Much hullabaloo was caused by Google’s recent announcement of the $70 Chromecast Ultra 4K streamer. It’s twice the price of the original Chromecast but does give you faster load times and higher resolution streaming options. It looks like a fine product but I’d argue there’s a much more value to be had in Xiaomi’s identically priced Mi Box, available now at Walmart. The Mi Box supports 4K streaming, HDR, and Google’s Android TV OS. It comes with a voice remote and supports gamepads for gaming. It’s almost a no-brainer purchase if you are considering the Chromecast Ultra. Read on for more on my experience using the Mi Box for the last few days.
Xiaomi has included everything you need to get started with the Mi Box. The box has the device, remote with 2 AA batteries, and a (short) HDMI cable. Setup is a breeze – just connect the cables and add your WiFi password and your up and running. There’s a USB 2 port for storage expansion and an SPDIF out port. You’ll also get a code for two free months of Sling TV and three free movies from Vudu.
If you’ve used an Android TV device before you’ll feel right at home. App icons are arranged in horizontal grids and are easily navigated using the d-pad on the included remote. There’s easy access to the Play Store for apps and games. Casting to the Mi Box works like any Google Cast device. Just open the appropriate app on your phone or tablet and select the Mi Box from the Cast window.
The unit is fast and extremely responsive. Apps load and close quickly and there are nice animations that make the whole experience feel smooth. Streaming starts much faster than it does on my OG Chromecasts or Fire TV Sticks. It feels about the same speed-wise as using a Fire TV box. I’ve watched a lot of video from Netflix, WatchESPN, Tablo, and Watch Food Network. Everything’s worked well and having a remote to pause, play, and skip is nice.
Updates to the OS are handled by Google so there should be no concerns about the box reaching out to Xiaomi’s servers in China. The voice search feature works well and uses Google’s back end process for speech recognition. It blows the pants off of typing in search queries with the on-screen keyboard.
One complaint I have is with the remote. It includes the microphone for voice search, which is great. The remote itself is very light, however. It feels cheap and flimsy. It’s kind of distracting. So much so that I’ve considered opening it up to add some weights so it’ll have a more solid feel. The buttons on the remote are kind of flimsy. There’s enough differentiation between each to tell them apart by feel.
By default the Mi Box clutters up the home screen with a “Mi Box Recommends” section. Fortunately this can be disabled as it clutters things up with apps and services I’m not interested in. To remove this, go into settings > apps > system apps > xiaomileanbackcustomizer > disable then reboot the Mi Box.
I don’t have a 4K or HDR TV so I cant vouch for those features but everything I’ve streamed or watched looked great. I’m pleased with the purchase and I suspect you will be too. My advice is to skip the Chromecast Ultra and pick up a Xiaomi Mi Box.
|CPU||Cortex A53 Quad-Core (Amlogic S905X-H)|
|GPU||Mali 450, 750 MHz|
|RAM||2 GB DDR3|
|Internal Storage||8 GB eMMC|
|WiFi||802.11 a/b/g/n/ac 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz|
|Dimensions||101 x 101 mm, 19.5 mm thick, 176 g|
|OS||Android TV 6.0|
|Ports||1 x HDMI 2.0a, 1 x USB 2.0, 1 x 3.5 mm audio|
|Output Resolution||Up to 4K @ 60 fps, HDR|