The GEM (Gaming, Entertainment, and Multimedia) Box offers gamers an affordable middle ground between major consoles and streaming devices like the Amazon Fire Stick.
Consumers have plenty of options when it comes to managing living room home entertainment systems. In addition to three major consoles that support most mainstream apps, there are also a variety of non-gaming products like the Roku or Amazon Fire Stick available. Gamers looking for a middle ground between a $300 console and a streaming device that is unable to support full games have a new option in the Android-powered EMTEC GEM Box.
The GEM in GEM Box stands for game, entertainment, and multimedia and the compact product does an impressive job of delivering on all three of those entertainment fronts. In terms of room presence, the GEM Box isn’t very invasive. The tiny piece of hardware is bigger than an Amazon Fire Stick, but also seems to pack a lot more gaming power. The box itself is just 83x83x24.5mm and contains ports for Ethernet (though it has wireless support, as well), a controller charger, and power.
- Quad-Core 1.5 GHz CPU
- DDR 1GB of RAM
- Flash 16GB
- USB 2.0 Port
- Micro SD Port
- HDMI Port
- ARM Mali-450MP6 GPU
The device’s menu will likely be a welcome site for Android phone users, but it is also clean and organized enough to navigate for iOS or Windows fans who are new to an Android environment. The interface is also somewhat customizable, so users who are more comfortable can tweak things to their liking.
Like many of its competitors, the GEM Box is truly plug-and-play. There is a ton that owners can add to the machine, but it pretty much works out of the box without any effort. The machine comes pre-loaded with a Google Play Store app and a few emulators that give gamers something to do on the console aside from stream Netflix or Hulu. On the subject of the video streaming apps (which are crucial for many in terms of living room entertainment), most of these apps require Android 5.0, but the Box is only running on 4.4. Luckily, there are some pretty easy ways around those limitations, but they will likely cause a headache for the more casual users. It’s certainly not a complete roadblock, but does require a bit of resourcefulness.
In addition to the apps that are local to the GEM Box, the hardware also offers the option to mirror displays from smartphones and tablets. It’s likely that anything users would want to stream on a phone or tablet would also be available through one of the GEM Box’s apps, but the feature is still useful if there is music or video local to a phone or tablet that would look better on a big screen.
The GEM Box can stream games from a local PC, as well. This feature makes the hardware an interesting alternative to Steam Link, with the added advantage of allowing the use of games outside of Steam libraries. If having a PC in the living room is a bit too much of an eye sore, this option is a great alternative.
One of the most exciting features about the GEM Box for gamers is the support of GameFly streaming. This feature can be a bit of a logistical problem because it requires consistent high Internet speeds and either a hardwired or a 5ghz connection, but once GameFly Streaming is up and running, the games perform surprisingly well on the little machine. Taking advantage of this feature obviously requires a GameFly subscription and very reliable internet speeds, but homeowners who meet those two prerequisites will have quite a powerful video game arsenal in the living room, even without a console or PC.
The GEM Box supports up to four local players and comes with one Bluetooth controller. The controller is very similar to the Xbox One’s, but feels quite a bit lighter. The lack of weight on the controller, which comes from not having an attached battery pack, makes it feel a little less sturdy, but we adjusted to the weight difference after a few play sessions. A button on the controller also offers the ability to switch its layout to mouse mode, which is useful for navigating apps that aren’t optimized for controllers. In addition to the bundled controller, the GEM Box also supports wired Xbox 360 and PS4 controllers.
The GEM Box’s price tag is probably the feature that will get the most attention. The GEM comes in at $99, which puts it at a few hundred dollars less than a Microsoft or Sony console and about $20 or so above its multimedia streaming competition. For gamers looking to get some gaming into a room without adding a console, the GEM Box is a solid option. The extent of its power will be limited by internet speed and the tech-savvy of the owner, but the GEM Box sets up a powerful and exciting playground to explore.
Game Rant was temporarily provided early access to a GEM Box for this review.
The GEM Box is available later summer for $99.