Villordsutch reviews the GEM Box from EMTEC…
I am a person that can never have enough things to entertain me. Things that flash, glow, connect, stream and link me to the big wide world prick my interest and I need to know more. I’ve even built my own, that’s how far I’ll go… I build my own! It doesn’t matter that I have a Smart TV, a PS4 connected to my Home Hub, an Amazon Fire Stick along with a Google Chromecast, plus and my little Raspberry Pi Home Media Centre I need everything! Then I got wind of the GEM Box and I needed to get it under my television to see what this thing did, and it actually does quite a bit.
The aim of the GEM Box is to bring to everybody’s home a quick, easy and simple Android TV Box that also introduces the world of game streaming too. Not only do you get to play the hundreds of free Android games on your television, but you have the ability to stream your PC games to your television. However if you don’t have a PC, you can still play top games like Borderlands, Bioshock and Darksiders (and many more) using the Gamefly service, streaming through the GEM Box. This is a total multimedia Android device in your living room.
The first thing you’ll notice about the GEM Box is that it is discreetly small; this thing can fit into the palm of your hand without a worry or fuss. You could happily take this away with you on a holiday, if you knew there was going to be an internet connection at your destination, to entertain you on rainy days it is that portable and this was my instant thought about its rather genius compact size.
It comes with a power pack, an Xbox style bluetooth controller, HDMI lead and Ethernet cable for not only can you connect this to your own WiFi network, but if you’re like me and you always prefer a solid wired connection then you can instantly go onto that. There’s also a micro SD card slot and you also charge your controller from this handy little box too, so you are ready to rock practically instantly.
The technical specifications if you want to get really deep are:-
- CPU– Amlogic S805 Quad Core Cortex-A5 1.5GHz
- GPU– ARM Mali-450MP6
- RAM– DDR 1GB, Flash 16GB
- Operating System– Android 4.4 Kit Kat
- Network– Integrated Wi-Fi b/g/n, Ethernet 10/100
- Connections– USB 2.0, Ethernet, microSD, HDMI
- File System– FAT32, NTFS, HFS, (up to 3TB hard disk)
- Video Output– HDMI 1.4 CEC, 720P, 1080i, 1080p
- Video Codecs– H264, XVID
- Video Formats– AVI, FLV, M4V, MKV, MOV, MP4, MPG, WMV
- Audio Codec– MP3
- Audio Formats– FLAC, MP3, OGG
- Photo Formats– BMP, GIF, JPG, PNG
It being an Android based unit meant that I could easily tie it into my own Android account and so I logged in using the rather simple to use on-screen keyboard. Initially I looked at this believing it was going to be a nightmare to navigate, however within minutes I was scooting backwards and forwards between different letters, numbers and symbols. Though I would have preferred some pre-placed words, perhaps an inbuilt dictionary, for example having to type out “Gmail” on an Android device seems a wee bit daft. Minor I know, however it’s the little things that often cause the most frustration. You can of course splash out a bit of cash to buy the motion controller with built-in keyboard for £29.99, but I kept it real for the review.
Once in straight away the machine updated, then I was met with an easy, clear, extremely simple dashboard and before I went to the big guns like PC Streaming or finding the Netflix apps I thought I’d try out the basic free games that come built in. So loading up GT Racing 2 I was met with a rather splendid good looking game; though the game itself – in truth – held no interest with me, it did look good.
I then tried to stream a game from my PC, however I hit a stumbling block here as my games wouldn’t even speak to the device and as I investigated further I discovered that due to not having an Nvidia card (I have an antiquated Radeon) meant I couldn’t stream my games to the GEM Box. This was slightly disappointing as I quite fancied running around Team Fortress 2 from my Steam account.
Still there is Gamefly and albeit a subscription service there is a rather large catalogue of impressive games sat in there with classics like Hitman: Absolution, Borderlands, Bioshock, Witcher etc., and all of these games are streamed directly down the wire bypassing your PC. Even with my not very impressive broadband of 6GB download, Gamefly did exceedingly well streaming Hitman with only the occasional distortion in graphics, and the original Bioshock was almost perfect. These titles are constantly being updated too – looking on Gamefly will show you their AAA catalogue.
Next on the list was connecting the wee box to my own network; though not as easy as connecting the PS4, within a few steps you can find your computer’s video, music and picture files. However, it would have been nicer if this was more than a few steps as everything on GEM Box has literally been one or two buttons and you’re there. If it wasn’t for the fact I have Universal Media Player installed upon my PC I would have missed my marker.
As I highlighted above this is an Android unit and as such you are connected to the Google Play Store, so downloading all your favourite apps are all there at a click of a button, Netflix, Facebook, Twitch, YouTube etc. So if you’ve not got a Smart TV, now you do, and even better than most Smart TV’s now you can stream some rather excellent games too.
One point I’ve not touched on as yet is the SD Card slot. Here you can add extra storage space or if you want to bring across MP3’s, movie files, pictures or even classic retro games for the numerous Retro Game Emulators available out there then you can do so, you’re not limited by the on-board 16GB.
The big question though is the GEM Box worth £99.99? If you’re not a technical wizard and the idea going on to Google to download images onto SD Cards, then type stuff like “$ Sudo get” is already giving you confused nightmares then yes, the GEM Box is certainly worth its money. Here is a smart little box which comes packaged with everything that you need straight away. You’re walked through ever step on installation, even counting you down when you’re connecting the controller. Icons are large, the User Interface couldn’t be anymore friendlier, there are free Android games to download, Retrogamers can get their fix, modern games can stream to their televisions and those who want to start gaming, but may not have the equipment, can sign up for Gamefly. However, if you’ve already built a Raspberry Pi Home Media Centre you probably stopped reading this review very early on and you won’t be buying this.
The GEM Box is a perfect device for any family that wants a complete plug & play multimedia device in their home, but doesn’t want the fuss that usually comes withone.
You can buy the GEM Box for Amazon UK here.