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Xiaomi Mi Box S review

Streaming boxes are nothing new, adding extra functionality and features to your favourite TV or monitor. There are plenty chose from, starting from the low end with the likes of Amazon’s Fire TV Stick range, all the way up to the high end with the Apple TV 4K and Nvidia Shield TV. The Mi Box S from Chinese manufacturer Xiaomi sits somewhere in the mid-range, let’s see if it deserves a space beneath your TV.

The design of the Mi Box S is a surprisingly small unassuming rectangle, coming it at roughly 10cm x 10cm. There is a selection of ports on the rear, HDMI 2.0a, full size USB, 3.5mm audio jack and power input.

Getting the Mi Box S set up was relatively simple. There is a HDMI cable included which is a nice touch. You have the pair the remote to the box using a button combination. Once that is done, you can sign into your Google account via your phone by scanning the on-screen QR code or following the URL displayed. During this process you can connect the box to WiFi and, after a small update had downloaded and installed, I was on the home screen in around 5 minutes.

The Mi Box S runs Android TV 8.1 Oreo, the same OS that you would find running on a smartphone or tablet but optimised for the big screen. This version is lagging behind Nvidia who have been running Android 9.0 Pie for quite some time on their Shield TV boxes.

Performance of the Mi Box S is fine, navigating around the OS is quick, although you can tell it’s a touch slower than the Nvidia Shield TV if you’ve ever used one. This is down to the much slower processor and 2GB of RAM.

One key selling point of the Mi Box S is that it supports 4K HRD output which gives not only crispy image quality, but a larger range of colours. There isn’t a great range of 4K content available outside of YouTube and Netflix so your mileage may vary on how useful this feature is.

While there are millions of apps available for regular Android, the TV version of the Play Store is abit sparse. There is mostly everything you would expect such as Netflix, YouTube, WWE Network, Spotify etc., but there are some noticeable absences such as BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, Amazon Prime Video and Apple TV+. This is frustrating as these apps are available on the (much more expensive) Nvidia Shield TV range of streaming boxes that run the same OS. I’m not sure who is blame here, Xiaomi, Google or the service providers? It’s a big negative as these key apps are available on pretty much every other streaming device imaginable.

All isn’t lost however as the Mi Box S has Chromecast built it. This meaning you can use your smartphone to cast from any app that supports it. The Mi Box S is cheaper than a Chromecast Ultra too, so if you’re looking to take advantage of that 4K output, it’s a no brainer to pick one of these up instead.

On top of the streaming video apps, there are plenty of games and emulators available. Some of these can be played with the remote but you’ll get a better experience by pairing a Bluetooth controller. There is also the ability to stream games from your Steam PC library using Steam Link. This is really useful if you want your PC games on the big screen and your rig is in another room.

The included remote is easily the worst part of this package. It feels extremely cheap and low quality. Every button press is accompanied by a loud click of the plastic. On the plus side, theres a dedicated button for Netflix and Google Assistant with a mic built right in. Luckily the Mi Box S supports HDMI-CEC so I was able to control it using my Samsung remote that came with my TV which was a much better experience.

The Mi Box S is a tinkerers dream thanks to the Android OS. You can sideload all sorts of apps and games from various different sources outside of the regular Google Play Store. This opens up a whole new world when it comes to the likes of Kodi, IPTV and other streaming apps. On top of this you can plug in a USB drive or a mouse and keyboard too.

In conclusion, the Mi Box S is a mixed bag. I’d find it hard to recommend as your primary streaming device, however it’s perfect for the bedroom. The lack of apps the big downside here, a situation that could easily be remedied with a bit of love and support from Google and the app developers.

If you can stand the cluttered interface, the Amazon Fire Stick 4K is a much wiser purchase. It has tons of apps from everyone you could think of and comes in slightly cheaper at £49.99 (and as little as £29.99 when it’s on sale).

Ultimatly you have to look at what you’re expecting from a streaming device. If you understand the limitations and are invested in the Android and Google ecosystem, you’ll be happy with the Mi Box S. If you’re wanting a little more, and willing to spend a little more, go for the Nvidia Shield TV.

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