Xiaomi Mi Box S review: This isn’t doing Android TV justice

Consumer Electronics

On paper, there’s a lot to like about the Xiaomi Mi Box S. This $60 streaming box offers 4K HDR video, Google Assistant voice controls, and built-in Chromecast support so you can launch videos from a phone. It even has a full-sized USB port for plugging in external hard drives or game controllers.

But in actual use, the Mi Box S is a letdown, with low frame rates for live TV streaming, a feature-limited remote control, some vexing technical issues, and fewer apps than other streamers. Android TV diehards are still better off splurging on the Nvidia Shield TV, while most users in need of cheap 4K HDR streaming should go with either a Roku Premiere+ or Amazon’s Fire TV Stick 4K.

Same old hardware

Despite the new name, the Mi Box S is almost identical to the original Mi Box that Xiaomi brought to the U.S. market in 2016, with the same Cortex-A53 processor, Mali 450 GPU, 2GB of RAM, 8GB of built-in storage, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, full-sized USB 2.0 port, and S/PDIF audio output. The main differences are a slightly smaller enclosure, a new remote with some additional buttons, and the latest Android TV 8.1 software.

The original Mi Box’s performance was adequate, and that hasn’t changed this time around. Frame rates occasionally drop while the Mi Box S scrolls through menus, but it loads apps quickly and can handle demanding apps such as PlayStation Vue without major slowdowns.

The Mi Box S’s biggest performance issue might not be entirely hardware-related: In live TV streaming apps such as PlayStation Vue, YouTube TV, and Sling TV, the Mi Box S doesn’t provide 60 frames-per-second video. That means sports and news channels look choppy compared to cable and to other streaming devices such as Roku’s Premiere+ and Amazon’s Fire TV 4K. While Xiaomi’s hardware technically supports 60-frames-per-second video—it’s available, for instance, in YouTube—live TV streaming services aren’t offering it.

As for the remote, the Mi Box S’s clicker now includes quick-launch buttons for Netflix and for Android TV’s Live Channels app. It also has a button that shows all apps in case you don’t want to visit Android TV’s more content-centric home screen. (More on that later.) The position of these buttons felt awkward, though, with the back button in between the all apps and home buttons. I often pressed the apps button when I meant to go back.

miboxsremote Jared Newman / IDG

The Mi Box S’s button arrangement—all apps on the left, back in the middle, and home on the right—is a bit awkward.

Even worse, Xiaomi didn’t bother to add an infrared emitter to the remote, which puts Mi Box X squarely behind other modern streaming devices. Although the Mi Box S has buttons for volume and power, these can only control the TV through HDMI-CEC. Unless your TV is connected to an external soundbar or receiver, you’ll only be able to reduce the Mi Box’s own volume output. You’ll need a separate TV remote to make things louder.

Also worth noting: While Android TV technically supports USB tuners, so you can watch over-the-air channels through the Live Channels app, the Mi Box S failed to recognize my Hauppauge WinTV-DualHD USB antenna tuner. (Nvidia’s Shield TV recognized the same tuner without issue.) If you want to watch live, over-the-air channels directly through the Mi Box S, you’ll need a pricier networked tuner, such as the HDHomeRun Connect or Tablo DVR.

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