The Boxee Box Reviewed: The Good, the Bad and the Clunky
So, major proponents of the Boxee Box are curious: is it still compelling enough to earn a place in your home-theater setup? Or have the seemingly endless delays sabotaged the box, making it D.O.A? As major fans from day one, we tentatively took the device for a spin.
Hardware and Design
Underneath the cubed exterior is a pretty standard Atom-based nettop. In fact, the innards are almost identical to the Logitech Revue. The chips inside aren't going to win any awards for speed, but they're more than enough to push 1080p video. Around back, you'll find an HDMI port for hooking up your HDTV, as well as optical audio jacks for pushing sound to other devices. Inside is a speedy Wi-Fi N radio, but you'll also find an Ethernet port for a wired network connection. There's also a pair of USB ports for plugging in external hard drives, and an SD card slot that lets you play back local media.
If you have any trouble playing back local media, you're a more demanding consumer than we are. The Boxee Box supports a stunning array of codecs and formats. In our two weeks with the device, and after throwing just about everything at it, we have encountered only one video file that the Boxee Box could not play back.
The other major hardware component is the remote, which is unique with its full QWERTY keypad on its reverse side. On the whole, it's a wonderful creation. Using the keypad is much more pleasant than navigating on-screen keyboards with basic directional controls. That being said, there are a few design quirks that keep it from being perfect. The symmetrical controls make it very easy to grab the remote the wrong way, which had us constantly hitting "menu" when we wanted to hit "play/pause." The remote is also just a little too wide for comfortable typing, especially since the QWERTY keys take quite a bit of force to press. (Still, we'd take the Boxee remote over the Apple TV and Roku remotes any day.) Alternatively, you can always use the iPhone app, which gives you the option of controlling the Boxee Box with virtual buttons or by using hand gestures.
Still, neither the remote nor the the iPhone app offer a good solution for controlling the on-screen cursor. Unlike the Boxee desktop app, many videos require you to launch full-screen mode with the remote's directional pad, something that is at best inconvenient and at worst maddening.
Software and Selection
Overall, we enjoy the face-lift that Boxee has received. The UI is stripped down to be more remote-friendly than its previous incarnation. Some options and navigation tools are a little out of the way, and there are a few strange behaviors that we'd like to see cleaned up. (For instance, hitting enter in the search box, even after you've typed your query, opens the on-screen keyboard instead of performing the search). Still, the look is more consumer-friendly and a little less cluttered than the desktop app.
Unfortunately, the app selection for Boxee is disappointing. While we loved both the TED and the New York Times apps, most of the rest left us wishing for just a little bit more. The Adult Swim app, for example, gives no easy way to discern which videos were full episodes and which were simply clips. And the 'Know Your Meme' app constantly got stuck buffering videos. Generally, the apps were basic landing pages that simply played back videos from sources like YouTube, and not customized video channels optimized for Boxee.