The tiny Mi Box packs Android TV and most of your favorite streaming video apps at a price that can't be beat.
There are a lot of choices these days for streaming TV boxes. We have offerings from Amazon, Apple, Google, Roku and more. Now a new entrant is stepping into the race - it's called the Mi Box and it comes from a Chinese company named Xiaomi.
Their $69 Mi Box is their first product for the U.S. market and they're hoping it's a winner. It packs a lot of features into a little box and the price tag is pretty great.
So how does it stack up to competitors?
For starters, let me explain that there is no "ideal" streaming set top box right now. Each box has it's advantages but no one box offers everything across the board. For instance, Netflix is everywhere but once you start getting into specific services you want it gets a little trickier.
If you want Amazon Prime Video you're limited to Fire TV or Roku. If you want your iTunes movies collection to play you need Apple TV. It gets complicated.
Mi Box offers a good selection of features and apps at a price that can't be beat. For starters, you get 4K Video and HDR, features that are usually found in more premium devices.
Mi Box runs on Android TV, which gives you the best of Google. Google voice search on the box is pretty amazing - you can search for TV shows and movies using natural language, or just ask random questions that Google is famous for answering. Many of the top apps are represented - Google Play Movies, Netflix, Hulu, YouTube and Sling TV but you do not get Amazon Prime Video.
You also get some Chromecast features built in. You can "cast" video and audio from your smartphone to your TV screen. One big feature is missing, though. You cannot set your own Google Photos as a background screensaver on your TV. To me that is a major downside. Apple TV, Chromecast and Fire TV all let you do this - of course you have to upload your photos to Apple, Google or Amazon to make it work.
Overall, Mi Box is a fantastic deal at $69, especially since the box comes with a bunch of extras that can potentially pay for itself. For instance, there's a $50 Sling TV credit, a $5 Vudu credit and several free months of premium Pandora service. You also get an HDMI cable in the box, which is a rarity these days and generally costs you at least $20 in a store.
When it comes to a recommendation for a streaming set top box, it really comes down to what you have and need. If you have an iPhone, Apple TV is a great choice since it will work most seamlessly with your content. If you are an Amazon Prime subscriber and love the free TV shows and movies you get with your membership, Fire TV is a great companion. Roku is sort of the Switzerland of streaming devices, but to get the same features as Mi Box (namely 4K and HDR) you would have to spend $130. Chromecast is super easy and cheap, but doesn't offer a remote control or a homescreen experience, which makes it a tough choice for families with kids.
Overall, Mi Box is a great Android TV device if you really want the best of Google on your TV screen. I just wish it would let you personalize the photos experience.
Mi Box is available now at Walmart stores nationwide and at Walmart.com.
Listen to an extended interview with Xiaomi's Hugo Barra: