10 Things You Need To Know About Safaricom’s The Big Box

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The Safaricom Big Box launched sometime last week and was a very much anticipated gadget after Safaricom promised to bring a solution for media and internet consumers in the home who are yet to be served or looking for better solutions. We got our review unit this week and we have a thing or two we’d like you to know as we interact with it and make findings. Here are ten things we think will be interesting for you to know about the first experience. Should you have something further that you’d need to know or have clarified, don’t hesitate to sound us off in the comments section below.  So, here goes:

1. Recharging/loading airtime is easy

Safaricom Big Box 40

The Big Box uses data bundles. You’ll need to buy bundles if you’re to use it to access the internet. There may not be immediate need to do this thanks to the freebies Safaricom is bundling but as soon as you’re on your own you’ll realize that it’s not really a big deal.

We recharged our unit using the safaricom.com/bundles portal. We however noticed that doing so you’re presented with the standard rates for modems and mobile devices and not Safaricom’s attractive packages like Ksh 1,000 for 6 GB data. Probably it is because we were yet to register our decoder. Anyway the takeaway is that recharging is easy. We recommend you register your decoder using *422# short code from your phone first before doing anything else.



2. It runs on Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean

During the launch, we were informed that it runs on the latest version of Android. Well, turns out that is not very accurate. It runs on the 2-year old Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean.

4. You can sideload applications

Safaricom The Big Box - Play Store

Being an Android device, we expected this. However, the functionality of the sideloaded applications is limited. For instance while we managed to get some few sideloaded apps working, notable ones couldn’t. They’ll likely need some tweaking before they can. The most recent version of the Google Play Store just force closed. As did VLC. How do you sideload? Easy, put the .apk file in a memory card and connect the external storage device to The Big Box. Navigate using the APK Installer application.

5. If you’re in an LTE area, everything loads pretty fast

Safaricom Big Box - LTE internet speed test

We tested our Big Box unit (yep, that) in one of the areas with Safaricom’s LTE coverage. It faired well.

6. You can use computer peripheral devices like USB mice

Like we’ve noted before, there’s a USB port on The Big Box. You can use it to connect your mouse like we did. And the connection is pretty fast.

7. The UI is clumsy

The reason why we recommend connecting your mouse is because the user interface is something else. It’s horrible. The software definitely needs some work. We expect software updates going forward. At set-up, you’re taken through easy steps to configure your screen size but that doesn’t help. Things still don’t look right. Particularly the applications like YouTube. They are a mess. The only good thing is that the Android browser is fantastic so you can decide to sidestep the YouTube application and use the browser directly. Then again, what’s the point of the application?

8. Navigation using the remote control ain’t pleasant

Safaricom The Big Box 22

Yeah. After what we’ve told you about the general software experience, this is natural. Use a mouse to navigate. Let the mouse complement the remote. That is if you’ll actually want to do some browsing on The Big Box. Else the remote should do just fine. Why? Keying in text to that on-screen keyboard using the remote control is an experience you can’t even wish your worst enemy.

9. You can play music and video directly from your external storage – even view photos!

We were able to relive, albeit for a moment, the boring Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao bout. A bit of Silicon Valley season 2 and Elani’s Kookoo. All that from a microSD card. The interface of the file manager is actually bearable and we were able to access all the contents of the SD card with ease. Multimedia playback is guaranteed. Music, video, photos. The iMedia player application is decent. The controls are basic as well so if you need to do more you may need to sideload another media player of your choice. Eeer, as long as that works.

10. Other than physical branding on the hardware, there is nothing Safaricom inside

Safaricom The Big Box - Splash Screen

We thought we would find lots of Safaricom content preloaded on The Big Box since Safaricom has lots to offer like its own application store or its MyTunes application. There’s none of that. Besides the Safaricom branding on the decoder itself and the remote, you’ll only find it next on the splash screen when you’re setting The Big Box up for the first time. While this is not a major issue, we expected Safaricom to have specialized content through apps for its customers. Probably this is something we’ll see going forward but for now, you’ll be better served elsewehere.

Bonus


If you are wondering, the SIM card is built in so you won’t need to buy a separate SIM card for The Big Box. The MSISDN (mobile phone number) is indicated on a small sticker on the side of the Box.

We’re still testing The Big Box extensively and we’ll be informing you more about it as we continue to interact with it so stick around for a comprehensive overview.

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64 COMMENTS


  1. I find UI terrible in most decoders. I had some hopes with this considering its run on Jellybean, but….
    Also, I noticed it has an Ethernet port. Is it any useful? Probably not.


    • UI being terrible is not the worst thing to happen, we have seen both Gotv and Startimes rework their UI since they can do over the air updates, now this should be even easier with Android.

      As for the ethernet port, it does come in handy, together with a WiFi card, they allow one to have an option of using cabled internet on top of the 4G LTE SIM card. Yes it’s useful.


    • I think it’s good to give this feedback, after-all we are the consumers being served, maybe Safaricom will rethink the proposition if it doesn’t, and if it does then we consumers will have a mind shift.


    • totally agree safaricom want us to bite the trap of the 6gb free per month which for normal internet users wil be used up in a maximum of two days and then resume to make billons for safaricom, The only best way to provide internet services is the monthly unlimited offer.let them state their price


    • Totally agree. Bundles on TV isn’t ideal at all. The bundle model simply makes the big box a non-starter for someone like me. couple this with the lack of content that really stand out (yet) then the appeal further diminishes. I have no doubt this things will sell but for me, you will be better off with buying a nexus player. it has the latest tv software which has a much better ui and a game pad to play games/make it easier to navigate apps.


    • Hello Christiano. I believe a teleco is about to begin similar service where I stay. Please can we discuss the commercial applications and opportunities these provides? Please provide an avenue to reach you directly.


  2. Ebu educate me!!! So this box cant be hooked up to external antenna on my roof I have to buy bundles for it to work????????


    • Maybe we didn’t make this clear in this and previous posts. Here’s the thing.

      The Big Box is a hybrid of a free to air set top box and an Android media streaming device. So outside of being able to access Android apps and the internet, you can still use it like the average set top box and access free to air channels, all of them. So yes, it has a port to connect to the average aerial and show TV.


      • Thanks for the clarification. So will safaricom follow me if i dont to want to buy more bundles after i pay my 5k?? my understanding is that the rest of the 6k is just for bundles


          • @Martin, I am told once your 5k bundles expire, you will have to be topping up your sim with more bundles, otherwise your BIGBOX will shut down even the TV channels until you renew your a/c…


          • Where did you get that information from, because as far as I’m concerned, it can function without the SIM card, we set it up without initially activating the SIM card.


  3. safaricom is really trying to condition us t accept bundles as something normal and the only way to get online.nkt!why do they boast they have 4G with no bandwidth.lol i like what zuku is doing.providing affordable internet for the masses with no cap


  4. Thanks for this overview. Now that the BIGbox can be connected to a mouse via the USB port, can I connect it to a keyboard and do some typing on an uploaded app?


    • Yes you can, but you will need a USB bridge to give you extra USB ports, I am sure you would want both the mouse and keyboard. We are yet to try that expansion. But we will soon.


  5. I expected Safaricom to tweak with the user interface of their decoder and make it look more cutom than stock Android 4.2.2!


    • Well, I think for an internet user, this one is, because of the potential in online content, otherwise Bamba, Gotv and Startimes are quite up there, with GOtv and Startimes neck and neck.


  6. Do you mind talking about the decoder’s hardware specs for a moment seeing as it’s running android..You can install an app like CPU-Z e.t.c..


  7. I didn’t see any mention of the wifi feature which is a huge reason people would go for the device. According to a handout I received, up to 10 devices can connect on its hotspot. I did notice from a brief glimpse of the settings that you can either connect the RJ45, or use the hotspot, but not both at the same time. Sounds like a much needed enhancement to me…


    • Hi Dave, we have actually been connecting our devices to the Big Box’s hotspot. The connection is not that stable. It times out more often and the wi-fi range is limited. You have to be in the same room as the Big Box for a stronger signal. We’ll include all these details in an article soon. These were simply first impressions. We are stretching it to the limit so as to give you the complete picture.


  8. No mention of Safaricom releasing the source code for the Linux kernel used in their Android builds? The Linux kernel is licensed under the GNU General Public License (GPL) Version 2, and Section 3 of that license requires them to release appropriate source code when they distribute binaries of GPL-licensed code!

    Everyone should Tweet at Safaricom and demand this. Even if nothing happens we will get it on record that they think they don’t have to honor the GPL.


    • Well Alan, we don’t expect that but we really hope they’ll hear you and release it so that we can see Linux and Android geeks like you and others unlock the Big Box’s full potential. Again, this is me doing lots of wishful thinking. I doubt it will happen.


  9. their modems are not selling, so they repackaged them in a bigger carton known as the big box. Same old garbage


  10. Any leads on connecting to external device such as laptop via the ethernet port for Internet sharing? Keeps giving an error.


  11. Once again a fantastic product by Safaricom then enter marketing loonies totally oblivious to competing technologies. Zuku + Kshs.4300 = unlimited 8MBps and over 100 channels including lame stream media like sh!tizen. Unlimited internet for my PS4 and connected laptop which I control from my Android phone via the Unified Remote App which pairs to the laptop via the Zuku WiFi at home!! Give people unlimited internet packages and watch the media revolution take off in Kenya.


  12. I bought it primarily for internet since where I live we do not have any fiber network.
    Therefore I don’t use TV on this device.

    The internet connection constantly drops/unstable and I am unable to use it without interruptions…. very frustrating. I reported this twice to safaricom and they seem to have no solution. I guess for me, this one’s a loss. If you are planning to buy one for internet then this may not be a wise option. Let me finish writing this quick before I loose connection again.


  13. Hi, Kindly help me here. I got the big box but can’t find the simcard. But can see an empty simcard slot on the side. Is the simcard inside the box?


  14. Thank you for sharing this. I was going to buy it for the unlimited internet but looks like I just changed my mind


  15. Thank you very much, very useful to learn can use a mouse – will test it. Interface is very difficult to manoeuvre via the remote. Also on my device, every time powered off the device, had to manually get into Settings via TV and enable the Hotspot, which is quite inconveniencing. Cannot leave device on 24-7 if not using it.


  16. Was there a time safaricom was giving 3gb + 3gb for 1,000?I totally missed that.I know about 2gb +2gb for 1,000 and 5gb +5gb for 2000 but not the above.Now it’s just 3gb for 1,000 which I purchased once and didn’t last for 2 days.


    • yah I can confirm it out of the Safaricom Shelf was at I&M and Sarit it like they have plans to relaunch it at cheaper price with better plans and more updated software


  17. has any1 figad out how to use the extra sim slot in the bigbox, or beta still funguanisha the whole thing to accomodate a competitor sim offering beta bundles????


  18. My big box used to work well with ethernet port but is just stopped. What could be the problem, do safaricom block other isp from using the big box?


  19. There is a place where you see the term’easy unlimited data bundles’ when you view the bundle balance whereas there’s is another bundle balance for the month.what does this description mean?

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