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We’ve noticed a bit of buzz circulating around the web about G-Box Midnight Android. It’s a fairly new 1080p streamer that has caught the attention of many involved in the cord cutting community. It first caught our eye when browsing a web forum. Many users there were looking for opinions regarding the device since not a lot of information existed yet. Because of that, we decided to get our hands on it.
First off, it is important to note that the devices main competitor is the Apple TV and due to the lack of jailbreak for the latest version the G-Box becomes an affordable alternative that many are looking at. On top of that, some of the functionality offered by the G-Box Midnight is not found in any other device. For one, it comes pre-loaded with Google’s Android 4 Ice Cream Sandwich, an older version of the operating system that you see on mobile phones and tablets. It is a quick and easy to use OS that brings a unique element to any HTPC setup. Because of that, you get access to thousands of downloadable apps from the Google Play store. Another stand out feature is that the device comes installed with XBMC for Android. So any enthusiast with XBMC experience will feel right at home when using the G-Box Midnight.
You’ll notice that we focus our usage of the device on the above mentioned features since these are the two things that most users will look at when considering the G-Box Midnight. Let’s see how they fared.
- G-Box Midnight Android TV Box
- Remote Control
- Power Cable
These are the items you should have ready as they do not come with the G-Box Midnight Android
- HDMI Cable
- 2x AAA Batteries
- Wireless Keyboard and Mouse
- SD Card 4GB +
- G-Box Midnight Android connected via HDMI
- 42″ Panasonic Plasma
- FAVI Wireless Keyboard with touchpad mouse
- Mali400 High Performance 3D GPU
- AMLOGIC Cortex A9 Neon CPU
- 1GB RAM (DDR3)
- 4GB Total Internal Storage
- USB Storage Extendable (Flash Drives/HDD)
- SD Storage Extendable up to 32 GB
- 802.11b/g/n internal Wifi
- HDMI v1.3 1080p Output
- 10/100 Ethernet Port
- Audio/Video Out Composite
- 4x USB 2.0 Ports
- Android 4 ICS Installed with Google Play Store
- Supports Wireless USB Keyboard/Mouse
- Supports 3D Gyro USB Wireless Mouse
Getting Started with the G-Box Midnight
We unboxed the device and hooked it up to a Panasonic 42″ Plasma. We then ditched the audio/video composite cable and went straight to HDMI to get the best picture. Next, we bypassed the wireless and hooked up an ethernet connection. In this situation, the WD Livewire Powerline came in hand as the router was not nearby. For those of you not familiar with this accessory, it is an excellent solution for anyone who wants to avoid using wireless, but also doesn’t want to run Cat5 cable throughout their home. Read more about the technology here. Highly recommended!
As for the wireless, we did have a chance to test it out and noticed no problems. Don’t hesitate to buy the device if you plan on using it, just make sure your home networking is up to date. A good Wireless-N Router is essential for any video streaming.
The next step was to update the firmware. The only way to update the G-Box Midnight is by uploading the latest firmware file onto a SD card and popping the card into the box. This might cause concern for some individuals without a SD reader. But here’s an easy work around. If you have a digital camera, that uses SD cards, you can hook it up to your computer and use it as a external reader. Another option might be to pick up one of these from Amazon.
After you decide which method to use, the full firmware upgrade can be completed by using the following steps. Keep in mind, these steps will wipe any saved data on the device, including the XBMC installation!
- Step 1: Downloads the latest firmware from HERE.
- Step 2: Extract the firmware from the .rar and copy it to the root folder of your SD Card
- Step 3: Disconnect the power from your G-Box Midnight and Insert the SD Card into the front slot
- Step 4: With the SD card in, insert a tooth back into the audio port on the back of the G-Box Midnight. Push it until you press the built-in reset button. While holding the reset button down, plug the power back into the G-Box Midnight. Continue to hold the button down until you see the Android robot appear on your display.
- Step 5: Once the update is completed, a number of options will appear on the top of your screen. Select “Reboot Now”.
Once rebooted, you will run through a simple device setup. Follow the on screen guide to set display resolution, network settings, etc…
Now that the firmware has been updated and the initial setup is complete, let’s get XBMC back on the device.
- Step 1: Download XBMC for Android HERE.
- Step 2: Copy the XBMC Android file onto your SD Card.
- Step 3: With your device turned on, plug in the SD card into the G-Box Midnight
- Step 4: Hit the Android button on the G-Box Midnight Remote
- Step 5: Navigate the following icon: Android App Installer >; External SD Card >; Select the XBMC Android Installation.
- Step 6: Hit Install.
The remote control navigation is surprisingly good. If you are going to focus your usage on just XBMC, than the RC is satisfactory. It is easy to navigate around and using the on screen keyboard occasionally is not a problem, just a bit cumbersome like expected.
More typing extensive scenarios like find apps in the Google Play store or browsing the web with the built in web browser should be experience with a wireless keyboard. We had the opportunity to use the Favi Wireless Keyboard and Touchpad with this device and it worked great. All you have to do is plug in the receiver into one of the USB ports and flip the ON switch located on the keyboard and it immediately becomes responsive. Just one point about the keyboard, it works great, except for the touchpad. At times you really need to press your finger down hard for the cursor to move. But that is completely unrelated to the G-Box Midnight.
Also, the remote has a cursor mode button, which brings an arrow onto the screen so you can use the directional pad, but it can be a bit slow. Overall, I never got frustrated while navigating with the device. The layout of remote is great and the box only lagged behind when using the cursor.
Google Play Android Apps
One of the main selling points of the G-Box is the Google Play store. With Android Ice Cream Sandwich installed, you have access to literally thousands of apps. Only the new Favi Streaming Stick has this type of feature right out the box.
Overall, apps work great. We installed a bunch of video streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Youtube and all of them functioned as advertised. But remember, the majority of the Android Apps in the Google Play store are built specifically for phone and tablet solutions. As a result, some apps won’t be that useful for the G-Box Midnight. Just keep that in mind if you are buying the box with the sole purpose of purchasing a specific app. On the other hand, with more streamers turning to Android, expect the community to build more apps that compliment these devices.
XBMC for Android
Many might think that XBMC for Android is a “lite” version of the popular PC or MAC version of XBMC. However, this is not true. XBMC Android is a complete port of the desktop application containing all the same features and functions. As a result, the Android equipped G-Box Midnight comes pre-installed with the media center app.
To test XBMC, we loaded an external 32gb Flash Drive with a bunch of media and plugged it into one of the USB ports. Like expected, XBMC for Android had no problem handling any video file type we threw at it. One point to make, if you plan on buying the device specifically with using XBMC make sure you have a USB external HD plugged into the device. The G-Box Midnight comes with 4 GB of space and the capability to handle 32 GB of data from a SD card, but a large external will be your best bet.
After having the chance to now play with the G-Box Midnight for about a week, I can confidently say that it can be the center of any HTPC setup. For one, the Google Play Store unlocks a ton of app solutions that stretch what you can do with the device. There are a number of useful ones that bring hours of viewing pleasure to the living room. Also, with more devices turning to Android (example: Favi StreamStick), developers will create apps that are beneficial to cord cutters. I’m sure all HTPC enthusiast are excited to see how things progress in this segement.
I’m not sure what more we need to say. Simply put, if you are already a user of Android, expect to have the same type of functionality that you have come to know. The operating system, even thought developed specifically for phones, works great all across the board. One things we really liked is how well Google Chrome worked; turns out to be a great 10ft browsing experience.
Also, the XBMC experience works great. It’s currently only available in beta form, but with little issues, it is exciting to think about what the first release of the product will look like.
Now onto the cons. During the duration of our testing, we did run into a few technical errors that were frustration. All the issues experienced could be categorized into two categories: Unresponsive and Freezes.
When on the Android home screen, the device would not response to icon selections. For example, when we would click on the Google Play Store icon, it would appear to be doing something, but nothing ever loaded. This wasn’t a remote issue because we could clearly see the icon change colors as when a click is successfully received. The only solution found for the problem was to pull out the power cable and turn the box back on. This problem occurred twice during the course of a week.
XBMC also completely froze on us once while dabbling in the settings. Once again, a complete power on/off resolved the problem. This could be related to the version of XBMC installed. Aside from these issues, the software aspect of the device works well and as more firmware updates/xbmc revisions are released, expect these issues to be resolved.
Lastly, when compared to the Apple TV or Roku the build construction of the G-Box Midnight feels inferior. The plastic does not feel as strong and the device lacks much weight behind it. But in the end this is a minor issue since once the device is hooked up it remains in one place.
We hope you enjoyed this review. The product is a great piece of hardware that can help you achieve your cord cutting needs. TotalHTPC gives this product a buy.
The G-Box Midnight Android can be purchased at amazon.com for $88.00. Please feel free to post any comments or questions in the section below.