Hands-On with the Xiaomi Mi Box

Posted on January 26, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Hardware, Music + Videos with 27 Comments

Hands-On with the Xiaomi Mi Box

The Xiaomi Mi Box is a credible alternative to Apple TV and Roku, and exactly the type of thing I’d like to see Microsoft make for its own content ecosystem.

For Google and Android fans, however, the Mi Box is perhaps the best Android TV device available today, especially when you consider that Google unceremoniously killed off its also-excellent Nexus Player. But Mi Box has a few advantages over even Nexus Player, including a lower cost and, intriguingly, UHD/4K and HDR support. But it also has some major advantages over today’s competition.

If you’ve ever seen a Roku or Apple TV, you get the basics: Mi Box is a small, black puck-like device with a remote control, great wireless connectivity (dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0/3.0), and HDMI and USB ports. It’s smaller than a current Roku or Apple TV, and better looking, not that that matters very much. And it’s inexpensive: Mi lists this device at just $69, though you will pay a bit more at Amazon, which may be more convenient (and faster).

The bad news: There’s no Ethernet connectivity, which will be a problem for 4K video performance. That said, you can apparently add a USB-based Ethernet adapter (hey, it’s Android).

But there’s plenty of good news.

As noted, the Mi Box supports UHD/4K and HDR video, and at 60 fps. I had to configure video-out to support this—it was set to 1080p by default—but when I did so, Netflix started offering UHD/4K video choices as expected.

The remote is wonderful, and is now my favorite set-top box remote, with a nice in-hand feel, voice control capabilities, and obvious buttons. By comparison, current Roku remotes are also very good, but stubbier and, annoyingly, with hard-coded channel-specific buttons for services I don’t even use, like HBO NOW and Sling. The Apple TV remote is laughably bad, and the less said about that, the better. (That said, the Mi remote does not have a headphone jack, which is available on Roku.)

Like other Android TV devices, Mi Box also works as a Chromecast, so you get the best of both worlds. (And you can use the remote control, of course, which is my biggest gripe with a standalone Chromecast.)

For the most part, the app selection—what Roku would call the channel selection—is quite good, and roughly what you’d see on other devices. Most the big players are represented—Netflix, Hulu, and so on—plus Google of course, but you won’t get Apple services (naturally), or Microsoft services (which makes zero sense). Curiously, Amazon isn’t available either, probably for competitive reasons.

The interface works well for the most part, and sits roughly between that of Apple TV/Roku (which are both simple, and excellent) and Amazon Fire TV (which is terrible, and too Amazon-centric). My only concern here is a prominent “recommended” section that sits between the recently-watched area at the top and the list of installed apps. I don’t want it there, and despite an interface in settings that appears to let you remove it, I can’t get it to go away.

Amusingly, Android TV is … well, Android. It looks and works like Android, and updates like Android—and yes, it updates fairly regularly, as it’s an unlocked device—and will be familiar to anyone who already knows Android. I think this is a plus, and it is perhaps sobering that Google has done a better job with its 10-foot UI than Microsoft has with the Xbox One, despite its many more years of experience in this market.

Like other set-top boxes, the Mi Box also plays games, and you can buy an optional game controller if you want. I didn’t, and won’t. And while the Android compatibility suggests a wide range of possibilities here, I’m just not interested in this.

I am considering evaluating the NVIDIA Shield, which is another Android TV option that seems well-regarded. That device, however, is very expensive at $200 and up, and I think that speaks to the value to be had with the Mi Box. This is a device that competes nicely with Roku and Apple TV, and at the same (or lower) price point. And it does so while offering truly compelling features and modern UHD/4K/HDR video-out.

No, it’s not perfect. But this is a great little set-top box. And it’s earned a spot in my living room.

 

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Comments (28)

28 responses to “Hands-On with the Xiaomi Mi Box”

  1. 3272

    Paul, you really need to do a write up on the Shield. It dies things these other boxes can't dream of doing. Great performance, 4k support. Geforce now let's you stream high end PC games to it. It is a hell of a machine. I would love to see you try it out.

    For a simple streamer, I would rather hook up the Byte Plus mini PC. It runs full Win 10, has 4GB Ram instead of the normal 2 and uses the newer z8300. As much as it pains me to say this it is what the Kangaroo should have been.

    Anyway, check the Shield out Paul. It will change your opinion on all of these non PC boxes. This coming from someone that despises Google and avoids Android as much as possible.

  2. 5554

    "exactly the type of thing I’d like to see Microsoft make for its own content ecosystem." 

    No thank you, Paul.  Never trusting MS again after they abandoned WMC. Tired of getting my hopes up and getting invested in an MS consumer product only for it to get abandoned, sorry.  

    Android understands the consumer and the future a lot better. 

  3. 5394

    Why insist Microsoft get into this space when they are incapable of sustaining such an effort? They are perfectly positioned with Xbox One and this is where they should make their stand. When the newest Xbox One debut, they should immediately discount the Xbox One S and sell it at a discount of $199. They should consider bringing back Media Center and offer a DVR kit. The future of Windows on ARM should be the next logical step. Port Xbox OS to ARM to offer the best of two worlds.

    • 1377

      In reply to glenn8878:

      Has MSFT ever sold 20 million Xboxes in a single year? Will it if it were to sell Xbox One S for US$199? Is it not a possibility that nongamers may simply be unwilling to buy something they perceive as primarily a game console? That is, isn't it be possible Xbox ANYTHING could be a branding mistake in the pure TV consumption market?

      • 5394

        In reply to hrlngrv:

        Whether it sells a determined quantity should not be an issue. It will still sell many units. The idea is to sell a marginal increase in units to a market that's not currently served by Xbox. Some might actually prefer to have gaming as part of their Xbox as a consumption device since it differentiates it from Playstation or the newer Xbox Scorpion. Microsoft will never sell millions of television consumption devices. It is just too risky to bring out a new device in a new category where there are already many players. It's like why start over when the solution is already here. Attempts to jump start Miracast or Continuum or Cortana via third party solutions went no where. Roku, FireTV, and AppleTV are pervasion. Android Kodi units seem to develop it's own life and gaining fast. Xbox is in millions of living rooms. People don't want another Microsoft living room consumption device. People are still steaming over Xbox 360 3 rings of death.

  4. 5554

    I love my Mi Box. Was skeptical at first and held onto the product box thinking there was a chance I'd return it after disappointment, but I liked it so much I bought a second MI Box and replaced my ancient HTPC in the living room. Once a diehard Microsoft WMC fan, buh bye Windows. Android to the rescue. 

    Emby runs great on it and plays all my TV shows and movies including bluray rips. Sling gives me live TV, though I wish that had more channels. 

    Great value for money. 

  5. 217

    I owned one briefly, but chromecast functionality didn't work well. Video performance while casting was awful, apparently it was a bug but I returned it. I would buy one if they fixed it.

  6. 1377

    MSFT doesn't want to sell its own-branded hardware unless that hardware creates new categories and/or can be sold at premium prices. Or so you're stated on a number of occasions. Can a MSFT TV streaming device create a new category at this point? Unlikely, more likely it'd me another me-too like Windows phones. Can MSFT sell such devices at premium prices? To a few tens of thousands of die-hard MSFT fans, sure; in 7- or 8-figure unit sales, no.

    MSFT will not be a major hardware player. It'll create NEW niches, but it's not going to play catch-up with others. MSFT is pretty much guaranteed to flush money down the toilet whenever it tries to compete against Apple, Google, Amazon and others in already-established markets.

    Tangent: just how many subscribers are there to Groove Music and Movies & TV? Even 1/10 as many as Netflix subscribers?

  7. 4584

    I had one of these for about a week. Beautiful hardware, and well-made too. They were sitting right next to the Roku devices at my local Wal-Mart. I ended up returning it after I realized there was no great way to watch Amazon content on it. I assumed it would function the same as the AndroidTV interface on my Sony 4K TV....not the case. I installed 2 or 3 different Amazon .apk's that were supposed to work, but ended up extremely dissatisfied without access to Prime content. I returned it, and bought a Roku Ultra instead.

  8. 10240

    I got one just before Christmas. It's great. I did manage to get Amazon prime video on it, kodi and a few others that aren't available like demand five and ITV hub. BBC iPlayer wasnt available so I installed it in kodi. I got a fast 150Mb/s USB memory stick and when you insert it, you can format for internal storage so I can install games and use the mi Bluetooth controller, which is excellent. The remote is great, and v7  nougat is expected with the Google assistant soon. Playback has been great after adjusting the video settings and I can get DTS optical out using kodi.

  9. 8741

    There's one, and only one, Android streamer anyone should invest in.  

    And it's the Nvidia Shield TV. Point. Blank. Period.

    I'd go as far as saying it's the best streamer on the market. Nothing, absolutely nothing, comes close. Not Roku. Not Fire TV. Not Apple TV. No streamer on the market compares to the performance, flexibility and features it has.

    Oh, and it will actually get regular OS and security updates, unlike this Xiaomi box. In fact, Nvidia just updated the 2015 version to Android Nougat today.

    Among the perks you'll get in the coming months are Google Assistant integration (so the box acts as a Google Home unit), home automation support via a SmartThings dongle, and the fact the Ubisoft is releasing their whole catalog to GeForce Now, their game cloud streaming service.

    If you're a cord cutter looking for a streaming box, the Shield TV should be at the top of your list.

    P.S. I forgot to mention the Shield also has Amazon Prime Video. It's one of the very few Android TV streamers to have it.

  10. 10158

    Sorry, but no way should MS make something like this. Only their fans would consider one, and MS has done such a thorough job of screwing those folks over that even they probably wouldn't even take a chance. At least that's where I'm at. 

     The other side of this is that the market offers enough incomplete products that don't offer access to all the streaming or cloud services out there. If MS offered one, they'd probably not get the buy-in from all the major players, and they can't exactly lean on the barren UWP store to bail them out. 

  11. 8585

    So if this earned a spot, whose spot did it take? Assuming you got rid of something to add this. I've been waiting for someone to review this since it was first announced. I'm thinking it may be time to purchase.

     

  12. 2525

    I grabbed a little Android set top box about a year or so ago from Aldi (discount German retailer here in Australia - they've really shaken up the market in a good way).

    Anyway, its remote looks very similar to the one you showed. There's enough to navigate up/down/left/right, click and use the Android home buttons.

    It runs some variant of Android 4.x I think and came with Kodi pre-installed.  The play store is available so I added Netflix, ABC iView (think BBC's iPlayer), YouTube, etc.

    For the money, probably $80 Australian, it's great.  However since it's a phone put onto a TV there are many quirks.  Any app that only expects you to scroll with your finger is nigh-impossible to navigate.  I guess if the app is workable on a phone if you plugged in a USB keyboard then it's also workable on the TV.  Long-press is also a bit weird - you do as you would on the phone - just hold down the "click" button for a bit too long.  Not really discoverable from a TV remote point of view and again needs the user to think about it being a phone/tablet on their TV.

    The remote has one extra button which turns the up/down/left/right into a movable mouse cursor.  I plugged in a USB mouse once and that just worked.  The inner geek in me thought that was neat, but no one else in the house could appreciate why that was something remarkable or why you'd ever want it :)

    I haven't turned it on in a few months but will be making good use of it again in a few weeks (rearranging rooms, etc) so I'm hoping things have improved.

    One bonus point: it had Ethernet :)  Didn't do 4k or anything, but I don't need that either.

  13. 314

    The Amazon app is available on the 2017 version of the nVidia Shield TV, which now has Google apps, VUDU, Netflix, and Hulu.

    The original Shield TV will get a firmware update with the Amazon app as well. Its the best box available to buy on the market.

  14. 5530

    Man, China used to be a copycat but they've become very important competition real quick. Even if they don't have the quality they sure as hell have the pricing to match.

  15. 8179

    Paul - Removing the recommendations. I recently got a Sony TV with Android OS. I had the same issue. There was a recommendation bar from Google, and Sony. They were easily removed though. Just go into the settings - and then processes (Sorry not at tv right now - trying to remember) and the process to stop was easily identifiable - it was called Google Recommendations or something. Stop the process - then check the box that says to the effect of Do Not Warn - then force quit the process and it was done. Gone. No issues. And no pop ups saying Hey - This process isn't working you better enable it so we can serve you recommendations. 

     

    Sorry - can't be more specific while here at my work desk! But I found the answer in Android TV forums...

  16. 774

    OK, it's finally time to ask: why do we still refer to things like this as "set-top boxes"?

    These days it would take creative use of gaffers' tape to put one of them on top of the [TV] set (at the risk of cooking the box and the set).

  17. 5234

    So, since it's Android, can you not install the Android apps that cover services like Apple Music or Groove, or Amazon video?  Or are these apps completely blacked out from the Play Store?

  18. 185

    What's with picture of the guy hacking the Android robot?

    • 5234

      In reply to RonV42:

      That's "Citizen Bunny".  He's the Xiaomi mascot.  He has a Communist Chinese earflap hat (known as a Lei Feng hat) and a Young Pioneers of China scarf.

      Xiaomi uses the image as a symbol of them repairing or upgrading Android.

  19. 10226

    The lack of Amazon video on any Android product is purely the decision of Amazon. This is why they don't sell Chromecasts or Apple TVs on Amazon, and why there are no Amazon Prime apps available for Android platforms. If they ever change their mind, then Amazon should available on pretty much any Android TV device.

  20. 1631

    Amazon Video is available if they partner with them. Vizio TV's and nVidia Shield has the amazon Video app. It cannot be sideloaded to other streaming boxes.

  21. 6359

    "exactly the type of thing I’d like to see Microsoft make for its own content ecosystem." 

    My Zune HD still works but after charging over $300 for it they took away functionality when they dropped support.  Paul and I just have to agree to disagree on allowing this to happen on a luxury price item.

    My MS Band 2 hasn't broken yet even after MS abruptly kicked me off the bus.  I have received the strong impression that it will break.

    I was expecting at least a year of band updates and improved functionality.  Instead I get to remove third-party band apps that are dead content-wise right off the bat.

    Suggesting that MS would be a strong competitor in any peripheral device market as heavily populated as video streaming goes against their record.

    Would I be far off if I guessed that device would require a server managed by Microsoft for future updates?  Assuming the updates work, of course.

    Next year will it be HoloLens or hollow lens? Microsoft is laying off employees while competition appears set to open the VR revenue stream.  It will be interesting to see how the VR market unfolds in 2017.

  22. 5510

    No.

    One is better off with Amazon's product and the reason is very simple. Amazon Prime...everything.

    People buy these devices for one reason, and that is to maximize their entertainment choices in a supereasy way and convenient way. If you are an Amazon Prime user, wouldn't you want access to all the (Emmy) award winning content that comes with the membership?

    Unless this Xiaomi Mi Box, has Amazon Prime Video, then it's better to just pass.

    As for Microsoft content,...they have content? LOL...like what?

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