Android TV boxes, often associated with Kodi, have had a bit of a bad press lately because of piracy concerns, but they can also be used as desktop replacement devices – real alternatives to bulky Windows PCs, especially in offices that have embraced BYOD and where mobile working is second nature.
The Mecool M8S Pro is one of the latest such devices to hit the market and comes with some cracking features that will appeal to a far wider audience beyond consumers and into the SMB space.
Online Chinese retailer, Gearbest, sent us the sample unit, and sells the Mecool M8S Pro (which it calls a ‘TV Box’) for only £47 ($60). Note that while this price includes delivery, it is exclusive of any taxes that may be levied by HMRC or the courier companies on behalf of the vendor. Want to buy tech from online Chinese retailers? Read this first.
Don’t expect anything flashy with the M8S Pro; it’s as simple a PC as you’ll ever see. You get a box that you can hold comfortably in your hands, fashioned from black plastic with a blue LED status light and the ‘M8S Pro’ logo on top. Flip it over to reveal the MAC address, the RAM/storage details and the FCC ID, plus four plastic feet that hide the screws holding the casing together.
You will be surprised by the size of the device (102 x 102 x 18mm) and its weight (just under 100g). Note the fins underneath and on the side of the device to allow air to flow in for cooling the components.
Like most devices of this size, the M8S Pro is passively cooled and doesn’t come with a power button; to switch it off completely, you will have to disconnect it from the mains.
The power supply unit is a standard 5V/2A model with a proprietary connector, which is not a deal-breaker, but it would’ve been good to have a microUSB one so you could power it using a portable phone charger.
Despite its size, the device offers a good amount of connectivity options: there’s an Ethernet port, two USB 2.0 connectors, an audio jack, a full-size HDMI port that supports 4K at 60Hz and a microSD card slot.
However, it’s on the inside where the M8S Pro sets itself apart from the competition. It is one of the very few boxes to run Android 7.1, the very latest iteration of Google’s popular mobile operating system.
The OS on Mecool’s PC comes with a customised user interface and we would have loved to see the standard vanilla Android UI instead. Also note that at the time of writing, we couldn’t find any updates for the operating system.
The engine of this device is an Amlogic S912, an 8-core system-on-a-chip with Cortex-A53 cores clocked at 2GHz, and the rest at 1GHz, flanked by a Mali-T820MP3 tri-core GPU.
Mecool engineers also opted for the Qualcomm QCA9377 (inside the Longsys LTM8830 module) to power wireless connectivity. This is a single-die WLAN and Bluetooth solution that supports both Bluetooth 4.2 and 802.11ac Wi-Fi to deliver the sort of performance you’d expect from high-end mobile products.
To cap off the components list there’s 3GB of DDR4 memory (which delivers a much higher bandwidth compared to the DDR3 alternatives found elsewhere) and 16GB eMMC storage from Samsung (KLMAG2WEPD-B031). A 32GB storage option is available and you may also use a cheap microSD card to supplement the main storage.
The M8S Pro detected our wireless test keyboard and mouse (Ares T1) with no delay – just bear in mind that Android requires some adjustments when used as a desktop. There’s no right button mouse click and pressing the Enter key doesn’t work as you’d expect.
Booting into the operating system is a fairly straightforward endeavour. You’re welcomed by an uninspiring home page that lists, amongst other options, an Internet Explorer web logo (that launches Chrome) and a TV centre button (that goes nowhere). You can, of course, add others via Google Play and there are a number of further apps pre-installed.
Its TV roots are clearly highlighted by the fact that it comes with a physical remote control, a media centre app, Netflix, Movieplayer and MX Player. Browsing is done through the default browser, Chrome, rather than a Chinese effort, and navigating around remained surprisingly fluid even at 4K resolution.
We didn’t test any games or try the TV functionality but expect the M8S to ace through this sort of entertainment usage as long as you can live with its biggest weakness – the fact that it has only 16GB of on-board storage. It has enough raw power under its hood to deliver better than baseline performance.
Mecool should look into producing business versions of these Android TV boxes, as the corporate backlash against Kodi means that interest in these from a consumer perspective is likely to cool down because of the legal implications.
Android is a known quantity for consumers and the learning curve to port it from mobile to a thin client use case is very shallow. Google has been working on an operating system that will bring together mobile and desktop (Project Fuschia) but we’re not there yet.
All in all, the M8S Pro represents an excellent opportunity for willing small and medium businesses to switch from Windows to Android and benefit from some serious efficiency boosts. But that said, do note that there are a number of questions which remain unanswered including the state of aftersales support and future Android updates.
At this budget price, though, companies might as well buy a few extras to eliminate business downtime, as setting one up should only take a couple of minutes. Given their sub-£50 price tag, these computers are essentially quasi-disposable assets.
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