Xiaomi Mi Box Review
Xiaomi Mi Box is the first Android TV device with mainstream appeal. Xiaomi Mi Box, the cheapest 4K HDR streaming box on the market, comes from two names you might not be familiar with. The Xiaomi Mi box is built by Xiaomi, a Chinese electronics vendor that has largely avoided the U.S. market until now. As for the software, the Xiaomi Mi Box runs Android TV, a big-screen operating system Google launched a couple years ago, and then promptly began neglecting in favor of the more popular Chrome-cast.
The Xiaomi Mi Box is the first new Android TV streaming box since mid-2015, and it comes with a strong pitch: For $69, you get 4K HDR video, a voice-controlled remote, a speedy processor, and Google Cast built-in. That simple formula goes a long way toward covering up some of Android TV’s deficiencies.
Svelte set-top, pointy remote
The Xiaomi Mi Box is surprisingly compact, running four inches wide and deep, with a tapered design that’s about a quarter-inch thick. It’s smaller than the latest Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Roku Ultra and Premiere boxes, yet it has some robust tech specs including a 2.0GHz quad-core processor, 8GB of storage, 2GB of RAM, and 802.11ac Wi-Fi. Apps load quickly, with no major performance hiccups even in heavyweight apps like PlayStation Vue.
The Xiaomi Mi Box can also stream in 4K at up to 60 frames per second, with HDR-10 to be enabled with Android 7.0, but you’re on your own to find supported content.
There are no shortcuts to apps that offer Ultra HD video, akin to the “4K Spotlight” app on Roku players. And because Amazon Video isn’t supported on Android TV, one major source of 4K and HDR content is unavailable.
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The Android TV Torchbearer
Where the Xiaomi Mi Box starts to falter is with the Android TV operating system.
Android TV is adequate at the basics, offering plenty of major streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, Sling TV, PlayStation Vue, HBO, Showtime, CBS All Access, Crackle, and Starz.
Android TV also has built-in Google Cast support, which lets you launch videos from streaming apps on phones and tablets, and from websites in Google’s desktop Chrome browser.
This helps fill in some gaps from Android TV’s native app catalog, and can be faster than thumbing through menus with a TV remote.
Still, Google’s living-room platform never rises above mere adequacy. It’s lacking the pleasant touches found on other streaming boxes, such as the private headphone listening on Roku’s remote controls and mobile app, or the Alexa virtual assistant built into Amazon’s Fire TV devices.
Who’s the Xiaomi Mi Box for?
At least for streaming devices like the Xiaomi Mi Box, Android TV still has the air of an enthusiast platform. It’s rough around the edges, but it allows tech-savvy users to sideload any Android app they want, and it supports the popular media player software Kodi.
For gaming, you can install all kinds of console emulators to create your own retro gaming box. USB TV tuner support could also be a boon for cord cutters, assuming Google finalizes it, and Xiaomi upgrades the Xiaomi Mi Box to Android 7.0.
The $69 Xiaomi Mi Box, however, is the first Android TV streamer whose appeal reaches beyond tech enthusiast circles.
Though it fails to offer the flourishes and forward-thinking ideas of other streaming platforms, it succeeds as a cheap streaming device with 4K HDR video, solid performance, and voice search.
Those same features would cost $30 more on a Roku, and Amazon’s $90 Fire TV doesn’t support HDR video at all. The Xiaomi Mi Box even matches the price of Google’s own Chromecast Ultra, while offering a proper remote and big-screen interface.