Technology is advancing so fast in the Android mini PC market that perhaps we'll wake up tomorrow and find an octo-core device that weighs 1 ounce and costs $50. However, today, the fastest mini PCs on the market pack quad-core CPUs, 2GB of RAM and the fully-featured Android OS into a chassis the size of a Pez dispenser. The RK3188 Android Mini PC is the latest member of this group, providing graphics performance that's good enough for serious gaming, along with Android 4.2.2 and full Google Play store access for just $79.
Like the Android Mini PC RK3066, which is also sold exclusively by Timing Power, the Android Mini PC RK3188 has a wide rectangular shape that's more similar to a cigarette lighter than a USB key. The black matte plastic shell felt sturdier than the CX-919's flat glossy case, though it wasn't as attractive. We found it easy to remove the top of the case when we had to press a button on the motherboard in order to flash the device with its latest firmware. At 1.3 ounces, the RK3188 weighs a little less than the CX-919, but is the same weight as the Measy U2C and MK808B.
The Android Mini PC RK3188 offers the basic ports you'll need to connect it to a TV and peripherals with nothing extra. The device has a microUSB port you must connect to the included 2-amp AC adapter (or another that provides at least that much juice), a full-size USB port for connecting to peripherals or a hub, a 3.5mm audio jack and a microSD card slot you can use to add up to 32GB of additional storage on top of its 8GB of internal flash memory.
You'll need an HDMI cable to attach the RK3188 to your TV or monitor, because it has a female HDMI port. We prefer the male HDMI ports used on competitors like the CX-919 and Measy U2C because they can either connect directly to the back of your TV or attach to a dock. To connect to the Internet and your local devices, the stick comes with both 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radios.
Like other devices based on the Rockchip RK3188 CPU, the RK3188 Android Mini PC is not yet capable of outputting video in 1080p, even with a custom a ROM. When we tried playing 1080p MP4 video clips including the trailers for Skyfall, Wolverine, and Riddick, images were smooth but motion was slightly jerky. However, after we updated to the latest firmware, playback was flawless. We were also able to stream The Avengers using the Netflix app without experiencing any issues.
Android 4.2.2 Experience
The Android Mini PC RK3188 comes with a very stock version of Android 4.2.2 with no skins or major modifications at all. The device has 5 desktops with a Google search bar at the top, a couple of simple default widgets such as the clock and the same default green wallpaper we've seen on many other Android Mini PCs. The menu bar at the bottom of the screen has the same back, home, task switching and volume buttons you'd find on a stock Android device. However, the UI also has a power button and, if you enable it in settings, a screen shot button that will take pictures of the current display and save them to a folder on your flash drive.
The virtual keyboard is stock Android, providing just the basic gray keys we've come to expect. As with other Android Mini PCs, we found that connecting a physical keyboard allowed us to type much faster and more accurately than navigating from key to key with a mouse.
The RK3188 supports full Google Voice Search, provided you can attach a working speaker and microphone. Two different USB Logitech headsets we tried weren't recognized by the operating system, but we did manage to connect a 3.5mm headset to the device and use that to issue commands to Google. Unfortunately, it order to get our headset to both send and receive sound, we had to insert the jack only half way and jiggle it just right. Even then, Google had a hard time interpreting our speech. For example, when we asked "Who is the prime minister of Japan," it interpreted our speech as "who is tan?"
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Video Conferencing Ability
The Android Mini PC RK3188 is able to conduct video or voice chats using popular apps like Skype and Google Hangouts. However, the system didn't recognize any of the two USB headsets and three different webcams we plugged in.
Unfortunately, finding devices that will work is a challenge with any Android mini PC. Some users report that the Logitech C270, which is one of the cameras we tried, works well on other systems, but it did not work on this one. Perhaps a future firmware update will allow the RK3188 to use this camera or perhaps another camera will work for you. There is no list of compatible peripherals.
With its 1.6-GHz quad-core Rockchip RK3188 processor, the Android Mini PC RK3188 provides plenty of power for surfing the web, watching HD videos and gaming. When we played the Riptide GP 2 jetski racing game with the graphics settings turned up, we saw some gorgeous, processor-intensive effects such as objects that reflected off of the moving water and splashes that flew up and hit the camera.
Synthetic tests echoed the strong performance we saw in real-world use. On Antutu, a synthetic benchmark that measures overall performance, the RK3188 scored 5,184, which is about on par with the similarly specked CX-919 (5,210) but nearly double the dual-core MK808B's mark (2,972). The Android Mini PC RK3188 returned a score of 15,550 on the 3DMark Ice Storm test, which is slightly higher than the CX-919's 15,432 and more than 80 percent above the MK808B (8,336) and the Measy U2C (9,156).
The Android Mini PC RK3188 doesn't have much third-party software preloaded but has the basic things you'll need to get started. You'll find such Google apps as Search and Gmail and stock Android apps like the email client, video player and sound recorder. The RK3188 also comes with eHomeMediaCenter, a media manager that allows you to set up a DLNA server and DLNA client that can stream media files to and from DLNA-enabled tablets and phones. WifiDisplay can stream content to and from other Miracast-enabled devices. RKGameControl lets you put virtual buttons and a virtual d-pad on top of the screen so you can use them in games. Explorer allows you to browse the file system.
In order to get the best performance out of the Android Mini PC RK3188, we had to download and flash a firmware update from Timingpower, the vendor that sells the device. However, even with the update, we still could mot output at 1080p or use any of the USB headsets and webcams we tired. We hope a third-party developer debuts a custom ROM for this device as they have for other Android sticks like the MK808B.
Unlike the CX-919 and MK808B Android mini PCs, the RK3188 does not come with root access enabled. Users hoping to install special root-friendly apps such as an overclocker or a video screen capture app cannot do so unless and until someone comes up with a hack that will allow users to gain these privileges.
With its quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM and up-to-date Android 4.2.2 OS, the $79 Android Mini PC RK3188 provides enough oomph to play the most demanding games and videos in a form factor that's small enough to fit in even the smallest pocket. While its chassis feels a bit flimsy, the $73 CX-919 Android Mini PC has the same CPU and RAM for around the same price, but comes pre-rooted, has custom ROMs available and offers better pre-loaded software along with an extra USB port. However, if you're looking for an Android PC with a sturdy design and the fastest performance on the market, the RK3188 Android mini PC is a strong choice.