Smartboxes are slowly but surely going to be the next best thing after HD Media players. They offer you much more control than an HD media player which is locked down to its own custom firmware and you have very little options to add apps.
We had seen the Android 4.0 Mini PC sometime back which offered you an ICS experience on any HDTV and which literally would fit in your palm.
This time we got the Akai Smartbox which runs Android 2.3 operating system. Although not as light and portable as the Android 4.0 MIni PC, the Akai Smartbox bundles in a wireless mouse along with an HDMI cable and has four USB 2.0 ports which gives it a slight edge over the Android 4.0 Mini PC. But does that make it a worthy buy? We will find out soon.
Build and Design
The Akai Smartbox looks like any other entry-level HD media player having a plastic build. The top portion has a glossy black finish with the Akai branding. When seen from the sides, it seems to taper from the back to the front. On the left hand side you have the SD card slot whereas the right hand side is clean. The edges, as well as the front and back are slanted in a triangular manner. The front face of the Akai Smartbox is clean and just has the blue LED indicator.
The build is all plastic and does not inspire much admiration. The glossy top is a fingerprint magnet. The device is very light though. It comes with a wireless mouse which has a decently slim profile and has a glossy black finish. The buttons on the mouse are quite responsive and you can hear an audible clicking sound.
The rear side has a variety of ports, microphone input, AV out, four USB 2.0 ports, an HDMI port, a LAN port and a power port. We quite liked the fact that Akai has a healthy number of ports, that ways even if you have two ports for the mouse and the keyboard, you are still left with two more ports to attach your external drives.
As is the case with such devices, the Akai Smartbox lacks a dedicated power button.
The Akai Smartbox houses a 1.25 GHz processor and runs a highly customised version of Android 2.3. We could not confirm as to which system-on-chip the device runs on as Akai’s official website has no information on that. Android 2.3 is a bit dated specially now, when the least you can expect is Android 4.0. It has a LAN port as well as a Wi-Fi adapter within.
The user interface is very straightforward and somewhat boring. You have a dock with all the various categories of apps. You can change the wallpaper from the list of stock wallpapers or taking images from your Gallery app. On clicking on any category you get another screen which shows the apps within that category, with the list of categories arranged top-down on the left hand side.
When we logged into the Market place for the very first time, we were shown the UI of the older Android Market place. But on the second login, it automatically upgraded to the Google Play Store.
By default it has two games namely Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja. Now both these games are meant for touch and playing it with a normal mouse is a pain in itself. Now imagine our situation when faced with these touch-optimised games when faced with a highly unresponsive mouse. If you have a better mouse, then the experience isn't that bad, although nowhere close to that on a touchscreen.
Under the multimedia category we found a Camera app which works only when you connect a web cam to it. But do not bother with VGA webcams if you have an HDTV. Apart from this there were the standard media player and picture gallery apps.
We tested this device on an LG 42LK430 HDTV. The video playback from the external drives was quite good with 720p content. With 1080p clips in some formats such as .WMV, we noticed some stuttering and slow playback of videos. For videos playing smoothly, we did not notice any slowing down when we were fast forwarding or rewinding videos. It could play most of the video formats comfortably including .MOV, .MKV, .MP4, .AVI but failed with .FLV.
The response of the mouse was not the best and we noticed a definite lag whilst gaming. Using the onscreen keyboard was a pain on a 42-inch HDTV screen with the mouse. We would suggest you get a decent wireless mouse, if you want to have a good experience with the Smartbox and if you are going to be surfing the web or write mails, get a keyboard. Right clicking on the mouse simulates the back function.
After you download any app you get the option to categorise it in any of the six sections which is a nice touch.
One weird thing we noticed on some apps was that the scroll key would not work. For instance when we opened a news item in Flipboard and scrolled the page, there was no movement. But when we clicked the left mouse button and dragged it, the page moved along.
We ran the standard set of benchmarks and the scores we got were quite similar to what we got on the Android 4.0 Mini PC. Quadrant and GLBenchmark wouldn’t run for some reason.
The Akai Smartbox does offer more features and flexibility than a standard HD media player, but the boring user interface, a not-so-great mouse, average performance on 1080p clips, old Android 2.3 OS clubbed with a restrictive pricing of Rs. 6590 make it very difficult for us to recommend it. The Android 4.0 Mini PC although has less USB 2.0 ports, still offers a better value for money at its lesser price.
ContactAkai India Pvt Ltd
Phone: 1860 180 2524