There are a lot of options out there for getting your favorites apps to your TV, from Android boxes to Roku; but what if you could have more? What if you could have an interface more familiar to you than anything else, plus your favorite browsers? This is normally when you attach a PC to that TV to unlock all your options. Of course, PCs aren’t exactly cheap, so you won’t be buying them up left and right just to connect to your TVs right? Unless of course, that PC doesn’t cost much more than a nicer smart box solution.
Azulle is one of a number of brands (ie, Intel, Apple, etc) that entered the market to solve this, by designing a “mini PC” to pull this off with. A PC that is not much larger than a hard drive in a computer, it features the basic modern ports you’d need (like HDMI and ethernet), enough hardware inside to run a full operating system with and a plug for the wall. Now you can attach it directly to the back of your TV (out of sight), or place it right there in front of it, and you are ready to go.
We have covered Azulle before, bringing you our story on their HDMI stick-approach to this, which is an even smaller solution, but that works mostly for those looking for only the basic options (email, browser, etc)–it’s great and accomplishes many things, but not all apps will load with total confidence and heavy graphics may begin to slow it down. With a mini PC, you have room for more hardware inside, more ports–therefore more options.
Today, we focus our attention to the Byte Plus, a mini PC loaded with Windows 10 and enough hardware inside to satisfy most of your streaming needs (and it only runs about $169). It features an Intel Atom x5-Z8300 1.44GHz quad-core processor (it’s amazing all the processing power our gadgets have now) with 2GB (DDR3 1600MHz) memory, with an optional 4GB model. Our highlight involves the 2GB model since, well, that’s the model they sent out. It uses Intel HD Graphics for all video processing–which means no separate video chipsets for dedicated graphic resources (as there will always be those wondering), but expected for this type of gadget.
There is 32GB of onboard capacity for both Windows and your apps. Once you finish the initial setup of Windows 10, you are left with 16.8GB left of that 32GB supply of space (Windows sees it as 28.2GB total). Not enough to get crazy installing apps and software with, but never fear as it sports a MicroSD card slot for expansion. So really, you should leave the 32GB to Windows and install all of your apps, software, and media (a heavy emphasis on “media”) on a MicroSD card. Thankfully, SD prices are falling again and you can plan to see even better prices around Black Friday.
It also won’t be long before Samsung, SanDisk, and more will be launching 1TB SD cards into the market. So your future options of capacity upgrades look pretty good. You can expect to see it happening no later than the Spring of next year (that’s our prediction at least). SanDisk just announced their 1TB SD card last month, but there was no mention on when it will become available. You can, however, expect the price to be much greater than the price of this mini PC. Of course, you are looking for a microSD card and not a regular SD, but usually micro doesn’t fall that far behind. 256GB microSD cards are available, albeit, they aren’t really that cheap just yet (so you might want to stick with 128GB for now). Anyway, that’s a whole new story right there.
So let’s talk about design a little. This mini PC is only 4.5″ x 4.5″ (square in shape) and just under 2″ tall. It features a mostly aluminum and plastic enclosure with all of the ports in the back outside of SD. The top features an all brushed aluminum plate that feels as though it functions mostly as a heat spreader and doubles as a really cool looking aesthetic touch. Going around all sides is a 2-tone gray them with a bottom on the front to turn it on and off with.
The bottom side of the unit features a spiral-patterned base with a rubber grip to help keep it front sliding around due to an Earthquake. Between the weight of the unit and the perfect grip of its bottom side, it really does feel like it could take quite a bit of force in such a situation. You also have two screw-holes for mounting it with.
The right side is where you will find your microSD card slot for upgrades. You should be able to use anything upwards of 1 to 2TB, once they become available, before you start to wonder if the generation/format of SD might change (ie, SDXC), forcing you to upgrade if you want any more space than that. I think 1-2TB should be more than enough for you though since it is just a tiny little thing and you won’t be running Warcraft on it.
The backside is where all the fun is at. Here lies all of your connectivity. For inputs, you have 2 USB 3.0 ports and one 2.0 port. There is Ethernet available on the back for wired networks and as you can see from the antenna, it also has WiFi so you can skip that extra cable running around (and it works pretty good).
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You have both HDMI and analog (VGA) on the back for getting it connected to your TV or monitor. I believe in our below video, he called it RGB for some reason (slip of the tongue), but it is indeed a VGA port. Not like anyone uses those anymore right? Right?
There is a headphone port on the back as well, a hole for a device lock (in case it’s being used in a public area or you’re having issues with your children pawning off our belongings for Candy Crush credits), and your AC adapter.
You do have the option of plugging in a USB microphone so you can take advantage of Cortana. If you have a Bluetooth remote that has a built-in mic, you can probably do it from that as well. That makes for good voice control of your unit when needed. Of course, it’s a PC, so anything USB that works on any other PC will work on this as well.
Now that I have covered the design of things, I’ll move onto connectivity. Ethernet performs as well as you would expect it to. Your only limitations are the hardware itself. Unless you have a slow internet connection, then you at the mercy of your ISP.
Unplugging it and taking it WiFi results in great performance. We took it up to 50ft away from the nearest repeater and still had a usable connection. Our average ping was 24ms with an average downstream (download) of 22.92MBps and an upstream (upload) of 11.75MBps. Similar to a tablet or phone in most cases really. Or network itself can handle a lot (tons) of bandwidth, so you know your max is truly your max there.
Definitely better than the previous HDMI stick PC we covered in the past by Azulle (which was also pretty useful itself), it handles just about most of what we throw at it. We treated it like a tablet in our testing and received exactly that in performance. We didn’t install anything crazy that you would drop into a high-end PC. We chose to take the route of Windows store games you’d find on your phone or tablet mostly and all sorts of apps. It resulted in what felt like being above tablet performance.
I’ll begin with boot times though. It’s initial boot time (Windows setup) was 40 seconds until it made it to the first screen in setup. Once we shot our way through all of that and rebooted a couple of times, we were ready to go. The average (normal use) boot time from there was around 21 seconds until you reach the login screen. Not bad for such a tiny PC.
Next up, we found exactly what we expected to–no sound. We had to set the HDMI device as “default sound device” in Windows sound properties before it would play audio through a TV or other connected HDMI device. This is due to Windows 10 not automatically defaulting to a detected source and instead defaults to USB or analog audio device. This happens every time you connect a laptop or PC to a TV as well. Since Windows is freshly awaiting setup, there is nothing Azulle can do about that since it isn’t an OEM version. It reacts like any other PC.
Most apps opened as quickly as you’d find them to on a small (tower) PC or tablet. As I mentioned, we played with a few games here and there but this really isn’t meant for games as much as everything else, so we didn’t venture too far into that direction with it. All tablet/phone type games in the marketplace and they all played fine.
Media streaming solutions however is where it is at. 99% of the time when a consumer connects something like this to a TV, it’s for audio and/or video. Don’t take that statistic too seriously as I just threw that out there, but I’m sure you get the point.
Using Netflix via browser or app, it takes a few seconds for it to stream smoothly but continues to do so without interruptions at full 1080p. YouTube streams even better, usually starting without any delay and eventually growing to full 1080p after a few seconds as it assesses what the device can handle. We found that YouTube streams the best out of any of the video apps or websites.
So what about the basics? Email? No contest. A tablet or phone can manage your email blindfolded and thus so can this. Office docs and everything else runs great on this. You can almost (…almost) use this as a basic PC in an office environment. You sure would save a lot of space (and money) if you did. Of course, that’s not a 100% solution since you would do better with a bigger processor and modular options/upgrades of a tower PC. At least you know it can handle the basics without any trouble if you need it to.
There have to be some cons though right? Everything has cons–except for chocolate. Updating Windows does take a little time on this unit. Windows 10 is notorious for slow (and repetitive) updates that can get in the way of things once in a while. Since this is a smaller PC with smaller resources, updates take that much longer. It’s not a show stopper, but you do find moments where you begin to think it has frozen in progress but eventually continues.
I am sure the 4GB unit would do better. In fact, I am sure it would do better at all sorts of things because memory is everything in a PC (regardless of how big or small it is in physical size) until you breach 8GB. Then it depends on what type of user you are before you really need 16, 32, and so forth. Of course, the ladder options reflect power users who live off of AutoCad and other forms of visual design.
It does get a bit hot because it is a fanless PC. It relies on its metal enclosure to help spread the heat around and get rid of it so that it doesn’t focus on a single spot and burn up. Again, not a show stopper, but it is something to keep in mind so you don’t panic when you go to pick it up after it’s been running for a lengthened period of time.
The only other con we found (which might have been unique somehow to our experience) involved the USB 3.0 ports. Using both of the two USB 3.0 ports on the back, we plugged a flash drive into one of them and found that anything relying on a wireless frequency (ie, keyboard or mouse) in the other neighboring port dropped nearly completely unless you brought the paired device within about 12 inches away. However, plugging in a wireless receiver (mouse and keyboard separately) into both at the same time led to no discrepancies. It also didn’t affect anything plugged into the USB 2.0 port. We re-created it over and over to make sure we weren’t imagining it. Maybe this is due to a power loss when the other port is powering a small drive or larger. Hard to say for sure, but it happened nonetheless.
Other than the unit itself, it has some quick guides, an AC wall adapter, and a small jumper which we were never able to determine what it is for. The jumper is labeled “autorun jumper” but there are no pins on the unit to slide the jumper onto (and you clearly are not meant to physically open the chassis for any reason).
The Byte Plus is an awesome little mini PC. Great for all of your favorite apps and bringing PC functions to any HDMI supporting TV in your house. It does support VGA as well but nobody cares!! Right? Hopefully? It’s time to get rid of the godforsaken port from this world. Oops, I got off topic again.
It’s great for Netflix and all of your other favorite streaming solutions. Since it’s a full Windows 10 desktop experience, it doesn’t matter which app or website you use for your streaming. It can access anything a PC can (outside of 4K) and you also have access to the full Windows app store.
I can easily see a lot of digital signage companies making a fortune with these. This is a step away from the consumer market and covers those companies that set TVs on stands outside of convention or meeting spaces with graphics, videos, or show schedules running across them. People used to use laptops for this but now everything has gone in the direction of mini PCs.
It’s not perfect, but nothing really is. We have played with better, but that didn’t stop the Byte Plus from coming in at an incredible score with us.
*Average price is based on the time this article was published
Operating System – Windows 10
2GB RAM DDR3L (Tested) – 4GB RAM DDR3L
USB 3.0 (2), USB 2.0 (1)
USB mouse/keyboard wired & wireless support
10/100/1000M RJ45 Ethernet
Dual Band Wi-Fi (2.4G / 5G Dual Band), Bluetooth 4.0
Intel® CherryTrail™ T3 Z8300 Quad-Core, 1.44 GHz (up to 1.84 GHz)
Are you a manufacturer or distributor that would like us to test something out for review? Contact us and we can let you know where to send the product and we will try it out.