Gem Box Hardware Review
This Box is a Gem!
Android Boxes are becoming a booming industry. What started as the fabled Ouya has opened a mass market of boxes varying in specs and software. Many of these are Chinese and many of these are cheap, nasty and filled with bloatware. A company called Emtec have set out to make a change and bring a quality piece of kit to gamers.
This kit is known as the Gem Box. It is an android box that looks the part and includes a well built controller, some neat features and a well designed box. First and foremost the Gem Box is a breeze to set up. Plug it in and on screen instructions will guide you through how to sync the controller and get playing.
The box itself houses a quad core CPU, a single gigabyte of ram and a whole sixteen gigabytes of storage. Its specs are a little outdated, but we will get onto that a bit later. The Gem Box has expandable storage, a USB port, WiFi with and option for a wired connection and Bluetooth.
It includes a Hdmi and Ethernet cable too, which many boxes don’t.
It also boasts compatibility with over one hundred and fifty games and includes options for Miracast and Airplay. The most interesting feature of the Gem Box is its ability to use Gamefly Streaming services. So you get a whole lot of gaming options here, which is just fantastic.
The Gem Box has an awesome user interface, it is streamlined and snappy and while overlaid onto stock android, it does its best to look and feel the part. It feels like a seamless experience which can’t be said for many other android Boxes. Some elements of the UI are a little strange though. Emtec has customised the layout of the keyboard in an attempt to make it a little easier to traverse but in all honesty its a little clunky. The standard on screen QWERTY keyboard should have stayed. Luckily the controller has a mouse mode so scrolling pages is a breeze.
Gaming is where the main marketing seems to be though, and can this thing perform well. In ways, yes it certainly can. Games that are acquired through the Gem Store are optimised to work well with both the controller and the specs on offer. Sadly, the specs on offer limit the experience. Games will still look much better running on your latest phone. For example, games like Modern Combat which look stunning on a phone or tablet have had their graphics setting locked to low or medium which makes the game look damn ugly.
Other games have also had the same treatment, meaning that while you may get a gaming experience, it may not be the best visual experience available to you. It sucks a little, but if you can look past that then the gaming experience is solid.
Beyond the Gem Store is of course the extra store of Google Play and you can download whatever you like from there too. In fact, some games which are controller compatible and are not listed in the Gem Store can be downloaded straight from Google Play in order to be played.
Gamefly streaming for me was where a device like this clicks in a modern day world. The streaming service is great, it offers some of the best gaming experiences on the Gem Box. This isn’t to say that this part of the package isn’t without its flaws either. While Gamefly streaming is a nice, well priced service it has its issues. The games on offer here are a few years old now and while some people may have missed these games available to stream, others will simply already have them on their Xbox 360 or PlayStation 4. Gamefly streaming requires a wired connection in order to work. You could use a 5GHZ WiFi connection, but the Gem Box only has 2,4GHZ WiFi onboard.
Luckily I have a few gadgets and there are ways around this. Firstly, you only need a wired connection, you CAN use Gamefly streaming on a standard 12mbps broadband package. Secondly, you can buy a mains WiFi adapter to extend your range in your house. I had an old set that are at least eight years old and they worked like a charm. Simply plug in the Ethernet cables and Gamefly streaming works great now, I no longer have to be near my Hub.
Emtec doesn’t offer any advice on this and I feel they should as this is a huge selling point for many people and some folks may not think of getting a mains power line extender to fix that single issue. For retro gamers, yes you can play your favourite Nintendo 64 games or even some Dreamcast classics.
Beyond the gaming is also a world of TV entertainment. You can use media players like Kodi on this thing which is great. You can also use YouTube and various other apps too. It turns this box into not just a gaming device, but also a home entertainment center.
Overall, I absolutely love the Gem Box. It is a device that may be under powered but it still delivers the best experience available in an Android box to date. It offers a snappy user interface, a great streaming service for us gamers and a world of entertainment that is well priced. It even offers multiplayer/ couch gaming and a way to brush up on some classic games in a product that feels well built, sturdy and well thought out. I only hope that they plan to support it for a while as support is what could be its downfall.