work properly with an add on USB webcam is still very much a trial and error process. In order to get Skype to work, you need to consider the webcam itself, the firmware on the Android device and possibly, the version of Skype you are using. Please take note that voice only Skype works out of the box with the use of the Umouse2 remote's microphone.
I have started this Skype section to keep track of USB webcams that have been reported to work with the Probox2. I have not personally tested the solutions presented here but I have included links to the original user's post wherever possible.
- Good looking and excellent design with rubbery matte surface gives the Probox2 a very classy look.
- CPU is clocked at 1.4 GHz, one of the fastest clock speed on an Android Mini PC without additional cooling.
- Comes with an air mouse controller that has the same classy look and feel.
- Power switch on the controller can switch the Probox2 both on and off.
- Built in Bluetooth
- Not one but two custom launchers that are designed with the air mouse controller in mind.
- Controller comes with built in microphone. Works with Skype and Google Talk out of the box.
- Comes rooted out of the box.
- Microphone on the controller does not work well with voice search.
- No media control buttons on the controller except for volume control.
- No QWERTY keyboard on the controller. Text input is quite tedious using the controller.
- HDMI extension cable is too short and leaves the Probox2 dangling from the TV.
- The Probox2 is really, really huge compared to all the other Android Mini PCs. It is still pocketable if you don't mind a huge bulge in your pants.