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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.