Xiaomi Mi Box S lacks competitive specs, price for 2018
The new Mi Box S just hit store shelves at WalMart, and there are plenty of people who are excited about it.
But I’m not buying one, and if you’re a prospective cord cutter on the hunt for a 4K HDR streaming device to replace cable TV, you can do a lot better.
I usually don’t judge a product before I put my hands on it. But the Mi Box S is going to be an exception this year. The Xiaomi Mi Box S is a second-generation to the original released 2016. When Mi Box fist hit the U.S. market in 2016, there was a wave of excitement about a new streaming box with Android TV software.
But that quickly changed once people started running into problems with software updates and lack of support.
I’m not out to slam Xiaomi. They make plenty of fine products. And there are a number of other low-priced Android TV boxes that you can find for sale on the web that perform even worse than Mi Box. I’ve owned a NVIDIA Shield for more than a year and a half so I’ve enjoyed Android TV at its best.
Excitement over the original Mi Box released in the U.S. just two years ago has been short lived because of a litany of unaddressed issues. Here’s five reasons why I’m not buying the new Xiaomi Mi Box S.
Reason #1: Lack of support
Google has amassed a small grave yard of unsupported Android TV devices. The ASUS Nexus Player came out swinging in November 2014, picking up a devoted following only to be discontinued two years later.
Remember, Razer’s Forge TV? It didn’t last half as long. Then, Xiaomi’s Mi Box rolled out in 2016 and people continue to complain on Reddit and elsewhere about its lack of support. There’s been no substantial sign of breaking this streak. Only the NVIDIA Shield TV has a proven track record of Android TV support by…. NVIDIA, not Google.
Reason #2: Mi Box S: same specs while competitors improve
The specs for the Mi Box S are pretty much identical to the 2016 Mi Box. There’s a slightly better remote with voice control and Google Assisant. But there’s no Dolby Atmos support.
|Xiaomi Mi Box (2016) U.S.||Xiaomi Mi Box S (2018) U.S.|
|Output resolution||Up to 4K 60fps||Up to 4K 60fps|
|Processor||Quad-core Cortex-A53, 2.0G||Quad-core Cortex-A53|
|GPU||Mali 450 750MHz||Mali 450 750MHz|
|RAM||2GB DDR3||2GB DDR3|
|Storage||8GB on board||8GB on board|
|Connectivity||WiFi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac||WiFi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac|
|2.4GHz/5GHz Bluetooth 3.0, 4.0||Bluetooth v4.2|
|Audio||DTS 2.0+ Digital Out, Dolby Digital||DTS 2.0+ Digital Out, Dolby Digital|
|Plus, Up to 7.1 pass through||Plus, Up to 7.1 pass through|
|Ports||HDMI 2.0a x 1 port (HDCP 2.2)||HDMI 2.0a x 1 port (HDCP 2.2)|
|USB 2.0 x 1 port||USB 2.0 x 1 port|
|SPDIF Out / 3.5mm audio output||SPDIF Out / 3.5mm audio output|
|x 1 port||x 1 port|
|Software||Android TV 6.0||Android TV 8.1 Oreo|
When Mi Box first hit the scene in 2016, the Roku Ultra was priced at $129. The Roku Premiere+ was $99 (and didn’t even offer 4K).
In 2018, Roku and Amazon support Dolby Atmos and 4K HDR with streaming sticks priced between $40 and $50. The new Roku Premiere costs $40. For $10 more, you can get a better remote with the Roku Premiere Plus. The new Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K is also priced at $50.
Reason #3: No Ethernet port on Mi Box S
There’s no Ethernet port! What? Why? No! I could forgive a blunder like this in a first generation streaming device. If the latest Mi Box was actually a streaming stick, then it’s fine to have no Ethernet option. You know what you’re getting.
But to design a streaming box with only Wi-Fi – even with 802.11ac – is a mistake. Streaming Live TV is remarkably better when you can hardwire your over-the-top box to your router. It’s been pretty confusing why any streaming box manufacturer would believe that cord cutters and streaming enthusiasts wouldn’t want the option of an Ethernet port.
Reason #4: Gamepads and Accessorties drive up the price
Want to play some games on Mi Box S? Probably. That’s one of the benefits of Android TV software. The Mi Box S already costs $60. But you’ll need a compatible gamepad. And if you don’t already have one, you’ll have to spend about $20 for a third-party gamepad.
So now, you’ve spent about $80 for the Mi Box and a gamepad. It’s not exactly a cheaper option for 4K HDR streaming at that point. It’s also a little ridiculous that Wal-Mart is the exclusive retailer of the Mi Box S, yet doesn’t carry the official Xiaomi gamepad for it. Not having an Xiaomi gamepad available at the same retailer suggests a disconnect with customers. You need to know your audience.
Bottom line: Instead of blowing $80 for essentially a not-so-great device, put together another $100 in your budget and buy a NVIDIA Shield.
Reason #5: Major streaming apps aren’t available
There’s no support for Amazon Prime Video, DirecTV Now, Hulu with Live TV and Philo. Sure, you can side load some apps, and maybe get them to work. Good luck with stability and necessary updates. Over the long haul, side loading apps isn’t a great option. And for many, it requires some tech savvy that not everyone has patience for.
Why not just buy something that’s plug-and-play? It’s 2018 and most devices that you buy are ready to go out of the box. The lack of Prime Video on Mi Box S isn’t Xiaomi’s fault. It has more to do with the ongoing fight between Google and Amazon.
NVIDIA Shield and Sony, which has Android TV on some TVs, apparently worked out their own deals for Amazon Prime Video apps.
Is a Mi Box S worth it?
Unless some dazzling software update happens down the road, I don’t see Mi Box S being a real value. The exception may be for the Android TV enthusiast that wants to try out every device that’s running the Google-made operating software. The bottom line is the NVIDIA Shield is the only worthwhile Android TV box.
Do you own a Mi Box? If so, tell fellow readers about your experience using it in the comments below.
Founder and Editor of The Cord Cutting Report. Before launching the site in 2016, he worked for more than two decades as a staff writer or correspondent for a number of daily newspapers, including The Boston Globe. His enthusiasm for tech began with the Atari 2600. Follow @james_kimble