Micro-consoles are popular nowadays, with many companies getting into the mix vying for precious real estate in your entertainment center. EMTEC’s GEM Box aims to be the one for you, bringing its Android-powered box to your living room. The small piece of hardware sits in your entertainment center unnoticed, but it can pack quite the experience. However, the question remains: Is the EMTEC GEM Box worth it?
I’ve had some time to tinker with the GEM Box and the initial thought is a resounding “yes.” The Android box is so small it’s tucked away next to my more powerful set boxes, yet it still sees a large amount of use. The EMTEC GEM Box sports a Quad-Core processor, 1 GB of RAM, and 16 GB of flash memory; can output full HD to your screen thanks to an HDMI connector; and is compatible with your Bluetooth devices. The GEM Box includes a controller to get you started as well. The controller is modeled after the design of an Xbox 360 controller; however, the GEM Box controller has two distinct use modes: Controller and Mouse.
The GEM Box is meant to be a hub in your living room, whether it be multimedia, web-surfing, gaming, or more. And since the GEM Box is running full Android 4.4 KitKat, the mouse look mode on your controller can act as your finger for some apps, such as the Google Play marketplace or navigating the screen on the web browser. There are a lot of things the GEM Box does well. The UI and menu system is easy enough to handle, with everything labeled quite easily, so first-time users shouldn’t have a problem finding their way around. It also handles video streaming as well as some of the other options out there. In fact, I noticed less stuttering with the Netflix and YouTube apps on the GEM Box than when I used my TV’s app natively. Additionally, the GEM Store has a curated assortment of games which are known to work with the GEM Box’s controller, and the system even comes with four games included.
Higher powered games, such as Asphalt 8, ran okay, though I did notice some massive stutters and framerate dips when the action revved up. But similar tests on my Android phone (Samsung Galaxy S5) showed lesser results, so the GEM Box came out ahead there. My daughter has really enjoyed playing her favorite Android games on the TV, such as the pre-loaded My Little Pony, and she’s having a blast running Minecraft: Pocket Edition. However, for the mainstream gamer, the GEM Box touts game streaming from two different services: Gamefly or your Nvidia-powered computer.
Here is where I think the GEM Box falters, however. Gamefly streaming is great, though it costs money for the subscription. But provided you have a strong enough internet connection you can get relatively latency-free, console-level gaming streamed to your box. I tested this with Grid 2, a fast-paced and technically advanced racer, and the GEM Box’s stream was up to the task. It’s the in-home PC streaming that to me isn’t worth using. Even when setting the quality of the stream to its highest settings, the stability of the stream from your PC is sub-par, especially when compared to other products such as the Steam Link or Nvidia’s own Shield device. The GEM Box seemed to buckle under the sheer amount of data being processed, and multiple times I had to completely unplug the box to get the thing to reset. Additionally, the PC streaming requires a wired connection to work, so for those who were hoping for a wireless solution, it would be best to look elsewhere.
However, all that said, the GEM Box does provide a great value, if you aren’t looking to do any major PC game streaming to the device. At only $99 for the box and the controller, the EMTEC GEM Box gives users a lot to use. You can use your own media via the microSD card or USB slots, stream it via the plethora of Android apps, play your emulators and relive gaming experiences past, or use the Gamefly service to stream games you’ve never played to your TV. The GEM Box does offer a lot to do with a relatively small footprint. It’s worth it, so long as you don’t expect it to be the “be-all, end-all” device in your living room.
[Featured image by EMTEC Gem Box]