Since Android TV launched, it hasn’t seen a whole lot of success, and I think that’s been the fault of the hardware rather than the software. Android TV itself works well and has the majority of the apps you want are there. However, there’s never been anything super compelling in the hardware department.
Enter the Xiaomi Mi Box…
Nomad case for Pixel 3
The Mi Box is not only the first major entry into the US market for Xiaomi, but it’s also one of the most compelling Android TV devices we’ve seen today. It costs just $69, offers 4K capability, and has the power under the hood to run all of your apps and games. I’ve spent the past several days using it, and I’m extremely glad that I picked it up.
Hardware, Specifications, & Performance
The first thing to talk about is the hardware. Like most TV streaming boxes, the Mi Box has a very subtle design which doesn’t stand out on your TV stand. The black box has a curve on the top and is made entirely of matte plastic. There’s also a non-slip grip on the bottom of the device to keep it in place. The overall size is very compact as well, coming in at just under 4″x4″.
More important is the set of ports along the rear. You’ll find a power port, HDMI port, full-size USB port, and a 3.5mm headphone jack. The USB and headphone ports really set the Mi Box apart because they allow the device to expand its storage and bypass the TV for audio playback, especially useful if you are using it with a display which lacks speakers or output.
Powering the Mi Box, you’ll find a quad-core processor clocked at 2.0GHz, 2GB of RAM, a Mali 450 GPU, and 8GB of storage. While the storage is definitely light, especially considering that only 4.4GB is available out of the box, I found it usable. Plus, you can easily expand that with something as simple as a flash drive.
Overall, I was very pleased with the performance on the Mi Box. None of the apps I used had major issues, and it handled most games without breaking a sweat. I do have to note however, I wasn’t able to test this with a 4K TV. I tested the Mi Box with a 1080p TV and things went very well, night and day compared to the Nexus Player. However, things don’t look great for 4K according to a review from Lon.TV. There are apparently some issues with 4K playback on the Mi Box with certain playback formats. It’s not necessarily a deal-breaker, but you may want to look at the NVIDIA SHIELD or Chromecast Ultra if you really want to take advantage of all 4K content. That said, the Mi Box’s hardware is more than capable of 4K, so this is likely just a software issue which the company can fix on a future update.
As for the software, the Mi Box runs Android TV based on Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow out of the box. An update to Nougat will probably be coming soon, but there aren’t many changes in that version. Since OEMs can’t mess with Android TV, the Mi Box runs the same software as the Nexus Player. The differences come in the settings menu, where you’ll find options to toggle HDR, change settings with the remote, and adjust various options throughout the device.
My sole complaint is with what is done to the home screen. At all times you’ll find a list of apps two rows deep that shows apps that “Mi Box Recommends.” Unfortunately, there’s no way to reorganize this list or get rid of it entirely. I prefer to have all my apps listed in one section, so I found this pretty annoying, but it’s not the end of the world and definitely not a deal breaker.
Included with the Xiaomi Mi Box is a wireless remote, and it’s excellent. It fits well in the hand and is easy to use. From top to bottom you’ll find a power button, D-Pad, back and home button, voice search button, and volume rocker. Most of this is standard, but the power button and volume rocker is unique to the Mi Box compared to the rest of the Android TV devices we’ve seen on the market.
The power button has two functions. The first is, of course, to simply shut off the Mi Box. The second, and in my opinion better, is to activate sleep mode or to wake the device up. This is especially useful if your TV has HDMI CEC capability since it can turn the TV on or off for you.
Even more useful is the volume rocker. This allows you to directly control the audio output on the Mi Box, regardless of where it’s going. TV speakers, sound bar, Bluetooth speakers/headphones, this volume rocker controls them all. This combined with the power button and HDMI CEC allowed the Mi Box to completely replace my TV remote with the Mi Box remote.
Overall, the Xiaomi Mi Box is a device I can’t recommend enough. It’s exactly the shot in the arm that Android TV needed to have a chance at success. While it’s not the perfect device for 4K, it gets the job done well, especially for only $69. You can buy the Mi Box at the links below.