Android is making big in-roads into our lounges and Google is leading the way. Media streaming devices like the Chromecast are gaining popularity, and now there is Android TV, as seen on the Nexus Player. However, there is still a lot to be said for having a fully functional Android box connected to your TV. Not only can it stream music and video, but it can do almost everything that an Android tablet can do. In other words it can turn your TV into a full Android smart TV.
I am a big fan of Android based media players. I reviewed the Tronsmart Orion R28 a few weeks ago, and I was suitably impressed. Now Tronsmart has gone one better by releasing the Draco AW80, an Android media player with an octa-core processor and a lot of connectivity options.
The design of the Draco AW80 is functional, almost industrial. The case is made of aluminium, to help cooling, and it is peppered with ports and connectors. The box is painted black, but to add a bit of style the edges are machined to reveal the metal. It is powered by an external power supply and connects to your TV via HDMI. On the front is a small window for the remote control sensor along with a power LED. On the back is the HDMI port, the Wi-Fi antenna, the power connector, an Ethernet port, a 3.5mm AV jack port, and an OTG USB port. There are two more USB ports on the side, along with a SD card slot and an e-SATA connector. Tronsmart provides an e-SATA cable in the box, along with a HDMI cable.
At the heart of the Tronsmart Draco AW80 is the new Allwinner A80 SoC. The A80 includes an octa-core big.LITTLE Cortex-A15/A7 CPU and a 64-core PowerVR G6230 GPU. The hardware video decoder supports MPEG-2, MPEG-4, H.263, H.264, and H.265.
The review model came with 16GB of internal storage and 2GB of RAM. The next model up comes with 32GB of internal storage and 4GB of RAM. Other features are dual-band Wi-Fi (802.11 a/b/g/n/ac), Bluetooth 4.0, USB 3.0, e-SATA, and Gigabit Ethernet.
The device comes pre-installed with Android 4.4.2 along with services like Google Play. Unlike the Orion R28, there aren’t that many apps which have been designed to work with the remote control. The default video player works well with the remote, but the rest of the apps are just standard Android apps.
Using the default video player I tested the Draco Aw80 with a number of different video files including H.264 and H.265 encoded video. All the videos worked perfectly without any problems. It is also interesting to note that the device is “rooted” and SuperSU comes pre-installed.
One final twist about the software is that if you don’t like running Android on the Draco AW80 then fear not, Tronsmart says the device is also compatible with Linux and that it will release some Linux images at the end of November.
Update: Ubuntu 14.04 has now been ported to the Tronsmart Draco AW80.
With an octa-core big.LITTLE Cortex-A15/A7 CPU and a 64-core PowerVR G6230 GPU, I was keen to see how the Draco AW80 performed according to the benchmarks, and in real life. Starting with real life, there is little to say other than the device gives a smooth, fluid, and enjoyable experience. The device worked perfectly for web browsing, gaming, watching locally stored movies, and for streaming video from YouTube and Netflix.
As for the benchmarks, AnTuTu v5.1 gave the Draco AW80 a score of 51,339, which makes the Draco AW80 one of the fastest Android devices on the market. The result is, at the moment, unverified by AnTuTu, however since the AW80 runs at 2.0GHz and the Draco AW80 isn’t a battery powered device, there is no reason to doubt the result.
Running Epic Citadel showed that the the PowerVR G6230 GPU can do 52.9 frames per second at 1920×1032. This is an excellent score, however a little disappointing. The Tronsmart Orion R28 managed 59 fps on the same test.
The Tronsmart Draco AW80 media player comes with a special remote control that is designed to work with Android. There are buttons for Home, Back, Menu, volume up, volume down, as well as direction buttons. Stock Android is mainly used on devices with a touch screen, however it is possible to use it with just remote! You navigate from one UI element to the next using the direction keys and the OK button means “tap”. When needed, the keyboard appears on screen and each letter needs to be selected and then OK pressed.
The remote does become a bit annoying after a few minutes! This particular remote control also has a mouse mode. When activated the direction keys move the mouse a few pixels in the relevant direction and OK mean “tap”. This is useful when the remote alone doesn’t handle the UI. However, the best way to use the box is with USB mouse. You can then quickly navigate around and just use the remote control for pausing videos or adjusting the volume while sitting on your sofa! The need for at least a mouse is universally true of all the Android media boxes that I have tested. It is the compromise you need to accept for running a full version of Android on a non-touch screen device. With a mouse connected the box is very usable, even my kids started to use it without much of a learning curve.
There are another input devices available which also work well with the Draco AW80, and with other Android media players. For example, Tronsmart have the “Air Mouse + Keyboard”. It looks like a normal remote control, with direction buttons with the ENTER button in the middle. Beneath the direction controls are buttons for left click, home, and right click. When the remote is moved around “in the air” the accelerometer senses the motion and the mouse cursor moves around on the screen, much like the controller on a Wii. Flip the remote over and there is a mini-keyboard, which makes typing much easier. Using the Air Mouse can take some practice, but it has the advantage that it can used from your armchair!
There is very little that can be said against the Draco AW80. It could do with some more built-in apps that work well with the remote control. However, even if there were more special apps, the best way to get the most from the Draco AW80 is to remember that it isn’t a specialized media player with a custom GUI, but rather a fully functional Android device. Once you understand that then the Draco AW80 is a treasure.