In the year since we first started reviewing Android Mini PCs (aka Android sticks) we've seen this nascent category go from slow-moving, single-core systems to multicore speed demons capable of playing the latest Android games. The $56.99 Measy U2C ($69.98 with dock) adds a new and compelling twist by providing a built-in 2-MP camera and microphone for video chats, along with an optional dock that provides added ports and an easy way to mount the Mini PC in front of your TV. With its powerful dual-core 1.6-GHz RK3066 CPU and full-featured Android 4.11 Jelly Bean OS, the U2C is the best Android stick yet.
The Measy U2C's 3.5 x 1.6 x .4-inch chassis is shaped like a wide USB key and, at just 1.2 ounces, weighs less than some Flash drives we've used. Though its white-matte-plastic design doesn't have the premium aesthetic of the aluminum Zealz GK802, the U2C is extremely light and filled with components you won't find on most of its competitors.
The top surface of the Measy holds a 2-MP webcam and a microphone for video conferencing. The right short side has a microUSB port for power and a full-size USB for attaching peripherals. The upper surface has a microSD card slot, a second microUSB port for attaching more peripherals and something we've never seen before: a standby button that brings the device in and out of sleep mode, presumably for power savings.
The left side of the U2C houses a full-size HDMI male connector that you attach to either the dock, an HDMI extension cable or directly to the back of your monitor or TV. A rather useless 3.5mm output jack sits right next to the HDMI connector, making it impossible to use when the U2C is attached to its dock and difficult to use with an HDMI extension cable.
Dock and Setup
If you're going to purchase the Measy U2C, you'd be a fool not to spend the extra $12.99 and buy its extremely useful dock. Without this accessory, you'll have a hard time mounting the U2C in a position where you can actually stare into its webcam. Not only does the dock hold the Mini PC aloft and provide an HDMI-out port that lets you place the device next to or on top of your TV or monitor, but it also twists up or down so you can adjust the device's camera angle. Even better, this must-have accessory offers three USB ports, a full-size SD Card reader and an on/off switch -- things you don't get on the U2C alone.
Connecting the U2C to the dock was a snap; we simply placed its HDMI male jack into the receptor and connected the microUSB power cable and full USB cable for data. Neither the dock nor the Measy U2C itself comes with a USB-to-AC adapter, so you'll have to bring your own -- one that outputs at least 1.5 amps (1,500 millamps), or preferably more. We used a 2-amp adapter and were able to power the Mini PC, an external keyboard and a wireless mouse.
If you don't buy the dock, setup is equally simple, as you just attach a USB-to-AC adapter to the microUSB port, plug the HDMI port into an extension cable that goes to the back of your screen and attach some kind of input device (keyboard or mouse) to the USB port.
Like other Android sticks, the Measy U2C doesn't have an install process. On first boot, the device takes you directly to the Android 4.1.1 desktop, but if you want to actually use Google services like the Play store or Gmail, you'll need to add your account in the Settings menu.
UI and Software
Once powered on, the Measy U2C boots to its Android desktop in a modest 46 seconds. The Mini PC runs a very stock version of Android 4.1.1 Jelly Bean with five desktops and just a clock widget and a few shortcuts preloaded. The bottom of the screen contains the standard back, home and multitasking buttons, along with a volume up/down button, a shutdown button and a down-arrow button that hides the bar. To bring the bar back, you swipe up from the bottom using the cursor.
The shutdown button is a convenience because it makes sure all changes are saved before you power off the device, but it doesn't physically cut power to the U2C; you'll need to unplug the device or turn off the power switch on the dock for that. The clock, Wi-Fi status and Notification menu are located on the right side of the bar.
Like other Android Mini PCs, the Measy U2C doesn't provide a touch screen, requiring you to use a mouse and keyboard to navigate Google's touch-centric operating system. For most Android applications, a mouse works fine, but many games that involve swiping, like "Fruit Ninja," won't work well without a touch screen.
The Measy U2C is blissfully free of crapware, coming with only a bare minimum of preloaded apps. In addition to stock Android apps -- such as Gmail, Google Maps, Gallery, Calculator and Camera -- the device comes with eHomeMediaCenter, for playing media files or sharing them on a network; Explorer, for browsing the file system; and Settings, which needlessly replicates a lot of features of the standard Android control panel, but with a different look and feel.
Fortunately, the U2C comes with full access to the Google Play marketplace. Unlike with the Zealz GK802, which had the Google Play app but listed most titles as incompatible, we were able to download any program we wanted without restriction. Even though Google's Chrome browser did not come preloaded on the Measy U2C, it was available as a free download from the Play store, as were thousands of other important Google and third-party apps, such as Google+, Netflix and Hulu+.
MORE: 25 Best Android Apps
Because it runs Jelly Bean, the Measy U2C comes with Google Now preloaded. After adding our personal Android account in Settings and firing up Google Now, the app showed us cards for our favorite sports team, the local weather and nearby events.
The Mini PC also supports Google Voice Search via either its built-in microphone or any headset you pair with it. Using the Search app, we asked such questions as, "What is the population of the United States?" and "Who starred in 'Transformers'?" and got back Google knowledge cards with a graph of the population growth and a list of photos of actors who have starred in Transformers movies. Even better, Google read answers to us through a Bluetooth headset we'd paired with it. For example, when we asked for the president's age, the Measy U2C told us that Barack Obama is 51 years old.
Video Conferencing and Camera
The Measy U2C's 2-MP webcam and built-in microphone enable users to conduct video chats via Skype or Google Hangouts. In our tests, the camera took sharp images and smooth video -- but the images washed out in a dim part of our office, so you'll want to be sure you have adequate lighting when you video chat. The built-in microphone was sensitive enough to capture our voice accurately during audio chats and voice search sessions.
After downloading the Skype and Google Hangouts apps, we were able to make video calls from both platforms. Our call partners reported that our image was smooth and sharp. Incoming images were also smooth, as was audio, as long as we listened to audio that came over the HDMI cable to our screen. We were unable to hear our friends' voices using either a Bluetooth headset or a Bluetooth speaker, even though those audio devices worked fine in other apps. If your screen does not have its own speakers or a headphone jack, consider attaching a USB headset.
Performance and Gaming
With its 1.6-GHz, dual-core Rockchip RK3066 CPU and 1GB of RAM, the Measy U2C is more than powerful enough to play HD movies, conduct video calls or play demanding 3D games. Using a Bluetooth game controller, we were able to play "Dead Trigger" smoothly at low quality, and with some lag at high quality. The Jet Ski racing game "Riptide GP" was smooth and sharp at the highest-quality level.
On AnTuTu, a synthetic Android benchmark that measures overall performance, the Measy U2C scored a solid 9,156. That showing is even higher than the scores for the quad-core Zealz GK802 (8,872) and the Android Mini PC RK3066 (2,629). On Geekbench, another synthetic test, the U2C scored a solid 1,011, which is just a bit behind the quad-core Zealz GK802.
MORE: Top 12 Android Games
DLNA and Media Playback
The Measy U2C supports DLNA, a popular media-sharing protocol that lets you stream content to and from other devices on the same network. Using the bundled eHomeMediaCenter app, we were able to stream media files to a Windows 7 PC and an Android phone with DLNA. Provided your device has a DLNA server of its own, you can also stream content directly from your PC, tablet or phone to the U2C. Imagine displaying photos from your phone directly on your TV without connecting a wire or transferring the files.
The U2C was more than powerful enough to play 1080p videos without a hitch. When we played a 1080p trailer for "Riddick," images were sharp and the motion was smooth. Streaming video from Netflix worked well in our testing, too.
However, despite having a 1080p output option in its control panel, the U2C is limited to 720p with its original firmware. We've run into the same resolution limitation with every Android stick we've tested, except for the Zealz GK802.
Fortunately, if you're willing to modify your U2C, you can install a custom ROM that will provide full 1080p output. The latest custom ROM is called Finless 1.7 and is available for download at the forums on Freaktab.com. (http://www.freaktab.com/showthread.php?4282-NEW-Measy-U2C-B12-Finless-ROM-1-7)
Though we wish it supported 1080p out of the box and provided stronger gaming performance, the Measy U2C is one of the best bargains in tech. For under $70 with the dock, the U2C can turn any TV into a smart TV, gaming console, conferencing center and DLNA-enabled media server at the same time. Though competitors offer similar performance at the same or lower prices, the Measy U2C's built-in webcam and microphone, along with its convenient dock, make this the most compelling Mini PC yet.