The Matricom G-Box Q3 is a $99 Android-based set-top box that promises to be “the G-Box of a New Generation.” That’s a tall order in a streaming media market dominated by Roku, Apple, Amazon and Android’s own developer Google. Florida-based Matricom styles itself as “the future of Android” and promises that its products have the latest Android software running “the best hardware on the market.” Do they live up to their claims? Our review puts the G-Box Q3 to the test.
First, the traditional disclosure: Flixed purchased the review unit from Amazon and has never been in contact with Matricom. This review is based purely on my experience with the G-Box Q3.
- 1 Packaging, Design and Specs
- 2 Setup and User Interface
- 3 Navigation and Ease-of-Use
- 4 Apps and Performance
- 5 Overall Review: 3.8
- 6 The Final Word
Packaging, Design and Specs
The first thing I noticed when I pulled the Matricom package out of the Amazon box was how much it rattled. As I turned it from side to side it was obvious that several components were sliding back and forth.
The packaging itself has a glossy black finish with a gold “g” on the top. There was some slight crushing on one of the bottom corners, although nothing serious enough to compromise the product inside. It’s the kind of thing that could have happened at any point between the factory, Matricom, Amazon and my house.
My biggest concern was the fact that the box was completely unsealed. There was no way to tell based on appearance whether this G-Box Q3 was brand new or an open box (we ordered it new).
When you open the box, you see what appears to be a quick-start card lying on top of the G-Box Q3 and the remote control. Both are encased in plastic bags and lie in a form-fitted plastic tray.
Beneath that tray is the source of the rattling. All of the other accessories had been tossed in and left to roll around.
The card isn’t actually a quick-start-card. It just tells you what the ports are on the Q3 and what accessories come with it. It’s wrong, but in a good way. The card says that batteries for the remote control aren’t included but they are.
There is also somethign the card does not even mention. It looks sort of like a small sword or a game piece to a 1930s-era Star Wars Monopoly game. Digging through the Amazon reviews, it turns out to be the tool you use to reset your Q3. Nothing on the Matricom site explains it.
The G-Box Q3 itself is a light-weight, black box. The attractive design has the obligatory glossy black finish on top. A clear plastic “g” is carved into the top with a milky-white layer beneath it. The fit and finish look fine with no defects or misaligned seams.
The front and left sides of the G-Box Q3 are flush with no ports. On the right-hand side there’s a full-sized SD Card slot that supports SDHC memory cards up to 32GB. Ports on the back of the G-Box Q3 include a 10/100 Ethernet jack, an HDMI 2.0 port that supports 4K and HDR video, two USB 2.0 ports and an optical audio output.
It’s what’s inside a set-top box that counts. If you’ve ever been frustrated by the poky performance of “smart” television sets or Blu-ray players, it’s because of the underpowered silicon inside.
The Matricom is powered by the same Amlogic S905x SoC (system on a chip) used by many Android boxes and smart home devices. It is based on a 64-bit four-core ARM Cortex A53 central processor and a five-core Mali-450 graphics processor. The S905X supports 4K Ultra HD output at 60 frames per second along with HDR10 high dynamic range output. From an audio standpoint, it supports the usual Dolby and DTS digital surround sound formats. Not surprisingly for a $99 product, you won’t find support for high-end features like Dolby Vision or Dolby Atmos three-dimensional audio.
The G-Box Q3 has 2GB of memory. It only has 16GB of internal storage which won’t be enough if you download a lot of apps or want to use the Q3 as a home media server. Plan on attaching a USB hard drive.
In addition to the Ethernet port, the G-Box Q3 includes what Matricom only describes as “dual band” Wi-Fi, so you get at least 802.11n wireless networking performance. It also supports Bluetooth V4.0 for use with remote controls, keyboards and game controllers.
Remote control layout
The infrared remote control has a simple layout similar to many other set-top boxes. Below the power button, you’ll find a directional control ring with up-down-left-right buttons and an OK button in the middle. A row of buttons below that lets you access menus, go back a screen or return to the home screen. Below that are volume control buttons. Finally, there’s a button with an arrow on it – more on that later in the review.
Setup and User Interface
As I mentioned earlier, what looks like a quick-start-card isn’t. You can read the “full” manual on the Matricom support site (here’s the link), but I’m going to spoil it for you. Plug everything in and hit the power button on the remote control.
First boot and setup
That milky-white layer beneath the “g” cutout on the top of the Q3 houses a bright blue LED. It lights up as soon as you press the remote control’s power button. Because, of course, everyone needs yet another bright blue LED lighting up their living room. Even worse, the base of the Q3 is made of such thin plastic that – even though it looks solid black – the blue light shines through. I’d recommend duct tape, but you’ll see in the ease-of-use section that this would create more problems.
The Matricom logo will appear on your TV. Then things happen all at once. The Q3 home screen appears first. In less than a second, it switches to the remote control setup screen. Before you can do anything, a notification appears telling you that there is a new update. Do you want to update?
Use the remote control (which you haven’t set up yet) to tell the Q3 to update and then wait five minutes. The system will reboot, display the home screen, then the remote control setup screen, and then tell you that there’s a new update available again.
As you scratch your head wondering what’s going on, an Android notification will pop up asking you if you want Google to check the device for security problems. Wait a little longer and the Matricom update notification will pop over the Google notification. I was tempted to see how long the two notifications would jockey for position. I accepted the Google request and told Matricom to run the update.
Eight minutes later the system reboots and drops you into the home screen, then immediately moves to the remote control setup. Why you need to pair a non-Bluetooth infrared remote isn’t clear. I pointed the remote away from the Q3 and followed the instructions. Somehow it worked.
After selecting a language, adjusting the video output to fit your television’s display and choosing between wired and wireless networking, you finally end up at the Q3’s home screen.
My first impression of the G-Box Q3’s TV interface was fairly positive. Someone obviously put some thought into the layout of the side menu and the individual category screens.
The home screen is pre-populated with icons for Facebook, Kodi, the Matricom app store and YouTube. Each of the other category screens is pre-populated with their own apps.
- Videos: FilmOn TV, Hulu, Netflix and tubiTV.
- Music: Pandora, Spotify, Deezer and Soundcloud.
- Games: Google Play Store, Matricom Store
- Live TV: Sling TV, SPB TV, Pluto TV and Crackle.
This may seem similar to bloatware you find on many smartphones. However, many of the apps are not actually installed on the Q3. Selecting one of the icons opens the Google Play Store where you can choose to download the app.
Just like many smartphones, you can’t delete the preinstalled icons. “Add more” buttons on each category screen let you add additional apps. The only way to remove them, however, is to delete the app entirely from the Q3.
Apps and themes
You may have noticed two other categories screens on the screenshots that I did not include in the bullet list. The “Themes” screen gives you four options for adjusting the interface’s background and color scheme. You don’t have the option to add more themes. And forget about replacing the background images on each screen – as far as I could tell you’re stuck with them for all time.
The App screen will be familiar to anyone with an Android smartphone. All of the preinstalled apps and those you download from app stores or sideload from an SD Card will appear on this screen. The preinstalled apps include:
- App Installer
- Droid Settings
- ES File Explorer
- Google Play Store
- Mediacom Store
- Media Center
- Mira Cast
- Movie Player
- OTA Updater
- Total Commander
- Updates & Backups
That long list of apps should give you a hint as to what’s coming next. The G-Box Q3 runs a re-skinned version of the same Android operating system that smartphones and tablets use. The Q3 runs the 7.1 version of Android, codenamed Nougat, which makes it more current than a lot of generic Android boxes on the market. But it is not the widescreen-optimized, Android TV version of Nougat.
Not Android TV
Google added special developer tools to Android that make apps work better on a television. Rather than displaying a portrait-mode mobile or tablet app that expects you to touch and swipe, an Android TV app knows to display itself in a widescreen format and works with remote controls or game controllers.
You can find Android TV on products like the NVIDIA Shield TV, the Xiaomi Mi Box and smart televisions from Sony and other major brands. Adopting the standards Google sets lets them provide a TV-optimized experience without spending a lot of money on software development. It also means their customers can get the full range of Android apps designed for Android TV.
Amazon took a different approach with its Fire TV product line. It started with the stock Android operating system and created its own TV-optimized version. Amazon, of course, has the money and customer base to do this kind of thing and can convince app developers to tweak their software to work on Fire TV products.
Android-on-a-TV is not Android TV
When apps and app stores check the G-Box Q3’s settings, they see a normal Android operating system and treat the television as a giant tablet.
The Android operating system, for example, has a property called “leanback” that lets apps know whether the Android device uses TV interface. When an app sees that leanback property, it adjusts its layout and interface to work with a user is sitting on a couch ten feet away from the screen and using a remote control. The app also hides interface items that are optimized for a touchscreen. The Q3’s leanback property is set to “False” which leads apps to treat a TV like a giant tablet.
TV settings or mobile settings
One of the first things you’ll notice as you explore the Q3’s interface is that it’s sometimes TV-centric and sometimes mobile-centric. Navigate to the gear icon at the top of the TV interface and start drilling down into the settings. It only takes a few clicks to find yourself in a smartphone settings screen that’s stretched to fit your HD or UltraHD television.
Remote control… or no control
Matricom designed its remote control to help its customers work around this contradiction thanks to the directional control ring and the arrow button (I told you we’d get to this later).
The directional control ring lets you navigate the TV-optimized parts of the interface. The up-down-left-right arrows do exactly what you would expect them to do as you move from icon to icon and menu to menu.
The arrow button lets you navigate the mobile-optimized parts of the interface. An arrow button should appear when you press the button. Then you can hold down the up-down-left-right buttons to move the cursor around the screen.
It would be a nice solution if the remote control wasn’t such a piece of junk.
You have to aim the remote control directly at the Q3 to have any hope of getting the commands through. If you go the duct tape route to block the blue LED, you might make things even worse.
Even if you aim the remote directly at the Q3, it may decide to not work at all. At one point it stopped working for four minutes and then started again. I replaced the batteries that came with the Q3 with a fresh set. That seemed to work until it didn’t.
The first place the remote control issue raises its ugly head is when you try to install an app. The Google Play Store asks for your email and password. You’re in for a world of hurt if you base your password on a long, random string of upper and lower-case characters, numbers and symbols.
And keep in mind that the “quick start card” only describes the arrow button as a “Mouse Mode”. It’s up to you to figure out that the only way to move from the mobile keyboard to the next button is to hit the arrow key and move the cursor.
Mouse? What mouse?
Sometimes pressing the arrow button works and sometimes it doesn’t. The only way to tell whether it has is to hit one of the directional control buttons. If an arrow appears on the screen, then you know it worked. If not, then hit the arrow button again and hit a directional button again. Repeat as many times as it takes.
Apps and Performance
With all of this negativity, I need to point out that the Amlogic SoC delivers exactly as you would expect. Streaming video performance is smooth with no noticeable artifacts and the surround sound audio is crisp and clear. If you can get an app to play videos on the G-Box Q3, you won’t have any complaints. Here is my experience with several of the pre-installed apps.
One of the updates during the first boot pre-installs the Netflix app onto your Q3. As soon as I launched it, however, Android generated a notification telling me that a more recent version is available. Unfortunately, the Q3’s stock-Android-on-a-TV configuration confuses the Google Play Store so it tells you that the Netflix app isn’t compatible with your device.
Pluto TV streams more than one hundred live TV channels with the backing of Hollywood and Silicon Valley. The installation worked smoothly, but there was no way to change channels once the app launched. At first, pressing the directional buttons didn’t do anything. After repeated button-mashing, the interface slide to reveal a library of on-demand movie titles. Almost immediately, however, the Pluto TV sign-in screen appears and prevents you from doing anything else until you register.
Crackle is a streaming video service developed by Sony. On any other platform, it’s a great way to get free video content. As far as the Crackle Android app is concerned, the Q3 is a smartphone. You can get some aspects of the app to work with the directional controls and some to work with the arrow button. But you can’t scroll through any of the content.
The YouTube app, which Matricom pre-installs, is the only one that works reasonably well. Even then, there are several gotchas. When you try to search for videos, the app asks you to use Google’s Voice Search. Neither the remote control or the Q3 box has a microphone, so that’s not an option. You have to deny permission for the YouTube app to record audio. If you do that enough times, the app eventually gets the point and stops asking.
The other gotcha appears when YouTube runs ads. On other platforms, you get to dismiss most ads after five seconds. You can’t reach the app’s “skip” button using the remote control’s directional controls. If there’s a way to get the arrow cursor to appear during a YouTube ad, I never found it.
But the ads look and sound great. So do the YouTube videos once you get to them.
Overall Review: 3.8
Packaging, design and specs: 6
The unboxing experience showed a lack of attention to detail. The box was not sealed which raised the specter of stolen components or returned product sold as new. All of the accessories were left to rattle around in the box and not all of the accessories were described on the included card.
Despite these initial impressions, the ports and internal components of the G-Box Q3 meet or exceed expectations for a streaming media device and should be more than enough to make it a part of a home theater system.
Setup and user interface: 5
The bright blue LED that lights up the Q3’s “g” logo also shines through the side of the device, making it an annoying distraction in a home theater environment already cluttered with LED lights and displays.
The Q3 runs the Nougat version of Android which is a big plus. Other than the latest Fire TV box, the Q3 has a more current version of Android than other set-top boxes.
The Q3’s custom interface is well laid out for use on a TV as long as you don’t dig too deep. Each of the category screens has bloatware icons for apps that you may or may not want.
Two issues drove the ease-of-use case through the floor: the split television-mobile interface and the remote control that’s essential to navigate it. If I had bought the Q3 for my own use, I would have given up on the whole thing and shipped it back.
The main issue is Matricom’s decision not to run the Android TV version of Nougat. Without the resources of a company like Amazon, Matricom’s customization of the stock Android operating system winds up using a combination of TV-optimized and mobile-optimized interfaces.
The remote control offers ways to work with both interfaces, but the infrared connection breaks often and the “Mouse Mode” is difficult to engage. Many user reviews express these same frustrations with the remote control. Matricom should have done something about it given how common the problem is.
Apps and performance: 4
The hardware inside the G-Box Q3 delivers excellent video streaming performance without artifacts or buffering as well as good surround sound performance.
Unfortunately, that only happens when you can find a usable app. Since the G-Box Q3 is not an Android TV device, many apps do not implement their TV-optimized code. You are forced to use a mix of TV and touch controls that may or may not work.
The Matricom G-Box Q3’s $99 price pits it head-to-head with the Roku Ultra and makes it $30 more expensive than the Amazon Fire TV or the Xiaomi Mi Box. Each of these competing devices has their quirks, but they all share stable, consistent interfaces that are optimized for the living room TV experience. Their remote controls work too. Any one of these other devices would be a better choice.
The Final Word
Why spend $99 on the Matricom G-Box Q3 when you can get the Amazon Fire TV set-top box for $30 less? The Fire TV also uses an Amlogic SoC that delivers 4K UltraHD and HDR video. More importantly, it provides an interface and apps that are fully optimized for the big screen TV experience. If you can’t find what want you want among the thousands of apps in Amazon’s app store, you can even sideload Android apps.
Given the frustrations of the mixed TV and mobile interface, along with an inconsistent remote control, the G-Box Q3 is a poor choice for most people.