We've been following the inexpensive Android PC-on-a-stick phenomenon with great excitement ever since the first units hit the market last spring. When we reviewed previous models, such as the MK802, we praised them for cramming an Android/Linux computer in something the size of a USB flash drive, but we were less thrilled with their mediocre, single-core performance. A huge leap up from its predecessors, Timing Power's dual-core Android Mini PC RK3066 provides powerful performance that's good enough for serious gaming and video chats, a Bluetooth radio to help you pair with more peripherals, and all the goodness of Android 4.1 Jelly Bean with Google Now. For just $60, this device could be a workstation in your pocket or a credible set-top box or gaming console.
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Design and Ports
Unlike its predecessors and competitors, Timing Power's Android Mini PC RK3066 looks more like a small box than a USB stick. At 3.25 x 1.75 x 0.5 inches, it's a bit wider and taller than the 3.5 x 1 x 0.25-inch MK802 II and, at 1.3 ounces, it's about 30 percent heavier as well. However, the device is still extremely small and light, while the extra space allows plenty of room for ports and internal components such as Bluetooth, which was lacking in previous-generation devices.
Made from glossy, black plastic with a white Android logo on its top, the Android Mini PC RK3066 has a more tasteful and attractive aesthetic than the ridged plastic on the MK802 II or the part matte-part glossy chassis of the original MK802. Our review unit came with a small, black plastic clip attached that serves no purpose; a Timing Power rep told us that the company originally included the clip to help mount the device on the back of TVs, but has since stopped shipping the clip because it doesn't really help.
Like other Android sticks, the MK3066 uses a microUSB port for charging, though you'll have to bring your own AC adapter. Unlike many of its competitors, the stick uses a full-size female HDMI-out port to connect to your TV or monitor. Since it opts for a female port, the RK3066 is less likely to break than a stick with a male HDMI-out jack that has to be shoved into your TV or monitor port directly. The RK3066 also has a full-size USB port for attaching peripherals, a 3.5mm headphone jack and a microSD card slot for expansion. HDMI cable and micro-USB cables are included, a nice touch.
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Setting up the Android Mini PC MK3066 was a breeze. After we unboxed the device, we plugged it into a USB-to-AC adapter; we recommend that you use an adapter with an output of at least 1 amp (1,000 milliamps) to avoid problems. We then plugged the adapter into an outlet, connected the HDMI outport on the RK3066 to an input on our TV and attached a dongle for a 2.4-GHz wireless mouse to the mini PC's USB port.
The first time we powered it on, the Android Mini PC RK3066 booted directly into Android 4.11 Jelly Bean and, unlike most Android smartphones and tablets, took us directly to the home screen without asking for any account credentials. It was only when we wanted to use the Google Play market that we were prompted to enter our Google username and password.
To configure Wi-Fi, we simply clicked in the corner of the screen to bring up the quick settings menu and then selected our Wi-Fi network. We also used the Bluetooth settings to connect to a Bluetooth keyboard and game controller. Once we'd paired with those devices, they automatically reconnected every time we booted up the RK3066, allowing us to disconnect our 2.4-GHz wireless mouse and rely on Bluetooth peripherals exclusively.
OS and Google Apps
The Android Mini PC RK3066 runs a stock version of Android 4.11 Jelly Bean, including the Google Now app and its voice actions feature. After dragging up from the home button with our mouse, the familiar Google Now screen launched. Using both a Bluetooth headset and a wired headset, we were able to activate Google Voice actions such as taking voice notes, getting directions or navigating to a Web site.
As with any other Jelly Bean device, on the RK3066 we were able to ask Google Now questions and get direct answers. When we asked, "Who is the governor of Hawaii?" Google Now popped up a card showing the photo and name of current governor, John Abercrombie, and said, "John Abercrombie is the governor of Hawaii."
The Mini PC RK3066 comes preloaded with many of the major Google apps, including Gmail, Google Voice Search, Google Maps and the Google Play Store. We were able to download and install other Google apps such as YouTube and Google+ by using Google Play.
The interface is completely free from third-party skins and UI elements. Out of the box, there are no icons on the five home screens at all, save for one analog clock widget, covering the rather bland, blue-and-purple default wallpaper. The familiar Android navigation bar sits at the bottom of the screen, with its back, home, and task-switching icons, along with additional buttons for volume up/down. The lower right corner of the screen holds the clock, status updates and Wi-Fi/Bluetooth icons. Clicking in this corner brings up the quick settings menu.
Astute Android aficionados will notice two small additions to the settings app, a screen shot menu and a screen resolution menu. A screen shot app is built into the OS and, in the settings menu, we had the opportunity to configure it so that a camera icon always appeared next to the navigation buttons at the bottom of the screen. Clicking the camera icon took an immediate screen shot and saved it to the device's internal memory. The settings menu has an option which allowed us to take screen shots after a 15-, 30-, 60-second or longer delay. After activating this setting, a countdown clock appeared in the lower left corner of the screen, and when the clock reached 0, the system took a screen shot.
The screen setting menu allowed us to choose between available screen resolutions: 1920 x 1080, or 1280 x 720 or 720 x 480. However, when we changed the setting to 1920 x 1080, the resolution remained at 1280 x 720. A rep for Timing Power, which sells the MK3066, said that the 720p limitation is a known software bug. As with previous Android sticks that have this bug, there's a good chance that a third-party developer will come out with a fix at some point in the future.
Mouse and Keyboard Experience
One obvious difference between Android 4.11 on the Android Mini PC RK3066 and on a tablet or phone is that there's no touchscreen. The mouse and keyboard you attach provide the only form of navigation. Clicking and dragging icons with a mouse works the same as with a finger, and you can swipe by holding down the mouse button. To scroll up or down, you must either have a scroll wheel or drag the screen; there are no scroll bars. Right-clicking on the RK3066 is the equivalent of hitting the back button.
Unfortunately, apps that require an accelerometer or multi-touch gestures will never work properly on this computer. Many games won't work because they require you to move by tilting your device or by dragging around virtual joysticks. However, if a game can work with a physical controller, such as the Steel Series Free Mobile Wireless controller ($79.99 ), you can play games quite well on the RK3066.
Start Up and Shut Down
If you've never used an Android stick before, you may be surprised to learn that there's no power button and no built-in way to shut off the Mini PC RK3066. When you plug in the device, it immediately starts to boot, a process that takes a little less than a minute. When you want to power off the device, you just unplug it. The Google Play store has some shut-down apps, but these only stop the OS from running; they don't actually turn the device's power off.
In addition to standard Google apps and Android apps such as the clock, music app and calculator, the Android Mini PC RK3066 comes with a number of useful utilities. Explorer provides a large and colorful interface for browsing through files on the mini PC's 4GB of internal storage, microSD card, or any USB storage device you attach to it. Apk Installer lets you sideload apps, something you could do simply by using Explorer or the settings menu. Gestures Builder lets you create custom gestures to launch apps, but these aren't particularly helpful because there's no touchscreen. An app called WiMo is designed to enable wireless screen-sharing of some type, but without any instructions or settings, we couldn't figure out if it works with this device.
The most useful preloaded, third-party app is eHomeMediaCenter, which allows you to enable media file-sharing on your local wireless network. Using the app, we were able to share files with a Windows 7 PC on the same network and even stream 1080p videos directly from the PC's hard drive, without any serious lag or picture degradation. Of course, the videos had to downscale to 720p because that's the highest resolution the RK3066 supports with its preloaded Android build.
The Android Mini PC MK3066 will work with certain webcams and allow you to make video calls or shoot photos or video, provided you have the right software. According to Androdyz.com, which maintains a list of Android-compatible cams, many Logitech and Microsoft cams will work. In our testing, a Logitech C510 720p starting working as soon as we plugged it in, while a Facevsion TouchCam N1 did not.
With the webcam attached to the Mini PC RK3066, we made a Skype call to a friend and were able to see both our image and her image on our HDTV. With the camera mounted on top of the TV, motion was smooth and images were colorful, but just a little pixilated in the dim light of our living room. Both outgoing and incoming audio were crystal clear, even though we were sitting several feet away. We can imagine families using the Android Mini PC RK3066 to turn their TVs into video-conferencing stations.
Performance and Gaming
Where earlier-generation Android sticks suffered from mediocre performance, the Android Mini PC RK3066 is fast enough for high-quality gaming and media consumption. As we navigated around the OS, the device's 1.6-GHz, dual-core Rockchip RK3066 CPU allowed us to switch apps and return to the home screen without any lag. When we played 1080p trailers for "Iron Man 3" and "Skyfall" and a 1080p, high-frame-rate trailer for "The Hobbit," images were crisp and completely smooth.
The graphics-intensive jet ski racing gaming "Riptide GP" played flawlessly with the game's graphics quality settings turned all the way up. We used a Bluetooth controller to pilot our avatar as he raced around the gorgeous water track, which had reflections and splashes that looked grainy and flat on earlier Android sticks such as the MK802 II.
The first-person shooter "Dead Trigger" looked smooth and sharp as we ran down the hallways, firing our gun, shooting zombies and watching their blood splatter. "Frontline Commando" also ran flawlessly, as we saw detailed images of our avatar reloading his gun and shooting at enemy soldiers. However, this title was difficult to play with a mouse.
The Android Mini PC RK3066's strong performance was reflected in its scores on synthetic benchmark tests. On Linpack, a test that measures processing power, the device scored a strong 37.4 in single-threaded mode and 63 in multi-threaded mode, which beats the 33.4/54.1 tablet category average and trounces the 13.6/14.8 scored by the MK802 II. The FXI Cotton Candy, which is not available to the public and costs developers $199, provided higher scores of 39.3/70.1, with its 1.2-GHz Samsung Exynos processor.
On An3DBench, a benchmark that measures graphic prowess, the Android Mini PC RK3066 scored a strong 7,631, comfortably above the 6,696 tablet category average. This score was also miles ahead of the MK802 II's mark of 6,377 and just slightly above the FXI Cotton Candy's mark of 7,245.
Timing Power sells the Android Mini PC RK3066, but there are some similarly sized and priced devices on the market with the same Rockchip RK3066 CPU inside and Android 4.1 Jelly Bean operating system. Some common names of these competitors include the MK808, MK803 and MK802 III. Though they should offer similar performance, not all of them include Bluetooth, and many have different ports and potentially different preloaded apps. Operating system builds for one of these devices should work on the others since they all have the same underlying system-on-a-chip.
Just like the MK802 and MK802 II before it, the Android Mini PC RK3066 can run additional operating systems by installing them to a microSD card and booting off of that. Though devices with this CPU have only been around for a few months, users have already created a special version of Ubuntu called PicUntu for this hardware platform.
The Android Mini PC RK3066 is small enough to fit in your pocket, yet powerful enough to be your portable Android game console or workstation, depending on what apps you use. However, you don't have to carry the RK3066 around to make great use of its capabilities. Because you can stream videos, play demanding games and conduct video chats, the RK3066 is a versatile and cheap set-top box. Linux geeks will enjoy the opportunity to hack the device and try different operating systems on it. Whatever you plan to do with it, this $60 device is a steal.