Televisions are becoming smarter all the time and the latest generations let you do far more than just watch your favorite programs. TV manufacturers try to boost sales by making their product do just a bit smarter than those of the competition. Also Google tried to grab a share of the smart TV market by introducing Google TV. But now there is a cheaper and more flexible way to turn your television into a Smart TV: the iMito MX1.
The MX1 can be plugged straight into the television with its HDMI connector while the built-in Bluetooth, WiFi and 2 USB connectors provide all the necessary options for hooking up devices like game controllers, keyboard and remote controls. Add the ability to run 1080P video and 3D acceleration for games and you’ve got a potential multimedia dream device. And all of this can be bought for under 50 Euros.The iMito MX1 is one of the newer Android TV sticks on the market.
The MX1 is an Android mini pc in a fancy aluminum housing measuring 10 by 4 by 1 cm (4 by 1.5 by 0.4 inches) and weighing less than 50 grams. The device is based around a dual core Rockchip RK3066 doing its work at 1.6 GHz and a quad-core Mali400 GPU and runs Android 4.1.1 out of the box. It comes with 1 GB of RAM and can store user data on its 8 GB internal flash memory which can be further expanded with MicroSD cards of up to 32 GB.
What’s in the box?
The iMito MX1 comes in a small white box with the following content:
- iMito MX1 mini pc
- USB cable (for connecting full size USB devices to the micro usb port)
- HDMI extension cable
- Power Adapter + cable
- Small printed user manual
The MX1 itself looks pretty solid and durable with its nice brushed aluminum housing. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for the rest of the package contents. The power adapter is made up of two parts so it is configurable to match the regional power sockets just like the power adapter of an iPad. Unlike the iPad power supply the one provided with the iMito feels rather flimsy and not like it was built to last.
Installation and configuration
Installing the iMito MX1 is as simple as plugin its HDMI connector into the TV and connecting the power supply. Unfortunately in my case the device didn’t start up but this turned out to be a loose connecting in the power supply and was fixable by bending the legs a little. After resolving the power supply issue the iMito started up and within a minute the Android home screen showed up on my TV.
If you’re already familiar with Jelly Bean it feels like coming home. Just plug in a keyboard or mouse in the USB port and you can start configuring your device, connect devices and install applications. Since Android sees the iMito MX1 as a normal Android tablet you get full access to the Android ecosystem with all of its applications and games which can be installed using Google Play.
Once you have configured the MX1 is configured it is time to start playing around with it. Immediately one of the weak points of the iMito MX1 stand out. Despite the short distance of 7 meters (20 feet) to my WiFi router and no walls in between the wireless network signal is rather poor. This is a known problem for Android TV sticks because their small housing offers limited room for an antenna.
Opening up the MX1 and unwinding the antenna improved the signal drastically but this will probably void your warranty and is not very aesthetic. Even with the antenna sticking out the WiFi signal was not stable yet and connection stalled every minute which resulted in errors while copying files over SMB or FTP. Obviously this also has a negative influence when streaming movies over WiFi.
Besides the problems with the WiFi the overall performance of the iMito MX1 is fine and the user interface feels smooth and responsive. Apps like GMail, Maps and Google Play work well and you can switch between apps rapidly. Loading webpages in Chrome takes between 1 and 3 seconds which is slower than on a Galaxy Nexus but still acceptable.
The MX1 can play full HD video but the previously mentioned WiFi issues make fluent streaming 720P and 1080P video impossible. Also the sound is sent over HDMI as PCM / analog and therefore all your movies will be played in stereo even when the original video has a 5.1 audio track like DTS.
Whenever a new mini pc is introduced one of the first questions asked nowadays is: Does it run XBMC? Yes, the iMito MX1 can run XBMC though the Android version of XBMC is still under development so not all features work as well as on the other XBMC version.
One of the most important problems is the lack of proper hardware acceleration meaning the CPU has to do all video decoding. The dual core CPU of the MX1 is capable of playing 720P video although it is slightly choppy at times. Full HD video on the other hand is like watching a slideshow. Also again the sound is passed over HDMI as PCM meaning XBMC won’t be able to play DTS or any other surround sound format either.
The XBMC user interface performs really well on the iMito and you can skip backward and forward in videos (even 1080P ones) within a blink of an eye. This clearly shows the iMito MX1 has more raw muscle power than a Raspberry Pi which has far more difficulty running the UI and skipping through videos.
There’s no reason to put your PS3 and XBOX360 on eBay once you’ve got the MX1 but its hardware specs are definitely good enough to run (almost) all Android games out there. Controlling the games is a different story however. All games in the Play Store are designed to be controlled by a touchscreen while the iMito MX1 will typically be controlled by mouse and keyboard.
On of the most played games on the Android platform is Angry Birds and this games runs smoothly on the iMito MX1 and can be played very well with a mouse. Games like Temple Run and Dead Trigger seem to perform really well too but you simply cannot control them by mouse or keyboard. Temple Run won’t even let you start the game while Dead Trigger doesn’t allow you to aim or fire. These problems can be solved by hooking up a PS3 or XBOX360 controller but this requires your device to be rooted.
If rooting and hooking up a controller sounds a bit to technical you could also opt for the GameStick. This devices provides an already connected controller combined with an Android stick.
The are several alternatives for the MX1. In the same price range you could buy a Raspberry Pi which is less powerful but can run Linux and plays 1080P fluently even in XBMC (with 5.1 / DTS audio).
Another option is to just use the Smart TV features already present on your TV. This will usually let you browse the web, watch YouTube videos and stream movies but is rather limited.
If you want to stick with Android you could get a Google TV set-top box or wait for the Ouya to become available. The Google TV option give you a full Android experience be it on Android 3.2. The Ouya is about three time more expensive than the MX1 but it comes in a really nice casing and you’ll get a game controller with it. It will run XBMC and also all Android games plus Ouya specific games which will be released in the near future.
Also there are many different versions of the Android TV stick for sale. Spend a bit more money and you can get your hands on versions with a bigger case, external WiFi antennas or even SP/DIF outputs for digital sound.
Also check out this post about Android on the Television.
- Cheap (can be bought for under 50 Euro including power supply and casing)
- Runs Android 4.1.1 (with full ecosystem)
- Low power consumption
- Powerful hardware
- Extendable (plenty of possibilities to connect devices and memory)
- Poor WiFi
- Build quality
- No digital audio output
- Availability (mostly sold through Chinese webshops like GeekBuying)
The iMito MX1 could have been a great all round multimedia device but poor WiFi connection and the lack of digital audio output make it rather useless for this purpose. XBMC looks really promising but even if hardware acceleration gets implemented the audio and WiFi problems will remain a showstopper.
Running games on it might be a good experience if you manage to hook up a console controller. Performance of the games I tested seemed pretty good but also here the lack of digital audio will spoil part of the fun.
Also the build quality of the MX1 worries me. It looks like it might break down any minute. On the other hand there are no alternatives that will give you the same hardware specs for this kind of money.
So if you’re looking for a small low-power device to use for browsing the web and checking you email or you can live with stereo audio the iMito MX1 gives you pretty much value for your money. But if you’re expecting to use it as the cornerstone of your home theater setup you are probably better of buying one of the alternatives.