Minix Neo X7 review

Despite strong build quality and high-end hardware, the Minix Neo X7 proves Android still isn’t cut out to fill in for a PC.
Despite strong build quality and high-end hardware, the Minix Neo X7 proves Android still isn’t cut out to fill in for a PC.
Despite strong build quality and high-end hardware, the Minix Neo X7 proves Android still isn’t cut out to fill in for a PC.

Highs

  • Decent build quality
  • Gobs of ports
  • Strong CPU performance
  • 16GB of internal storage

Lows

  • Custom interface lacks polish
  • Android isn’t a good general-purpose OS
  • Poor graphics performance
  • Expensive (relative to the competition)

DT Editors' Rating

While Android is familiar to many people as an operating system on tablets and smartphones, one infant industry also benefitting from its rise is the mini-PC business. Mini-PCs (also labeled media hubs) use existing mobile processors coupled with Android to produce simple, low-cost devices that can theoretically replace a more expensive desktop PC. In practice, most products sold thus far have fallen short of that ideal, but new products are constantly pushing the category to new heights.

Enter the Minix Neo X7, a quad-core Android computer that typically sells for $150 online. This price puts it at the expensive end of the market, but buyers get what they pay for. Standard features include 2GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage and more ports than some laptops. At a glance, the Neo X7 looks like it could be real alternative to a traditional Windows computer, but can the average consumer live with one?

Moving the bar

While its simple black exterior isn’t luxurious, the Neo X7 is built to a reasonable level a quality. Many competitors suffer from very basic flaws like poorly aligned panels, incomplete labeling, or materials with mismatched colors. The Neo has no such issues and, if it was made of higher-quality plastic or metal, would be on par with the Roku 3 or Apple TV.

All of the custom interface elements look terribly amateur thanks to low-resolution graphics and poor design.

The Neo is a bit larger than those competitors, and it also has a sizable Wi-Fi antenna that must be attached for good reception, making it harder to fit in a tight space or hide in a home theater. On the plus side, there’s no annoying power LED and it’s completely silent.

Connectivity borders on the absurd. The right side of the device includes separate microphone and headphone jacks, a USB 2.0 port, a USB on-the-go port and a card reader. Around back there are two more USB 2.0 connections, HDMI, optical audio out and Ethernet. Our only complaint concerns the lack of USB 3.0; having it on at least one port would be nice.

The interface that tries, but fails

Simply throwing the Android operating system on a monitor or television doesn’t lead to a good experience. Unlike many alternatives, the Neo X7 at least tries to deal with the issue through a custom home screen that provides quick access to apps, Web browsing and popular sites (like Facebook). The interface works well with the bundled remote, too, making media use more tolerable.

Unfortunately, Minix’s work is spoiled by some equally serious flaws. All of the custom interface elements look terribly amateur thanks to low-resolution graphics and poor design. And while users can accomplish some tasks without resorting to the standard Android UI, there’s still the occasional need to visit it. This forces you to hop back and forth between interfaces – a complaint that will be familiar to many critics of Windows 8. Most buyers will need to do some customization to make the Neo X7 enjoyable to use, but options are limited, as most home-screen enhancements for Android are designed for smartphones, not desktop computers.

Worse, Android’s lack of advanced display configuration plagues this device, making an ideal picture almost impossible to achieve. You can compensate for overscan and underscan, but controls for gamma, color and refresh rate are unavailable. Even resolution is limited to handful of options, and our unit wouldn’t go beyond 720p when connected to 1680 x 1050 monitor.

Mostly fast enough

The Neo X7’s processor is a Rockchip RK3188 running at up to 1.6GHz. Based off a Cortex A9 core, this chip was only recently released and provides compute performance on par with some of today’s fastest tablets. Using the Chrome browser from Android, we managed a Peacekeeper score of 753 and a Sunspider Javascript score of 614.9ms. For comparison, a fourth-gen iPad offers respective score of 951 and 854ms. Lower-is-better in the Sunspider test, which means the Neo X7 beats the iPad’s Java performance.

The custom interface doesn’t go far enough and Android still doesn’t play well with a keyboard and mouse.

Subjectively, these scores translate to a smooth experience. Apps launch quickly, YouTube videos play without issue, and Netflix runs without a hitch. At times the device does hang for no apparent reason when switching between menus and apps, but it resumes within moments. This is a problem we’ve noticed on other Android devices, so it’s probably not a fault of the hardware.

While the quad-core processor is more than adequate, the same can’t be said for the Mali 400 GPU. Also designed by ARM, this was cutting-edge technology two years ago, but today it lags behind the best tablets and smartphones. We registered a 3DMark Ice Storm score of just 3,998, which is about on par with the first-gen Nexus 7, and around three times slower than the Nexus 4 or HTC One. While this level of performance is good enough for many games, the most demanding titles may suffer low frame-rates on this device.

Conclusion

Minix’s powerful Neo X7 is notably better than the mini-PC competition in both build quality and performance. Though far from luxurious, the X7 is at least utilitarian, and its lack of flash is made up for by an incredible buffet of ports.

Yet, in spite of these advantages, this still isn’t the low-cost desktop or media hub most people are looking for. The custom interface doesn’t go far enough and Android still doesn’t play well with a keyboard and mouse. Most apps work poorly without touch input, and there are many small glitches, like buttons that don’t animate when clicked, and the touch keyboard’s annoying habit of appearing exactly when it’s unwanted.

Those looking to stream media content will be far better off with a Roku 3, while those who want a cheap computer should instead look at a Chromebook. Minix’s efforts have merit, but until Android implements better keyboard and mouse controls, only so much can be done.

Highs

  • Decent build quality
  • Gobs of ports
  • Strong CPU performance
  • 16GB of internal storage

Lows

  • Custom interface lacks polish
  • Android isn’t a good general-purpose OS
  • Poor graphics performance
  • Expensive (relative to the competition)
Product Review

Portable but unbearably slow, the Asus NovaGo stops well short of greatness

Our Asus NovaGo review takes a first look at one the first Qualcomm-powered PCs. It can last 22 hours on a charge and has built-in LTE, yet pricing starts at just $600.
Deals

Need a new tablet? Check out the best iPad deals for August 2018

In the wide world of tablets, Apple is still the king. If you're on team Apple and just can't live without iOS, we've curated an up-to-date list of all of the best iPad deals currently available for July 2018.
Mobile

Bigger isn’t always better: 5 of the smallest smartphones worth buying

Phones are getting larger and larger, but what options exist for the small-of-hand, or people who just want a phone they can use one-handed? In a world of phablets, some of the smallest smartphones can still pack a punch.
Mobile

Samsung's Bixby assistant will come to the Galaxy Tab S4 next year

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S4 has launched. With the Snapdragon 835, 4GB of RAM, and the option for 256GB of storage, it's a powerful beast. But it's got more than just that up its sleeve. Here's all you need to know.
Computing

Apple preps production of updated MacBook Air for a 2018 launch

To reach its rumored launch timeline of later this year for its low-cost notebook, Apple is expected to begin production of its updated MacBook Air soon. The sub-$1,000 laptop could launch as early as September or October.
Smart Home

White-hat Chinese hackers turn Alexa into a spy, briefly

A team of Chinese researchers revealed this week that they were able to use a cracked Amazon Echo to exploit a series of Alexa interface flaws to take control over an unteuched Echo running on the same network.
Computing

Researchers hack John McAfee’s ‘unhackable’ Bitfi cryptocurrency wallet

Researchers have successfully hacked John McAfee's Bitfi cryptocurrency wallet. Researchers show that the device can be hacked, as they have gained access to the device's private keys and passphrase despite McAfee's security promotion.
Music

Spotify vs. Pandora: Which music streaming service is better for you?

Which music streaming platform is best for you? We pit Spotify versus Pandora, two mighty streaming services with on-demand music and massive catalogs, comparing every facet of the two services to help you decide which is best.
Computing

What's the best laptop? We've reviewed a lot of them -- and this is our answer

The best laptop should be one that checks all the boxes: Great battery life, beautiful design, and top-notch performance. The laptops we've chosen for our best laptops you can buy do all that — and throw in some extra features while…
Computing

Pricing and lack of content are still barriers against the adoption of VR

A recent survey questioned 595 VR and AR professionals about business growth in the consumer and enterprise markets. Only 24 percent report strong sales in the enterprise while 18 percent show strong sales in the consumer market.
Computing

Tired of choosing between Windows and Mac? Check out these Chromebooks instead

We've compiled a list of the best Chromebooks -- laptops that combine great battery life, comfortable keyboards, and the performance it takes to run Google's lightweight Chrome OS. From Samsung to Acer, these are the Chromebooks that really…
Emerging Tech

The world’s first practical quantum computer has cash and a timeline

The dream of building a practical quantum computer could be closer than ever, thanks to a $15 million grant from the National Science Foundation to seven universities around the United States.
Computing

Nvidia teases new GeForce RTX 2080 launch at Gamescom next week

Gamers will have something exciting to look forward to next week when Gamescom starts. Nvidia posted a teaser video to YouTube containing hints that it could use the venue to announce the new GeForce RTX 2080 graphics chip.
Computing

Nvidia introduces its eighth-generation ‘Turing’ design, but not in gaming cards

Nvidia revealed its new graphics chip design called “Turing” during SIGGRAPH 2018. Rumored to be the foundation of Nvidia’s next family of GeForce cards, the company instead showcased Turing in Quadro RTX-branded cards for pros.