The Xiaomi Mi Box S is a minor update of the famous Android TV box. It benefits from a direct integration in the remote control, a Netflix button on it and a new SoC Amlogic S905X supported by 2GB of RAM. It was running the Android TV 8.1 Oreo version when it first released. Update : it now has the lastest Android 9 Pie version since april 2020.
The Xiaomi Mi Box S is one of the cheapest Android TV boxes on the market. This new iteration which originally runned the Android 8.1 can handle 4K UHD and HDR videos. Beyond the price, does this device offer a good experience? We’ll try to answer this question in our test.
The Mi Box S is one of its TV boxes that goes to the essentials in terms of design. So here we have a 9.5 cm square, black box with a side length of 9.5 cm and a thickness of 1.67 cm, and that’s about all we can say about it. The product is designed to be forgotten in a TV cabinet or behind the TV, and it does it very well.
Connections are also quite light: an HDMI 2.0A port, a 3.5 mm jack (optical), a USB 2.0 Type-A and the power port. Let’s talk about the latter, it connects to a power supply unit whose transformer is located at the plug. Please understand that it will be a bit cumbersome if you connect it to a power strip, as is often the case with devices near a TV.
The box is obviously supplied with a small Bluetooth remote control. However, the two AAA batteries required will have to be purchased separately. The remote is pretty classic, Xiaomi didn’t reinvent the wheel, a small remote control with the necessary controls for Android TV :
- the directional buttons
- the validation button
- the power button
- the navigation buttons: back to home and back to the previous page
- a button to display the list of applications
- the volume control knobs
The directional buttons the validation button the power button the navigation buttons: back to home and back to the previous page a button to display the list of applications the volume control knobs
On top of that, the remote also offers a button for Google Assistant, a Netflix button to access the service’s application, and a “Live” button whose use we haven’t really understood. It’s probably a button to launch TV in countries where Xiaomi offers such a service.
We don’t really present Android TV anymore, which doesn’t change much between each Android version. Since Oreo, Google’s system particularly highlights the services you have installed by assigning them a line for each. These services can also add content to the “playlist”, which is actually a selection of videos, series, movies or shows to consume.
The best applications are available through the Play Store, such as Netflix, Prime Video, Plex or Kodi. We are reassured to see that the device is Widevine L1 certified, contrary to what Xiaomi practices with its smartphones. This means that DRM-locked HD content on the various VOD services is well offered. The opposite would have been inexcusable for a TV box nowadays. With this device, you will be able to stream Netflix in 4K with ease with the official certification. This is something to consider if you already have a premium subcription.
We especially regret the little effort made by Google to its platform. As of January 2019, YouTube Music still does not have the right to an Android TV application, and the main YouTube application is far from offering the same ergonomics as on a smartphone or PC. The latter does not support Picture-in-Picture mode, which would allow users to continue watching their YouTube video while viewing another application or video.
Integrated Google Chromecast
Like all devices running Android TV, the Mi Box integrates Google Cast technology, which allows you to retrieve the functions of the famous Google Chromecast. Here, I noticed that if the box was on standby, the Cast function of the smartphone could take a little time (more than for a Nvidia Shield) to find the Mi Box S. Once found, however, no problem to connect to the box, play the content and use the smartphone as a remote control. The experience is identical to that of the Chromecast.
Our test model of the Xiaomi Mi Box S integrates an Amlogic S905X chip. This is a SoC designed for low-cost boxes, which includes a 1.5 GHz ARM Cortex-A53 processor and a 450 to 750 MHz Mali graphics chip. Here it is backed up by 2 GB RAM and Android TV is installed on 8 GB storage.
The most important thing for a TV box SoC is the video and audio formats it is able to decode. Here we find the classic H.264 (1080p at 60 fps) and H.265 (4K UHD at 60 fps), and the equally important VP9 (profile-2, 4K at 60 fps) VC-1 (1080p at 60 fps), AVS (1080p at 60 fps), MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 (1080p at 60 fps) and finally the RealVideo 8, 9 and 10 (1080p at 60 fps).
The Mali 450 chip in charge of the 3D calculations virtually excludes any playful use of the device. It is a graphics processor launched in 2012, and barely supports OpenGL ES 2.0. This will be limited to emulating old console games, or streaming cloud gaming access
Emulation play is possible. You will still need to be able to connect a controller via Bluetooth. This was impossible during my tests with a Sony Dualshock 4 controller and an Xbox One Bluetooth controller. The Xbox One Bluetooth controller worked in USB.
An experience a bit slowed down
The SoC chosen by Xiaomi does allow Android TV to run, but we feel that the stability is only a thread. On several occasions, you’re surprised to notice slowdowns when switching from one shortcut to another, or launching an application. Slowdowns are even more present when applications are running in the background. The interface remains fluid overall, and considering the price of the device, we are not totally disappointed.
You really have to keep in mind that overall, the experience is still pleasant, despite a few little hiccups here and there.
If you are looking for a 4K TV box at a low price, the Mi Box S from Xiaomi is a good solution. This device is undoubtedly worth the price at the current price. This is a good 4K Android TV box, but you have to know its limits. The low-performance SoC already shows its limits with the Android TV interface, and really doesn’t allow to play video games. So it’s a device that will be mainly used to consume streaming content. But having the Netflix certification is a big advantage as just a few Android boxes get this holy grail. So you will definitly be pleased with this box if your main use is streaming.
All in all, the Mi Box S is first of all a good alternative to the Nvidia Shield TV or the Apple TV, because it’s much cheaper. It’s also an alternative to Google Chromecast, even if we can’t find the floor price of the small item sold by Google. The Box from Xiaomi will be easier to use on a daily basis thanks to its remote control and its complete and autonomous interface under Android TV.