- Excellent Price
- Included HDMI Cable
- No Ethernet Port
- No SD Card Expansion Slot
Xiaomi is known as the Chinese manufacturer of some pretty awesome Android Smartphones, and they long had a plan to enter the US market with stronger offerings and better name exposure. The Xiaomi Mi Box is their first real product to penetrate our borders with any kind of significance and it looks like it’s working.
Our lives are changing, DVD’s have almost gone and Blu-ray sales are constantly declining. With streaming media so readily available, streaming media devices and Smart TVs are ever increasing in popularity.
Roku is probably one of the first device that pops into your head when you think about watching on-line TV shows and Movies and then maybe the Amazon Fire TV, but there’s another player out there trying to chip away a slice of the streaming pie. Google and their Android TV platform is a very simple system designed specifically for the large screen TVs or 10-foot interface as its sometimes known. They already tried once failed with Google TV and it’s now been renamed and completely overhauled into Android TV. That’s a very simplistic view to how they’ve changed Google TV, and It’s not as simple as that sounds, Google really did make significant changes that brought Android TV more in line with its mainstream Android products and in the process, made it much easier for developers to support.
A few TV manufacturers have joined the Android TV bandwagon, such as Sony, Philips and Sharp, and a couple of set top boxes appeared from nVidia and Razor and there are more are set to join the Android TV club this year. If Xiaomi’s new Mi box can give it an even bigger boost, 2016 could be the year of Android TV and help drive down the price of rival products
What is the Mi Box?
The Mi Box is a 4K Android TV set-top box with full 4K High Dynamic Range (HDR) video support. In other words, it’s one of the next generation of media streamers you can add to your existing TV that will support the latest 4K UHD resolutions and also offer HDR which helps improve the picture and colors.
The Mi Box is a small device measuring 101mm wide by 101mm long and only 19.5m thick. For its size, it feels heavy and well-made weighing in at 176.5g (+/- 1g). I’m not sure if the weight is an indication of quality or if they added weights into the case to keep it in place next to your TV. Either way, whatever they have done, they have done it right and left with what feels like a quality product.
The Mi Box features a HDMI 2.0a port (HDCP 2.2), a single USB 2.0 port, an SPDIF Out / 3.5mm audio output and a power port. Included in the box is a Bluetooth remote with Voice Search, a HDMI cable, the power supply and a couple of manuals with basic setup and warranty information. For only $69, I was surprised they included a HDMI cable as well. The Bluetooth remote feels nice in your hands and sturdy as far the build quality goes. The remote control only has seven buttons and is similar in layout to other media streaming devices on the market such as Roku and Amazon Fire TV. There’s a Power button, the navigation controls with a select button in the middle, a back button, a home button, the Mic button to initiate voice actions and a volume up and down rocket.
Power Up the device and your greeted with a small Mi logo in the middle of the screen and a couple more icons on the bottom row. You won’t see this screen often as the device is designed to be left powered on and instantly available to your commands.
As the Mi Box is based on Google’s Android TV operating system, your prompted to sign in to your Google account or setup a new one if you don’t already have it. This account is going to give you access to the Google Play Store for Android TV, which is where you’ll get any additional apps and content from Google.
Once powered up, I connected to my WiFi network and then signed into my Google account and finally received the Home Screen for Android TV with a few customization’s by Xiaomi. Before you do anything with Android, it’s best to get everything up to date. Selecting the Google Play Store icon took me into the play store where I told the system to update ALL the applications currently installed. This took a few minutes. Once this had completed, I went and checked for updates to the main operating system or firmware. If you were patient enough, the Mi Box would check for firmware updates on its own and prompt you for installation, but I preferred to get them going quickly and manually proceeded with the update checks. There was a new Firmware update from Xiaomi, which I was pleased to see. It didn’t really provide much information about the update and what it fixed, but we can only assume it has some nice performance improvements with this being the first release of the device. Once you get everything up to date, I would recommend pulling the power and restarting the device to ensure that everything is nice and clean and all the updates are properly loaded.
Let it Settle
If you not aware, Android TV is actually a version of the Unix operating system. Why is this important to you me you may ask! For one, this is the first time your Mi Box has been turned on and Unix has built in optimizations when its first run. This means your Mi Box should be doing some things in the background getting ready to give you the best experience so I would leave the box alone for 15 minutes or so to let everything settle down.
Once I had everything setup and signed in to all my apps such as Netflix, I was ready to start testing. My initial opinion is this device is faster than the Google Nexus Player. It felt very responsive for everything from launching application to initiating voice searches. The performance is what I would expect from a device that is a newer generation of Android TV with fairly powerful Quad-Core processor.
The interface or Launcher as it’s known in the Android world and also referred to as Leanback is split up into three areas.
The top row is a list of recommendations from the system that it thinks your most likely to want to watch. The application installed and signed into will provide this information to Android TV to try and make it personalized.
The next row on the interface is list of Mi Recommended applications and the third row is a list of all the other applications installed on your Mi Box and may be split into other categories rows such as Apps and Games. This is a slightly customized launcher over the standard Android TV interface provided by google. The normal interface does not feature the second row of Mi Recommended application, this is something Xiaomi choice to add to try and personalize the device a little.
For those of you unfamiliar with Android TV, the Voice Search function allows you to search for movies and TV shows and anything else from the Google ecosystem. A single press of the Mic button on the remote control brings up a prompt and awaits your command. It works well and was very accurate at understanding what I was saying. For example, I pressed the Mic button and said “Sons of Anarchy” and it very quickly presented me a list of which applications would provide Sons of Anarchy content, a list of the actors in the show and some other general information. Selecting NetFlix, my service of choice, immediately launched the Netflix application and started playing the latest episode from exactly where I left of previously.
The Mi Recommended applications row is the first part of the interface I don’t really like as I couldn’t find a way to customize it in any way. The third row of applications can be reordered to your preference by hold down on the section button for a couple of seconds and then simply dragged around to change the order. I wish Xiaomi had allowed us to do this with the Mi Recommends row as well or even turn of the Mi Recommends row all together.
Picture and Sound
Unfortunately, I don’t have a 4K HDR TV on hand to test the 4K features of the Mi Box so all my testing and remarks about video quality and performance are based on 1080p video. With that said, the quality at 1080p appears excellent. Colors are vibrant and very clear and I was seeing no lag or stutter or any kind of break up sometimes seen when you watching digital video content. Don’t quite me on this, but I almost feel that the picture was a little sharper than my Roku 3 steaming device.
Here’s a simulation Xiaomi provided on their website to illustrate the HDR function side by side with a regular picture.
I will be installing the Mi Box in my theater room over the next few weeks and trying to compare the video on a 120” projection screen and the sounds on a 7.2 surround sound setup. I’ll give an update if I feel there is anything relevant to add.
Xiaomi are going to offer a Bluetooth game pad for the Mi Box so you can officially turn your device into a gaming rig for any Android games available on the Google Play Store. The Mi Box is fairly capable device, not quiet as capable as the nVidia Shield, but certainly able to play the majority of games. I’ll try a few out when I get a chance to how well it actually performs.
You already know about the Bluetooth remote control, so there’s not really much else to mention here.
There are a couple of things lacking on the Mi Box; One is there is no SD Card slot for people who might want to expand the storage to install more apps and games, although you can use the USB port and USB thumb drive for this, but it’s not as convenient having a large USB stick protruding out of the back. The lack of an Ethernet port is the second missing feature. When you’re going to be streaming $K High Resolution content from the Internet, you’re going to need to best connection possible, and many people, including myself, prefer to hardware back my Internet router. Don’t get me wrong, the 802.11ac WiFi built into the Mi Box provides excellent performance as long as you have a good quality router and you are near enough to get a good signal.
For now, my 24 hour experience makes me want to recommend this product to anyone looking for a new media streaming device. A price of only $69 and the features this little device offers are amazing value and as long as Xiaomi keep the device updated and apps continue to appear on the Android TV platform, it should stay that way.
Currently you can buy a Mi Box at the Mi.com online store, Walmart.com and at your local Walmart store. At the time of writing this article, they had completely sold out on the Xiaomi company store at mi.com (yes, they are that popular) and Walmart didn’t allocate too many to each store so be sure to check online or better still, call your local store before you head out to buy one.
If you had a chance to play with the Xiaomi Mi Box let us know in the comments below or if you have any specific question, you can add these and I’ll try to get you an answer.