Android TV is a fantastic platform that is growing quite well, but consumer hardware is surprisingly tough to find. The Nvidia Shield TV is still the best Android TV set-top box, but for a more affordable price, the best option is the Xiaomi Mi Box S. Here’s what you need to know.

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HARDWARE & PORTS |

Basic, but capable

Like the model that came before it, the Xiaomi Mi Box S delivers a pretty basic overall package which is capable, but not much more. The entire device is made from plastic with an understated, matte black design. It has a single LED on the front to indicate if the device is on and it fits somewhere in basically any entertainment system. It’s small and unassuming which is great for a device like this.

Inside of the Xiaomi Mi Box S, specifications are basically identical to the model that arrived before it. That includes a quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM, and 8GB of built-in storage. That works fine for most users, although the storage will be limiting for some. For those users, there’s adoptable storage available so extra storage can be added with the USB port on the back.

As for the ports on this device, the Xiaomi Mi Box S offers up a proprietary power port, a full-size USB-A port, audio-out port, and an HDMI 2.0a port. That HDMI port can output 4K HDR to a connected TV.

Note: HDR is limited to HDR10 only. Dolby Vision isn’t supported.

Sadly, the Xiaomi Mi Box S still lacks an ethernet port. The built-in WiFi is generally enough, but there are obvious benefits to remaining wired. Compared to my Nvidia Shield TV which is connected over ethernet, the Mi Box S which is barely 2 feet from my router still buffers a bit more. Of course, you can use the USB port with an adapter to get wired internet.

ANDROID TV & PERFORMANCE |

Software that keeps getting better with passable performance

Google’s Android TV platform went through a major redesign last year, and during 2018 it finally started hitting consumers. It also eventually reached the older Xiaomi Mi Box, but it comes pre-installed on the Mi Box S. This new interface reduces the clutter of pre-installed apps on this device, and it also performs a bit more reliably as well.

As for overall performance of the box, it varies depending on what you require from it. While connected to my 4K HDR Vizio TV and playing HDR content from Netflix, it works relatively well. However, when set to full 4K HDR resolution, the box will stutter from time to time when scrolling through apps and the homescreen too, but it’s nothing too bad. The Nvidia Shield TV does much better, but the Mi Box S is no slouch either.

One of my main complaints is how the Xiaomi Mi Box S treats HDMI-CEC. Or rather, how it doesn’t. This feature is fairly unreliable for me. That could just be an issue with my TV specifically, but it’s worth noting.

REMOTE |

It feels cheap, but gets the job done

The remote can make or break a set-top box. With the Nvidia Shield TV, the tiny and unreliable remote nearly breaks the experience for me. With the Xiaomi Mi Box S, though, I’m happy to report that the included remote is alright.

It runs on two AAA batteries which are included and has a comfortable design. The build quality feels very cheap and somewhat hollow, but the buttons are tactile and the connection is reliable for the most part. The power button uses CEC to turn on the TV the Mi Box S is connected to, and the voice search button launches Google Assistant. There’s also a dedicated button for Android TV’s app menu, as well as direct shortcuts for Netflix and the Live TV app. Of course, for the latter, you’ll need to get some extra hardware.

FINAL THOUGHTS |

The best Android TV box for most people

While I won’t be sticking to the Xiaomi Mi Box S from this point on, the obvious fact is that this is still the best Android TV box for most people. It delivers the latest software and will likely get Android 9 Pie (eventually), it supports 4K HDR, and essentially has a Chromecast Ultra built-in. For $59, it’s a steal.

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