Whether you want to use them to smarten up your dumb TV set or to empower your workforce on a budget, Android boxes have earned their place – with merit – in the wider personal computer ecosystem.
Falling prices along with rising competition and a massive improvement in technology means that you can now have Android boxes capable of delivering on a par with a Windows PC, but at a fraction of the cost.
Over the past year we’ve seen Android-powered boxes take centre-stage with Kodi streaming devices surging in popularity, to such an extent that Android boxes have almost become synonymous with Kodi boxes.
But unlike the latter, Android boxes are more versatile and don’t suffer the bane of being tied to customized user interfaces or Android builds. And in this article we’ve listed the best Android boxes you can buy for work, play, or indeed anything else.
1. Beelink BT3 Pro Mini PC
Windows 10 plus Android equals combo heaven
Get the best of both Windows and Android worlds
Impressive spec for the money
Can run a tad warm at times
You can run Android on Windows 10 which means that you can get the best of both OS worlds if you have a Windows machine (running Windows on Android remains an elusive goal). But instead of running Android on a laptop tucked behind a monitor or TV, why not try a mini PC – you can almost think of these as essentially laptops without a battery, keyboard or screen.
The Beelink BT3 Pro Mini PC weighs in at less than £100 (around $135, AU$180) at the time of writing, and is the cheapest Windows 10 device on the market with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. Install Bluestacks or AMIDuOS on this little box of tricks and you’re ready to fly.
Despite its diminutive size, the Beelink BT3 Pro is still a pretty capable device: it runs an Intel Atom X5-z8350 CPU with 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, and a 1Gbps Ethernet port. There’s also a 4K-capable HDMI 2.0 port plus a legacy VGA port, three USB ports and an SD card reader.
2. W95 TV Box
An affordable way to jump on the Android bandwagon
Nice spec for the price
USB 2.0 ports
At just over £20 (around $27, AU$35), the W95 is a great introduction to Google’s popular operating system, and it comes with a bundled remote control for those who will be using it for media duties.
This box runs an Amlogic S905W chipset – it’s a quad-core 64-bit system-on-a-chip (ARM Cortex A53) with a Mali 450 GPU. It supports 4K via HDMI 2.0 and can hardware-decode H.265 content. 2GB of RAM and 16GB of on-board storage are the minimum you’ll need to get Android 7.1 to run decently. The fact that this device is battery powered means that power management features are kept to a minimum (i.e. the CPU can run as fast as is needed).
Don’t expect too much of it at this price point, though: while the W95 does have a pair of USB ports, they are USB 2.0. As for the LAN port, it is a 100Mbps version. On the positive side, however, this box carries an SPDIF port and a microSD card slot.
3. Zidoo X8
A truly unique product for those looking for versatility
Highly versatile box
Only 2GB of RAM
Just offers 8GB of storage
There are no other products like the Zidoo X8 on the market. It is the only device that can be used both as an Android box and as the command center for a NAS setup thanks to an OpenWRT implementation.
Unlike most Android boxes out there, this one runs with a Realtek RTD1295 chip which combines four Cortex A53 cores with a Mali T820 GPU, highlighting the device’s focus on entertainment. At just over £70 (around $95, AU$125), it is a surprisingly affordable solution that delivers more than the sum of its parts.
You only get 2GB of RAM and 8GB of storage, but connectivity is where the X8 performs exceedingly well for a device pitched at this price point, boasting 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Gigabit Ethernet. There are also three USB ports plus an HDMI in/out, a card reader, and even Optical and AV out.
The Zidoo X8 has an external antenna as well, and both operating systems (Android and OpenWRT) run concurrently to deliver added features like SAMBA support, DLNA and the ability to run a DAAP server (think iTunes).
4. Cenovo King Kong Mini PC
A flexible videoconferencing solution
4GB of memory and 64GB storage
Comes with a camera
Take a mini PC, throw in a camera, and you get the Cenovo King Kong, a diminutive computer that we reviewed not so long ago. It’s powered by Windows 10 which means that you will be able to get either Bluestacks or AMIDuOS to run on it.
Given that it’s priced at just over £110 (around $150, AU$195), one can expect corners to be cut somewhere, especially as it has 4GB of memory and 64GB on-board storage. And indeed this box uses one of the slowest CPUs on the market, the Atom x5-Z8300, and its Ethernet port is a 10/100Mbps model.
Other than that, though, it’s pretty decent: you get four USB 3.0 ports, a card reader, 802.11ac Wi-Fi and that 2-megapixel camera as well. In our hands-on review of the device, we said that it “could prove to be a boon for small and medium businesses looking for a more powerful, more versatile and cheaper version of the Chromebox, with the added bonus of having an integrated camera.”
5. H96 Mini Projector
An innovative presentation tool and entertainment device
Not the beefiest spec here
Okay, so this isn’t technically an Android box, but the level of sophistication that goes into this device makes it a real standout product. Portable projectors have come down in price significantly, and it was only a matter of time before vendors started to cram compute and connectivity into them as additional features.
The H96 is a great example of this, being a DLP projector with a resolution of 854 x 480 pixels plus a quad-core CPU, Android 5.1, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, 2GB of RAM and 16GB on-board storage.
That’s the sort of hardware you usually find on a midrange smartphone (and one that reminds us of the Samsung Galaxy Beam), and yet, it only costs about £140 (around $190, AU$250). Add in Bluetooth 4.0, a 3500mAh battery, an HDMI-in port (not HDMI out, though), a microSD card slot plus an audio port and you’ve got a well-rounded product. It weighs only 220g and despite its size has a brightness level of 100 Lumens.
Image credit: Gearbest