Over the last year, I've had the chance to take a look at several options that could potentially replace the HTPC as we know it. They ranged from expensive NASes doubling as an HTPC, to the much less expensive, but very promising Raspbmc option. They all had their pluses and minuses and some worked much better than others.
So when it came up as a request in the forums to take a look at some of the Android TV stick options, we said why not, let's see how it can do against all the others we've tested. After a little research, we settled on the Tronsmart T428, a quad-core ARM7 stick, which is what I'll be taking a look at today.
The Tronsmart T428 Android stick comes with a 5V/2A wall-wart USB power supply, a USB to microUSB cable, an HDMI extension cable and no instructions whatsoever. The last item bugged me a bit at first; even a quick install guide mentioning the recovery button would have been nice. But then this is an Android "computer". I don't expect new laptops to come with an owner's manual, either, I guess.
Notable exterior features are a male HDMI port, a USB port, microUSB port for power, microSD slot and a recovery button. There is no Ethernet port for the device and that ended up being the Achilles heel during my testing. I saw forum posts of USB Ethernet dongles working. But I couldn't get my old Linksys USB Ethernet dongle to be recognized.
Setup simply involved plugging the Android stick into the TV via the male HDMI connection and using a USB keyboard/mouse for control. Bluetooth is supported, but I ended up using a Logitech K400 RF keyboard/mouse combo for my testing as I didn't have a Bluetooth combo. Once you plug the stick into the TV, it simply boots up to a familiar Android screen and can operate just as any phone or tablet.
I wanted to tear the Tronsmart T428 apart to take a look inside. Initial attempts proved futile however. Luckily geekbuying.com had already done this for their product description page. You can see one of the images below.
Tronsmart T428 board featuring the Rockchip RK3188
You can't make out a whole lot in the pictures, but you can see the SoC, which is a Rockchip RK3188, a quad core "up to" 1.8 GHz ARM7 chip. Also on the stick is a Mali-400MP4 GPU and 2 GB of Hynix DDR3 1333 MHz memory. Bluetooth and the 802.11b/g/n wireless LAN are handled by a Broadcom AP6330 chipset. Storage is 8 GB of built-in NAND flash with the microSD card slot capable of 32 GB of additional storage. The whole thing runs on Android 4.2.2.
Strangely enough, although the geekbuying product specs say 1.8 GHz, the benchmarks I ran list it as 1.6 GHz. Geekbuying's product page also confirms this with their Antutu benchmark screenshot (Frequency - 1608 MHz). Below you can see the screenshot of a benchmark I ran with system specifics.
I ran both Antutu and Quadrant benchmarks against the Tronsmart T428. Antutu came back with a score of 15636, which they place just under that of a Samsung S3. I ran the same benchmark against my Samsung S3 for comparison and it came back with 11061. So it at least scores higher than my S3 in Antutu.
Tronsmart T428 Antutu Benchmark Results
The Quadrant benchmark registered 4778, just ahead of the HTC One X smartphone. Again for comparison my Samsung S3 registered a 5745 with Quadrant, this time besting the Tronsmart T428.
Tronsmart T428 Quadrant Benchmark Results
Lastly, I wanted to run a benchmark that I'd run against the NAS-as-HTPC options I've looked at, so I ran the SunSpider benchmark using Google Chrome. Lower scores are better for this benchmark as they are simply a measure of milliseconds taken for the webkit to finish. The Tronsmart T428 finished in 1830.3 ms. Not so terribly unexpectedly, this was about twice as long as it took the Atom NAS-as-HTPC options. Unfortunately I don't have figures for the Raspberry Pi, as I tested it as a standalone XBMC install. But you can see the comparisons with the NASes in the table below.
|Low-power Atom server (1.8GHz D525)||Thecus N5550 (1.86GHz D2550)||QNAP TS-469L (2.13GHz D2700)||Tronsmart T428 Android stick|
|SunSpider benchmark||829.7ms (Firefox)||932.8ms (Firefox)||860.4ms (Chrome)||1830.3ms (Chrome)|