Hands-on With Alibaba’s Set-top Killer Tmall Box 2: It is Not Only About Videos

Tmall box-logo

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba is planning to sell a new Tmall Box at the upcoming Singles’ Day sales promotion gala on Nov. 11, according to people with knowledge of the matter. The set-top box is expected to retail at RMB399 (US$65) during the sales event, down from the original price of RMB798.

The new product has recovered from setbacks by the state regulations which precluded the Tmall Box from streaming online video from providers like Youku and Sohu to TV. I got a chance to take an early peek at the long-awaited device and see how it handled.

Unlike the first generation of the product which was a typical “box” with chamfered edges, Tmall Box 2 adopts an elegant unibody design with a silver base stretching to the upper part of the device as silver stripes. The rest of the cover is a white or champagne plastic frame with the Tmall logo on it. The box itself is a light and portable device weighing just 244 grams and measuring 118×111×26.8mm.

Tmall-box

Powered by Alibaba’s in-house operating system YunOS 2.0, the set-top-box has an Amlogic S80 quad-core processor, Mali 450 GPU, 8G flash memory and 2GB memory. It supports 300M 2.4G/5G dual-channel WiFi connections.

Once you’ve hooked it up, you will be required to log in with your Taobao account either by scanning the QR code via the Taobao Mobile app or by directly inputting your account information. For most smartphone users, the QR code would be the best choice. The input procedure is a little odd in that the keyboard is arranged in alphabetical order, rather than the more familiar Qwerty keyboard.

Tmall box-login

After logging in, you’re led to a main menu of a wide variety of content including, new movies and TV series, entertainment programs, documentaries, kids’ programs, games, apps, music, and of course e-commerce.

One nice difference from other set-top-boxes is that the Tmall Box 2 is not all about video content. As we reported earlier, Alibaba has launched an ambitious plan with a series of prominent partners in various sectors like video games, online educations and music, to create a comprehensive family entertainment ecosystem.

Tmall Box-UI

Tmall Box 2 continues cooperation with video content provider Washu Media and has added Xiami‘s music streaming service. In addition, it integrates online education content via TutorABC, the online English leaning brand under Tutor Group in which Alibaba has invested, as well as the child-focused services of Qiaohu, Babybus, and so on. Baidu’s online education service Chuanke is also available on the platform.

The box has also added cloud-based games into the system, including several foreign-developed blockbusters like World Soccer Winning Eleven, BatMan: Arkham City, Street Fight 4, Lego Harry Potter, and Lego BatMan. Since these games are cloud-based, users can play directly without downloading them, and are priced at RMB4.9-14.9 per month. Moreover, Alibaba has also joined up with globally-renowned developers EAGameloft, and Glu Mobile to present more diversified games.

Different accessories might be needed to play different kinds of games. Some casual games can be played with the wireless controller which comes in the standard package, but more intensive and body-sensor games have to use either a dedicated gamepad or a sensor bar like that for Wii. The sensor bar is priced at RMB99.

Tmall-pad

The controller, which is very pleasant to touch and handle, also supports voice command, allowing users to search for videos, music, and e-commerce services. I tested the feature several times and the accuracy rate is pretty good.

Any product developed by Alibaba rarely neglects e-commerce. The box offers much the same services that are available on PC or mobile. To differentiate from other channels, Tmall Box 2 has added Magic Key (M Key), a button dedicated to e-commerce services, on the controller. Upon pressing M Key, users can participate in promotion events that are only open to Tmall Box users.