MINIX NEO U9-H Review: Still Worth It In 2020?


Once upon a time (back in the beginning of 2017), MINIX brought out the NEO U9-H as the successor to their popular NEO U1. The NEO U9-H was MINIX’s flagship Android TV box until finally being replaced in 2020.

So why am I writing a review article for a four year old product?

Simple. MINIX is still selling it on their website and on Amazon.com.

MINIX NEO U9-H review

Most reviews are done when the products first come out, so the tech is new and usually better than anything else on the market. It can be frustrating to read reviews of older products because you’re left wondering if they’re still worth it today.

Today, I’m going to review the MINIX NEO U9-H and compare it to other TV boxes that you can buy for the same price (new or used) today.

By the end of this article, you’ll have a better idea if the MINIX NEO U9-H is still worth your money.

Let’s get started.

Overview

When it came out in early 2017, the MINIX NEO U9-H was top of the line. It was released several months after the release of Android 7 (Nougat), and it was widely expected that MINIX would release an update.

That update never came.

Even though there were eight official firmware releases, spanning almost two full years, the NEO U9-H is still running Android 6 (Marshmallow). In fact, the last official firmware was released two months AFTER Google released Android 9!

Hardware is also pretty dated at this point.

The NEO U9-H comes with only 2 GB of RAM and 16 GB of storage. While it does support 4K HDR video and Dolby Digital audio, there aren’t any USB 3.0 ports and it still sports the older (and slower) HDMI 2.0 ports.

Still, that’s not to say that the U9-H is a bad device – far from it. However, if you’re buying one at this point, you need to have realistic expectations.

MINIX NEO U9-H Specs

Hardware

  • CPU: Octa Core Cortex A53 Processor (64-bit)
  • GPU: Mali-820 MP3 GPU
  • RAM: 2GB DDR3 (32-bit)
  • Storage: 16GB eMMC 5.0 Storage(MLC)

Software

  • Android Marshmallow 6.0.1

Dimensions

  • 4.9″ x 4.9″ x 0.9″

Ports

  • HDMI 2.0
  • 3.5mm stereo jack
  • Digital optical
  • RJ-45 Gigabit Ethernet
  • USB 2.0 port x 3
  • OTG port x 1
  • Kensington lock ready
  • Micro SD Card Reader

Audio & Video Formats

  • DAT/MPEG/MPE/MPG/TS/TP/VOB/ISO/AVI/MP4/MOV/3GP/FLV/MKV/M2TS/MTS/M4V/WMV/ASF
  • DTS-HD/DD/DD+/MP2/MP3/WMA/WAV/OGG/OGA/FLAC/ALAV/APE/AAC

First Impressions

Full disclosure, I picked up my NEO U9-H from eBay for far less than what it goes for retail. So I missed out on the unboxing experience.

For the money I saved, I’m OK with that. But we’ll get into price a bit later.

MINIX has stuck with the same general design for their mini-PC’s and Android TV boxes for years. It’s quite distinctive and it definitely works for them.

The case is made of a matte-black finish with rounded edges, much like you’d find on an Apple TV. There’s no display screen on the front, and only a very small LED light to let you know when it’s on.

What I’ve always liked about the MINIX case design is that it’s not going to look out of place, no matter how upscale your living room is.

Ports

MINIX NEO U9-H side ports

Looking at the side of the box, you’ll find the main power switch, three USB 2.0 ports and a micro-SD card slot for additional storage.

You’ll also find a micro-USB OTG (On-The Go) port which allows you to connect the device to your PC for manual firmware updates.

MINIX NEO U9-H rear ports

On the back, things look very similar to other MINIX TV boxes.

You’ll find a 3.5 mm headphone jack, a 3.5 mm microphone jack, an RJ-45 Ethernet port and a power port. The HDMI port is HDMI 2.0, which is capable of 4K resolution at 60 frames per second (fps). Finally, there’s a digital optical port if you want to send the audio out to a soundbar or receiver.

Metro Launcher

Once you turn it on, the NEO U9-H sports the familiar Metro launcher found on nearly every MINIX TV box of that era.

MINIX tried to make the Metro launcher as compatible with TV viewing as possible. Most icons are simple pictures that you could identify from across the room and the few letters or numbers are written in extremely large fonts, for easy viewing.

Most of the icons aren’t actually programs to launch, but folders that you can customize to fit your tastes. It takes a little extra time to set up initially, but it’s a much more customized experience once it’s done.

Adding a program to a folder is super-easy and is done in only a few clicks.

The only other major difference is in the Settings screen. The MINIX U9-H came out at a time when Google was trying to get more visual and shift things away from boring menus.

If you’re used to a newer (or older) system, it can take a few minutes to get used to. But overall I liked this settings menu and I wish they’d kept with it.

Firmware Updates

Official Firmware Updates

As I mentioned, the NEO U9-H received eight official firmware updates. These updates spanned almost two full years between when the device launched and October 2018.

I want to make something very clear before I go any further: eight official firmware updates over a product’s lifespan IS A LOT.

Most manufacturers will maybe release one or two firmware updates and then move on to the next product. MINIX has always been excellent at supporting their TV boxes after the sale.

I’ve been running FW008 on the U9-H since I purchased it a few months ago and have no issues. I also ran this firmware on my original review box from 2018 and had no issues on that device either. I’m not going to say that there aren’t any bugs in this firmware, but nothing that made an impact in my life.

So if you decide to go the official firmware route, you’re definitely getting a solid, stable operating system for your device.

Community Firmware Updates

Probably my favorite thing about MINIX devices is their community. They have an engaged forum with over a thousand threads that provide support for their entire lineup of devices.

After official support for the U9-H stopped, a couple of developers in the forums got to work on a firmware update that’s based on Android 7.1.

In late 2019, they released the CE-FE001, their first Community Edition Nougat Firmware for the NEO U9-H.

If you’re considering updating to this firmware, it’s important to note that it’s not officially supported by MINIX, so you won’t get the same level of support. That said, through the forums, you do have access to the developers in a way that you won’t get through MINIX directly.

MINIX NEO U9-H Update to Android 9?

Inevitably, there’s at least one question about when there’s going to be an update to Android 9 (Pie) for the NEO U9-H.

There won’t be.

As I mentioned, MINIX stopped official support for the NEO U9-H and has moved on to the NEO U22-XJ – which runs Android 9 already. From a business perspective, updating their older device to Android 9 would simply steal sales from the U22-XJ.

From a hardware perspective, the chipset that the U9-H uses (Amlogic S912) isn’t certified for Android 9. I’d expect any firmware that tried to make it work would be buggy as hell.

That seems to be the case.

I was able to find one case of a generic firmware for Android 9 on FreakTab. While some users encountered only minor problems, the developer themselves had several issues ranging from black screens to non-working USB ports.

My advice: if you absolutely need to have Android 9 on your TV box, look at the MINIX U22-XJ instead.

Video Performance

When I reviewed the MINIX U9-H back in 2018, I was really impressed with the video quality, and that still holds true today…for the most part.

Kodi

I have several different test videos stored on my local network at various resolutions. No matter what I threw at it, playback through Kodi was lag-free and very responsive.

It’s worth mentioning that I only streamed from local sources and my U9-H was hardwired into the network using a 1 GB Ethernet connection.

Amazon Prime Video

Streaming video through Amazon Prime Video was flawless. In my original review, I wasn’t necessarily a fan of the interface Amazon was using at the time. It seemed to work OK on one of their Fire TV devices, but was cumbersome on a pure Android TV box.

That seems to be a thing of the past however.

Moving around the new Prime Video interface is seamless and works well with the U9-H’s D-pad remote control. There were a few times that it was easier to go into airmouse mode, but it wasn’t necessary.

Amazon Prime Video on MINIX NEO U9-H

Video playback was very quick, rivaling my Fire TV or even my NVIDIA Shield TV. There was no lagging or digital artifacts and the audio was synced perfectly.

There’s no 4K support however, which is a big complaint. If you’re used to seeing 4K playback, this will instantly be a no-go for you.

Netflix

Netflix was frustrating to install, but I think it worked out better in the end than Amazon Prime Video.

There’s never been official Netflix support for the NEO U9-H through the Google Play Store. If you’ve installed Aptoide TV on your device (read my how-to guide for more info), then you can easily install it from there, however.

Once that small hurdle was jumped, Netflix performed really well. There’s still no 4K support, like Amazon Prime Video. But navigating around the interface was super-easy.

Netflix on MINIX NEO U9-H

Video playback was quick and sharp. There was no digital artifacts or audio lag.

MINIX NEO U9-H Price: New vs. Used

The U9-H still retails for $129 on major online retailers like Amazon or GeekBuying. That’s only $40 cheaper than MINIX’s new flagship device, the U22-XJ, which I’ve reviewed here.

More importantly, it’s $50 more expensive than the MINIX NEO T5, which is also a brand new device. We’ll get into a more detailed comparison for both devices in the next section.

The NEO U9-H really starts to make sense is if you can pick one up on the used market, however. On eBay, completed listings usually go for between $60 and $100.

If you can pick up a used MINIX NEO U9-H in good, used condition for around $60-$70, this suddenly goes from overpriced to amazing!

Sure, buying a used Android TV box is always risky. There are some things you definitely want to look out for. However, in that price range, you’re not going to find a better TV box running pure Android.

Performance Comparisons

OK, here’s the fun part – at least for me.

I love looking at stuff and figuring out what’s the better product using the only metric that matters: how much it costs.

We just talked about what a MINIX NEO U9-H costs, both new and used. So now I’m going to compare it to two devices in those price ranges to see which is better.

MINIX NEO T5 vs U9-H

Here we’re going to compare a brand new NEO T5 to a used NEO U9-H. Both cost somewhere in the $75 range, although it’s very possible to get a NEO U9-H for less (I did!).

Spec-wise, both boxes are very similar, even though they sport different chipsets. The NEO T5 is based off of the Amlogic 4-core S905x2 chipset while the NEO U9-H is based off of the older S912 chipset running 8-cores.

The design of the Amlogic S912 is such that it uses only four cores for most of the time, but will activate the additional four cores when it needs that extra performance.

Because the four cores in the NEO T5 are faster, performance numbers are very similar between the two devices.

The big difference here is in the operating system. The NEO U9-H runs pure Android while the NEO T5 runs Android TV.

For most people, that will sway them in one direction or the other. If you’re looking for an inexpensive TV box running the official Android TV operating system, then the NEO T5 is the way to go.

However, if you’re a fan of pure Android, then picking up a used MINIX NEO U9-H is going to give you the biggest bang for your dollar.

MINIX NEO U9-H vs NVIDIA Shield TV

When NVIDIA lowered the price of their base model Shield TV in 2019, it really made it unfair for everybody else. In my opinion, if you’re considering spending around $130 on a TV box, then the Shield TV needs to be part of the conversation.

The Shield TV is about $20 more expensive than a brand new NEO U9-H. But for that extra price, you’re getting the official version of Android TV from a manufacturer that still offers firmware updates for their original Shield TV that came out back in 2015!

Apps are a harder to get if you stick to the Google Play Store, but you can switch to Aptoide or another 3rd party app store and get a better selection fairly easily.

The Shield TV has official 4K support for Netflix, YouTube and Amazon Prime Video. For streamers, that’s usually where the discussion ends.

Unless you’ve got a legitimate need to use pure Android over Android TV, then save up a little longer and go for the Shield TV.

The Verdict: Should You Upgrade?

It’s really interesting to look back at some older technology and see if it’s still worth buying today. When it came out in 2017, the MINIX NEO U9-H was an amazing TV box, and it’s still pretty good today.

Personally, I probably wouldn’t buy it as my main TV box right now. There’s just too many other options in that kind of price range that are more appealing.

However, if I was looking for a streaming device for my kid’s room, where I could also load in some Android apps or games for them to play, then this is a great option. At $50-$70 on the used market, they’re tough to beat.

Tim Wells

Tim Wells got his first computer at the age of ten and hasn't stopped tinkering ever since. After discovering Android TV boxes in 2013, he created a popular Android PC Review website and guided it to over 8 million pageviews before selling it in 2018. After a brief hiatus from the industry he's back at the helm of AndroidTVNews.com to bring Android TV boxes to the forefront of the streaming world. When he's not writing, he spends as much time as he can with his beautiful wife and his bulldog.

Recent Content

© 2020 Copyright AndroidTVNews