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Hands-on review: CuBoxTV running OpenELEC+Kodi and Android

Dec 20, 2014 — by Rick Lehrbaum — 18,892 views

This hands-on review takes a first look at SolidRun’s tiny CuBoxTV set-top box, running both its default OpenELEC/XBMC OS, as well as an Android 4.4.4 beta.

The CuBoxTV is one of several CuBox-i models currently available from Israel-based SolidRun. Whereas the full-up “CuBox-i Pro” model comes with 2GB RAM, WiFi, and Ethernet, the CuBoxTV hits a $110 price target though the reduction of RAM to 1GB and the elimination of the WiFi/Bluetooth radio module, though it still possesses the power of a Freescale i.MX6 Quad SoC clocked at around 1GHz.

CuBoxTV front (left) and back

As seen in the photos above, the 2.0 x 2.0 x 2.0-inch CuBoxTV provides HDMI output, a microSD slot (where its OS, apps, and data reside), two standard USB 2.0 ports, an HDMI port, both optical TOSLINK and SPDIF audio out ports, and an eSATA port for further storage expansion. (Additional hardware specs appear in our earlier CuBoxTV coverage.)

Kodi interface on an HDTV, with CuBoxTV at lower right
(click image to enlarge)

SolidRun says the CuBoxTV is the first XBMC-based media streaming box to be based on Freescale’s i.MX6 SoC, and that it partnered with the OpenELEC project to develop the CuBoxTV’s embedded Linux software stack.

OpenELEC, which stands for “Open Embedded Linux Entertainment Center,” is a minimal Linux distribution designed to “turn your computer into a Kodi (previously XBMC) media center,” according to the open source project’s website. “OpenELEC is designed to make your system boot fast, and the install is so easy that anyone can turn a blank PC into a media machine in less than 15 minutes,” adds the project.

The CuBoxTV’s reduction of RAM from the “Pro” models 2GB to 1GB was likely considered sufficient for running OpenELEC. SolidRun also says it collaborated with Yatse, which makes a Kodi/XMBC remote control interface for Android devices.


Using the CuBoxTV’s Default OpenELEC/Kodi Firmware

The CuBoxTV ships with an 8GB microSD card that contains its OpenELEC-based operating system, which automatically boots into the Kodi Entertainment Center. To begin using the CuBoxTV with my HDTV, I inserted the supplied 8GB flash memory card into the device’s microSD slot, connected an HDMI cable between the device and the HDTV, and connected the CuBoxTV to a generic [email protected] DC supply.

CuBuxTV running its default OpenELEC/Kodi OS and UI
(click images to enlarge)

The CuBoxTV quickly booted up its OpenELEC Linux operating system, prompted me to have it update to the latest version of the OS, and after a quick update continued straight into its Kodi media center application. Essentially, Kodi serves as the entire UI (user interface) for the CuBoxTV.

If you’re looking for a review of Kodi (formerly XBMC), you’ve come to the wrong place. I’ve never been very excited about using XBMC on my TV boxes. The closest I’ve come to using it was back in the days when Boxee was trying to set the streaming world on fire with its Boxee Box (may she rest in peace). But these days, Android has risen to the top of the heap as the most flexible and powerful way to bring multimedia to an HDTV, or pretty much anywhere else for that matter.

So all I have to say about the CuBoxTV’s standard OpenELEC+Kodi software stack is that it loads and runs smoothly, and offers all the delights that Kodi has to offer, for those who are so inclined.

Below are some screenshots showing OpenELEC and Kodi running on the CuBoxTV.

And so, after a brief inspection of the CuBoxTV box’s default OpenELEC/Kodi stack, and with a tip of the hat to the excellent work being done by the open source OpenELEC and Kodi projects, my next act was to upgrade the device to Android.


Installing and Configuring Android 4.4.4

I initially installed an Android 4.4.2 image that is currently listed on the SolidRun wiki’s Android page, and was very frustrated by its performance. I soon discovered a thread on SolidRun’s forum announcing and discussing a new Android 4.4.4 (Kitkat) beta image. Thankfully, the Android 4.4.4 OS performed much better than the earlier 4.4.2 image, and has provided the means to equip the CuBoxTV nearly all the features I want in a TV-streaming box. (See the end of this post for a list of my compliments, complaints, and conclusions.)

I began by downloading the “cuboxi_AOSPBox-i_R1.2.img” Android 4.4.4 beta image from the link provided in this CuBox-i forum post, and flashed it to a fresh microSD card using the instructions in the post. Then I powered off the CuBoxTV and substituted the newly flashed microSD card for the original OpenELEC/Kodi microSD, and powered up the CuBoxTV. It booted right up into its new Android OS.

As soon as Android was up and running, I logged into my Google Services account, configured the Android’s settings so that I could sideload apps, and began loading up my favorite TV-oriented Android apps. The first change I made was to install the Nova Launcher, along with my favorite NASA nebula wallpaper.

The screenshots below show my CuBoxTV’s customized Android 4.4.4 primary homescreen, as well as the contents of the “all apps” homescreens.

My CuBoxTV box’s Android 4.4.4 homescreen
(click image to enlarge)

Contents of my “all apps” homescreens
(click images to enlarge)

Homescreen folders

In order to fit everything needed on a single homescreen, I like to organize the less-frequently used apps and utilities in folders on the primary homescreen. The contents of my homescreen’s four folders are shown in the screenshots below. The folders are created by the Nova Launcher’s folder function, which simply involves dragging one app icon onto another to form a folder, and then naming the folder as desired. Nova provides configuration settings that let you choose the folder style, background color, and other characteristics.

Watch, Stream, Utilities, and Task Killers folder contents
(click images to enlarge)

Several useful tools

Unlike some Android ports to TV-streaming boxes, the CuBox-i’s Android 4.4.4 implementation currently does not include some features that are desirable for using Android as the user interface on a TV-streaming box. I’ve filled in some of the gaps with a few free utilities. These currently include:

  • Stick Mount — for mounting/unmounting USB media.
  • Screenshot Ultimate — this app allowed me to make all the screenshots in this review; it includes a useful customizable time delay option.
  • Rotation Lock Adaptive — this free utility does a great job of keeping apps in landscape mode.
  • Quick Boot — provides a handy reboot function, for when you want to restore your CuBoxTV to its freshly-booted state without leaving the couch.

These apps, or their activators in the homescreen status drop-down panel, are illustrated below. The Quick Boot widget is located in the Utilities folder.

Left to right: reboot app; screenshot app; UI status panel showing USB mount/unmount, screenshot, and rotation lock widgets
(click images to enlarge)


Some Apps for Streaming Movies and TV Episodes

This section shows some of the apps that I’ve installed on the CuBoxTV for streaming from local network shares and watching movies and TV episodes from online sources. Some of the apps demonstrated in this portion of the CuBoxTV review are only usable in North America, so the apps available in your area may differ. Of course, personal preferences will also differ widely among Android users!

Streaming from local UPnP sources

I installed three different apps for streaming video and audio from UPnP sources on my LAN: BubbleUPnP, Skifta, and GinkoDLNA. They were all able to stream video from UPnP media servers on my LAN to the CuBoxTV. The two sets of screenshots below show BubbleUPnP- and Skifta-based streaming. GinkoDLNA works similarly to Skifta, which is no longer available from Google’s Android app store.

Streaming video from UPnP services using BubbleUPnP
(click images to enlarge)


Streaming video from UPnP services using Skifta
(click images to enlarge)

Streaming from Windows shares

It’s also possible to stream to the CuBoxTV from samba-compatible shares on Windows and Linux PCs. I use ES File Explorer‘s LAN functions for that purpose, as illustrated below.

Streaming video from Windows shares using ES File Explorer
(click images to enlarge)

Watching Netflix movies and TV episodes

The Netflix Android app works as expected on the CuBoxTV device, as seen in the screenshots below. In my limited testing so far, the Netflix app streamed movies and TV episodes smoothly on the CuBoxTV, without rebuffering, stuttering, or other concerns.

Watching movies and TV episodes with the Android Netflix app
(click images to enlarge)

Watching Comedy Central Episodes

The Comedy Central cable channel provides a free Comedy Central Android app, with which you can you watch full episodes and clips through a CuBoxTV media-streaming box. Although not all content is available to those who are not subscribed to the Comedy Central cable channel, recent episodes of a number of popular shows, including The Daily Show, can be watched free of charge.

Watching Comedy Central episodes and clips
(click images to enlarge)

Entertaining your kids with free PBS videos

The Public Broadcasting System (PBS) in the US has published a free and very slick PBS Kids Android app, which features a kid-oriented user interface, along with lots of kid-oriented content. No subscriptions are required.

Using the free PBS Kids Android app
(click images to enlarge)

Viewing YouTube videos

As you might expect, Google’s YouTube Android app on the CuBoxTV works the same way as on an Android tablet. However, lacking a touchscreen for control, it’s a bit awkward dealing with the way videos, once started, tend to “float” over the rest of the screen’s content. Still, it’s quite usable once you become accustomed to how it works.

Viewing videos using Google’s Android YouTube app
(click images to enlarge)

Using PlayOn to stream videos from local and online sources

The free Android PlayOn app must be used in conjunction with a paid PlayOn server companion app running at the same time on a Windows PC or Mac on your local network. The two-part PlayOn system lets you access content that’s not otherwise available via Android apps. For example, using PlayOn, you can watch free Hulu content, rather than being restricted the “Hulu Plus” subscription service. Note, however, that in the limited PlayOn testing I’ve done so far, certain video streams from my PC’s PlayOn server were unable to render on the CuBoxTV.

Streaming video using PlayOn
(click images to enlarge)

A little VUDU magic

The VUDU Android app appears to work well on the CuBoxTV, based on the quick test I ran. This high quality app offers free access to previews, and paid access to recent movies and TV episode releases in a range of resolutions.

Watching movies and TV episodes with VUDU
(click images to enlarge)

My favorite podcast app: BeyondPod

I’ve been a big fan of the BeyondPod Android app for several years now and have installed it on all my Androids (currently three tablets and a smartphone). Of course there are numerous other Android video podcast apps, including Kodi (aka XBMC), BubbleUPnP, and many others, so you’re likely to have your own favorite. I especially like BeyondPod’s option to sync downloads and viewing status among all your Androids devices. BeyondPod works well on the CuBoxTV. (Note: some features are only available with an in-app upgrade, but I’ve found it to be well worth the modest cost.)

Streaming video podcasts with BeyondPod
(click images to enlarge)

Live TV and DVR with

Although there probably aren’t a lot of Simple.TV devices out there, they actually make excellent OTA DVR companions for TV-streaming boxes like the CuBoxTV. I tested the Simple.TV Android app on the CuBoxTV, and had no difficulty streaming recorded videos and even watching live over-the-air TV on the tiny box. Below are a few screenshots showing what it’s like to access and watch recorded or live TV content from a Simple.TV box (pictured at the right).

Watching live (top row) and recorded TV on the CuBoxTV
(click images to enlarge)

All this, and XBMC too

It’s easy to install an XBMC app on the CuBuxTV’s Android OS. An apk for the latest stable XBMC and release candidate Kodi releases for Android are available from’s downloads page. The screenshots below show the Android apps for both XBMC v13.2 (“Gotham”) and Kodi 14.0 RC3 (“Helix”) running on the CuBoxTV. Note that Kodi currently uses about 15M system RAM than XMBC.

XBMC v13.2 Android app on the CuBoxTV
(click images to enlarge)

The Kodi 14.0 “Helix” RC3 Android app also works
(click images to enlarge)


Overall Assessment

Complaints and compliments

All in all, for its small size, low power consumption, and reasonable cost, I like the CuBoxTV a lot. Here are a few of its pros and cons:


  • Very compact size, at 2.0 x 2.0 x 2.0-inches.
  • Low power consumption; I measured around 1 W when idle, and 2 to 3 Watts when streaming video using my “Kill-a-Watt” meter.
  • Having the box’s firmware be located on a removable microSD is very handy for ensuring that OS updates can be easily and reliably installed, as well as for safely experimenting with alternative OSes.
  • Physically, the device has a rock-solid, reliable feel.


  • Lacks WiFi and Bluetooth — no ability to screencast from Android or iOS handhelds via Miracast or AirPlay protocols.
  • Minimal RAM memory, at 1GB; this amount of RAM is fine for running OpenELEC/Kodi, but marginal for Android.
  • The device’s 1GHz quad-core i.MX6 processor is usable, though not spectacular. Specifically, the CuBoxTV’s Antutu score while running Android was 14,297, in comparison to the Probox2 EX‘s 38,942 and the Ugoos UM3‘s 40,047, both of which have 2GB of system RAM.


With its standard OpenELEC+Kodi software stack, SolidRun’s CuBoxTV is a solid, high quality, cost-effective platform for those who like using Kodi/XBMC as their multimedia streaming platform. It has a solid feel, occupies an extremely small footprint, uses very little power, and should be easy to upgrade over time thanks its firmware being on a removable microSD card.

On the other hand, many cord-cutters will want to exploit the power and flexibility of having an Android OS on their TV-streaming box. Although the CuBoxTV does appear to run Android 4.4.4 passably, if you intend to run Android I recommend stepping up to the SolidRun’s CuBox-i Pro model, which gives you double the RAM and adds both WiFi and Bluetooth wireless connectivity. As seen in this review’s Kodi status screenshots for the OpenELEC+Kodi and Android+Kodi configurations, the default OpenELEC-based stack leaves about 800MB of free memory, while with Android-based stack consumes all but 300MB. So it seems likely that the added 1GB of the “Pro” model will result in significantly better Android performance. (If you’re running Android 4.4.4 on a CuBox-i Pro, please post your device’s Antutu score in the comments below.)

More technical details on the SolidRun CuBoxTV are available in our earlier coverage, and at the company’s CuBox TV product page. The CuBoxTV and CubBox-i Pro models are currently priced at $120 and $140, respectively, at the company’s online store.

(advertise here)


0 responses to “Hands-on review: CuBoxTV running OpenELEC+Kodi and Android”

  1. jss says:

    If you are going to complain about the CuBox TV attributes:
    * Lacks WiFi and Bluetooth
    * Minimal RAM memory, at 1GB.
    * The device’s 1GHz quad-core i.MX6 processor is usable, though not spectacular

    Why didn’t you review the CuBox-i4Pro that has:
    * WiFi and Bluetooth
    * 2GB of RAM

    for $20 more, list?

    • LinuxGizmos says:

      A good question. Actually, I attempted to be fair in my assessment, and suggested in the conclusion that the Pro would be a better investment for those who think they want to use it with Android, rather than OpenELEC, as the OS: “if you intend to run Android I recommend stepping up to the SolidRun’s CuBox-i Pro model, which gives you double the RAM and adds both WiFi and Bluetooth wireless connectivity.” So it’s more an observation than a complaint. I also noted that “this amount of RAM is fine for running OpenELEC/Kodi, but marginal for Android.” I think it’s a great little box, which can also be used for many other purposes. Probably an excellent fit for torrent downloading, network file serving/storage, etc.

  2. Greg says:

    Great review! Just received Cubox-i-Pro with Android KitKat 4.4.4. Bought another SDMicro card separately and installed OpenElec – Kodi. Trying to decide between the two running as a Media Server connected to a Samsung HD TV. The OpenElec – Kodi runs well – one negative is trying to run Netflix from within Kodi – you are essentially relying on a third party to maintain an add-on that may or may not work. The Android OS seems a little more robust – the only negative so as far is getting the screen resolution to fit correctly on the TV. From the screenshots it appears you were able to get around it …. did you use an app to accomplish it?

    • LinuxGizmos says:

      hi Greg. It’s been awhile since I did this review. I don’t recall having any difficulties with getting the Android version I installed to fit the TV screen just right. I don’t recall whether there was any config tool in settings for adjusting the screen fit; my Sony HDTV does provide a menu option for tweaking the fit of an HDMI device’s output to the screen, though, so I might have used that to get the match to be perfect.

      • Greg says:

        Thanks – i’ll have to check the resolution options on the Samsung TV. One of the goals is to make the interface easy/convenient for the wife. Another option i’m thinking would be to just Kodi/xbmc on the Android OS and just leave it running as the home screen.

  3. Jim says:

    Android 4.4.4
    What is a simple work around for the IR remote? Mouse and keyboard worked
    But not my tv remote. Suggestions? I am currently using OpenELEC and use an App to get
    Around in KODI. The remote was slower. App is much faster.
    This is why and temporarily ditched Android. The Remote is the key reason
    I left android.

  4. butchabay says:

    First of all, great review!

    Quote what Jim says:

    Android 4.4.4
    What is a simple work around for the IR remote? Mouse and keyboard worked
    But not my tv remote. Suggestions? I am currently using OpenELEC and use an App to get
    Around in KODI. The remote was slower. App is much faster.
    This is why and temporarily ditched Android. The Remote is the key reason
    I left android.

    I agree, what is a streaming media box without a IR Remote ? I hope someone can give some hints how to use Android with a MCE Remote control. Maybe there is an APP or something?

    At the moment i’m using OpenELEC.


  5. djmaffus says:

    to resize screen on kodi to fit tv system settings system video output select video calibration

  6. Jim says:

    Does 4.4.4 enable/support CEC to control with TV remote?

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