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The Pivos XIOS DS Media Play Smart TV Companion (that is its full title) is one of those things I have always been fascinated with. I’m an Android zealot, who who has experienced many devices over the years from cheap to cutting edge. I have long used Android to listen to music, watch videos from files, YouTube or Netflix, catching up on news, browsing Reddit, and many other forms of media consumption. Pivos describes the XIOS DS as “the marriage between digital home entertainment and the powerful Android platform”, and I got the opportunity to see if it lives up to their claims.
The XIOS DS is a tidy and compact package. The packaging is clean and simple, and as soon as I took the top of the box off, I found a card inside. “Before using your device, please upgrade to the latest firmware.” Considering how unstable the device was when I first turned it on, I’m glad they warned me to upgrade, but more on that later.
Under the XIOS in the box, I found the power adapter HDMI cable, and remote control. Including the HDMI cable is a nice touch in a time where so many devices are bring-your-own-cord.
The XIOS itself is simple but well designed. It’s small, but uses what little space it has effectively. One side holds the MicroSD card slot and two USB ports. Another side has ethernet, HDMI, power, and a third USB port. The last side has a few indicator lights. The build quality is solid. The ports are uniformly constructed and firmly attached. There are no rough edges or bad seams. The bottom of the device has a silicon mat to keep it from sliding around.
The included remote matches the XIOS, and to my pleasant surprise was very well made. It may be small and light, but it doesn’t feel flimsy, and the silicon buttons are soft to the touch and clicky to press, and the volume buttons are located on the side. The remote felt like it would be a real companion to the XIOS. The buttons are few, but well thought-out, with the exception of the lack of a “home” button. The remote was definitely conceived as part of the product, not just a flimsy accessory, the limitation to the remotes functionality would be in software.
An Android Powered…
One of the most difficult parts of this review was trying to decide how to consider the device. As a simple, inexpensive, Android-powered mini-computer, I need only be concerned with whether the company has kept the firmware stable and up-to-date. As an Android-powered HTPC, I need to consider multimedia playback and how well you can control the device with the included remote.
Of course, the hardware that is exactly what it says on the box, so if you’re familiar with the Android OS, you know roughly what you’re going to get. You won’t mind updating the firmware, you’ll know that you should have a spare USB keyboard and mouse if you don’t have a touchscreen, and you would doubt your geek-cred if you didn’t try five different launchers, home screens, widgets, and media players on it just as fast as you could install them.
Pivos, however, isn’t just marketing to the tech-savvy. “Digital home entertainment never came in such a sleek package.” it says on their website. It also says “XIOS DS Media Play supports a rich user interface with variety of widgets, animated background and shortcuts to your favorite apps… Enjoy the ability to stream all your favorite video and audio content and a massive collection of applications and premium online content.” In other words, this isn’t just about the hardware, and I would be remiss not to review the device for what Pivos claims it to be.
The XIOS as a Media Center
First, I want to give Pivos credit where it is due. They were clear even in packaging that the firmware should be immediately updated. The default firmware was pretty much just a very glitchy version of stock Android 4 ICS. As I already mentioned, to get started you’ll need to plugin in a keyboard. I had a spare one lying around (specifically, the excellent Logitech k400 I previously reviewed) which worked flawlessly with Android. In case you’re wondering why I’m not including screenshots of the device, it’s simply because there is nothing to take a screenshot of. The software is completely stock except for a simple file manager, and it will change with the version of Android you have installed.
Updating the firmware did fix many of the crashes I had been experiencing and improved my wireless connectivity. As much as I like the idea of the remote, though, it isn’t enough to navigate around stock Android. The remote seems to have been designed with XBMC in mind, and only that. It does not control the cursor, but just sends key presses for the buttons on the remote such as “up”, “down”, “left”, “right”, and “select”.
Once I had finished updating the firmware, I spent some time making myself at home on the device. I installed a launcher more suitable for a TV screen, and after realizing that the XIOS didn’t actually have a media center software packaged with it I located a micro SD card which was required to download other software, and headed over the the Pivos website to grab the hardware accelerated version of XBMC. Finally, the XIOS was starting to feel like a media center.
Although still in release candidate for Android, XBMC was easy to install, super slick, and worked great with the remote. Unfortunately, playing files in general on the device was very much hit-or-miss. Some played fine, others played with smooth video but no audio, or in the case of Netflix, played audio but no video. Pivos did post a video to their forum where they give directions for how to fix Netflix, and I applaud them for making sure to address that issue and do their best to make it easy to fix. Unfortunately, it still requires using an app to edit the Build.prop file on the device — not something most people would consider very “easy”. In addition, I recommend not using this device on a wireless network. Although it works alright for browsing the Internet, even after applying the changes mentioned by Pivos, Netflix could not buffer for more than about thirty seconds at a time, and YouTube was unable to play HD video without constantly buffering.
I think that Pivos is sincerely trying to provide devices with a lot of value, and they are clearly trying to be consistent about upgrading their devices. Unfortunately, for those who aren’t tech savvy, they don’t seem to be able to wrap up what they’re trying to provide in a nice package. For those who are tech savvy, the XIOS DS is an attractive price, and is as easy to customize as you would expect of an Android device.
The bottom line is that the XIOS is getting frequent software updates, and Pivos seems committed to the device, but, the XIOS is also not suitable for anyone who isn’t comfortable flashing firmware, and editing config files, both of which are required to get the device working smoothly.
If Pivos really wants this to be a multimedia device, they need to improve the software. They need to ship a stable version of Android, make sure automatic updates work, include a custom launcher with big buttons that you can navigate with the remote, and include the hardware accelerated version of XBMC. They also should patch the Android keyboard so that when you’re navigating using the remote, there is a way to shift focus to the keyboard to type.
I give the XIOS 4.5/5 for hardware, and 2/5 for software, resulting in an overall 6.5 little robots out of 10. The device is available for purchase on amazon.com for $119.99.