Design & Features
Old Look, New Tricks
Outwardly, the O!Play Mini Plus looks pretty much the same as the original O!Play Mini, with the exception of the ridged top surface on the new Mini Plus. The design is akin to the one found on the ASUS RT-N56U Wireless-N Dual-Band Router, so if you fancy its look and feel, we’re sure the Mini Plus will suit your taste.
As with all compact media players that do not house an internal hard drive, the Mini Plus is light and compact; you trade the convenience of having an internal hard drive for a smaller footprint. One advantage the Mini Plus has over its predecessor, the Mini, is that it has built-in Wi-Fi (802.11n no less), so you won’t have to deal with attaching a USB dongle or an Ethernet cable if you don’t like cluttering up your A/V setup area. Speaking of Ethernet support, the Mini Plus comes with a gigabit Ethernet connection, something that's not commonly seen yet on this class of media players.
With such a small size, one can't expect a multitude of I/O ports. But ASUS did tick most of our check boxes in its decision of which to include. Round the rear, beside the DC power input and the RJ45 LAN jack, you get a USB 2.0/eSATA combo port and an HDMI 1.3 output. In order to fit in the USB/eSATA port, the three RCA jacks for composite video and audio that are present on the Mini have been removed; in their place is a single 3.5mm composite A/V port. For digital audio output, the S/PDIF jack remains. We are a bit disappointed that the player doesn't have USB 3.0 support given that the standard is fast gaining traction for external storage devices, though the provision of eSATA somewhat makes up for it. We still prefer USB 3.0 though: USB 3.0-only drives (and enclosures) are now pretty easy to get, and they are in many cases more affordable too (drive enclosures with eSATA typically incorporate other ports that drive their prices up).
On the front of the Mini Plus, you get another USB port and a 4-in-1 card reader (SD/MS/xD/MMC). If your flash drive or memory card has an Autoplay folder, the player will play the video files in it automatically.
The remote that comes with the ASUS O!Play Mini Plus is a long, rectangular one, which looks and feels pretty much like a modern TV remote. It's certainly an upgrade over the one that comes with the Mini; for one, it has more controls.
Most of the button functions are straightforward and you won't need to consult the manual. There are dedicated audio and subtitle buttons, making it real easy to switch between audio streams and select subtitles without needing to access the settings menu. There's even a Facebook button that brings you straight to your account to share photos and videos.
Interface: All Black and Blue
We understand the need for a minimalist yet functional user interface, but among the media players we have tested so far this year, the Mini Plus’ UI is one of the plainest. Despite its old-school looks, it does get the job done, which is the most important. In essence, the home screen UI is like a carousel wheel where you scroll through the available options; there are six: Movies, Music, Photo, File Manager, IMS, and Setup.
We like that the Mini Plus is able to show us a preview of the video that it's about to play. The music player displays the files according to album, artist, year, genre, and order (alphabetical or recency). In the File Manager, stored files can be viewed according to their location and type. A small quibble is that scrolling through files in the File Manager can be a sluggish affair.
Next, we decided to see if it was just as easy to connect to the wireless LAN in the office and access the files on another computer. Luckily, getting the Mini Plus online is simple: just let it scan for Wi-Fi networks in the vicinity, choose the desired one, input the credentials, and you’re set. The Mini Plus had no issues seeing our UPnP media server too. If you've an iOS or Android mobile device, you can download the O!MediaShare app from the Apple App Store or the Android Market; the app allows you to stream content from your device to the TV via an O!Play media player.