MK802 II micro PC review: This Android device on a stick delivers a surprisingly fun experience
The MK802 II is an intriguing Android-on-a-stick computer made by the Chinese manufacturer Rikomagic. It resembles a USB thumb drive. Inside the cheap-feeling plastic case, you’ll find a pedestrian, single-core Allwinner A10 CPU (based on ARM's Cortex-A8 architecture); 1GB of RAM; and 4GB of flash storage (half of which is consumed by the rooted Android 4.0.4 operating system, aka Ice Cream Sandwich). The unit's Mali 400 GPU is theoretically capable of playing 1080p video, although the stick seems stuck at 720p for other applications.
This tiny computer is available from a few small online retailers, including W2Comp.com, which is where we acquired ours. The firm is based in Hong Kong, but it sells the MK802 II for a very competitive $55—including free shipping to the continental United States. It took a while to reach us after crossing the ocean and clearing U.S. Customs.
With the exception of a mouse and an optional keyboard (if the MK802 II doesn’t detect a USB keyboard, it will automatically call up the Android 4.0 virtual keyboard), the MK802 II ships with everything you need to get it up and running on an HDMI-equipped TV or monitor. If the display you connect it to has a USB port, the computer will draw power from there; if it doesn’t, you can use any USB power adapter with a cable connected to one of its two Micro-USB ports. The MK802 II is also equipped with a full-size USB port and a MicroSD card slot, and it even has a built-in Wi-Fi chip. Rikomagic generously provides a Micro-USB-to-USB adapter and a short HDMI extension cable in the box.
The MK802 II handles a wider array of media codecs much more smoothly than the Raspberry Pi. Out of the box, it can play AVI, MKV, and FLV videos; MP3, WMA, WAV, APE, AAC, FLAC, and OGG audio files; and TXT, PDF, HTML, and RTF documents. The MK802 II has full access to Google’s Play Store, where you can find apps that support more-esoteric formats and codecs.
The MK802 II in practice
The MK802 II can be finicky to set up. It refused to boot while plugged into my smartphone charger, as well as when I tried using it with a wireless Microsoft mouse. The computer will also crash if you try to use it with a nonpowered USB hub. Plugging the USB power cord into one of my HDTV’s USB ports solved the power problem, and using a wired USB mouse fixed the other issue (although I was later able to use a wireless HP mouse with no trouble).
Once I cleared those hurdles, the computer booted in less than a minute, prompted me to sign in to my Google account, and presented the Android ICS tablet home screen. Here you’ll find icons for the Android browser, a file manager, and the Settings options front and center. The first task you should handle is to tap in to Settings and connect to your Wi-Fi network, since a large part of the MK802 II experience depends on an Internet connection.
Navigating what’s normally a touchscreen user interface with a mouse takes some getting used to. The system registers a left-click as a tap, a left-click-and-hold as a long press, and a right-click as a tap of the Back button. I instinctively wanted to double-click icons to open them and to right-click for options, but it took me only about 20 minutes to adapt.
You'll find a small handful of apps in the app locker, including Google’s Gmail and Calendar. As I mentioned earlier, you can also visit the Google Play Store, where you have access to more than 700,000 apps within Google’s semiwalled garden. I had a productivity app, Netflix, Angry Birds, and Jetpack Joyride installed on my machine within just a few minutes. The apps opened a little slowly, but each one performed well after that. I was even able to stream YouTube videos in 1080p. The single-core processor struggled and stuttered to some extent after performing more-intensive tasks and when switching apps rapidly, but operations returned to normal within 30 seconds or so.
If the MK802 II detects the presence of a bootable MicroSD card, it will launch whatever operating system is present on that card in place of its native OS. When you want to return to an Android environment, simply remove the card and reboot. The website Liliputing has a great tutorial on how to get the Linux distro Ubuntu up and running on the MK802 II. This same site also has links to bootable images of newer Ubuntu and Lubuntu releases.
Who is the MK802 II good for?
The MK802 II will appeal to many more people than the Raspberry Pi, simply because it’s suited to a broader set of common tasks. Since it can function without a physical keyboard, you can tuck it, a wireless mouse, and a couple of cables into your pocket and be equipped to turn most any modern video display into a fully functional Android device. Add a USB keyboard, and you have a portable productivity powerhouse. Of course, it would be even better if it supported Bluetooth.
Aside from its portable computational power, the MK802 II is an enticing media streamer. Since you can sideload apps in addition to what you’ll find in Google’s Play Store, you could install the Plex Android client on it, install the Plex Media Server on your home PC, and stream your personal media collection from your home network to a TV in another room or anywhere in the world you have Internet access. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Casual games also run great on the MK802 II.
Note that Rikomagic recently announced the all-new MK802 III, featuring a 1.6GHz dual-core Rockchip RK30666 CPU (based on the ARM Cortex-A9 processor), 1GB of RAM, 8GB flash storage, and a quad-core AMD Z340 graphics processor. The MK802 III ships with Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) preinstalled. The online retailer W2Comp is selling this new device for $72 with free shipping; unfortunately, we were unable to obtain one in time for this story.
Editor's Note: This review is part of a roundup of mini PCs. For more information, you can read the introduction to the roundup and find links to the other products we reviewed.