Review: Xiaomi Mi TV Stick Brings Android TV To Your Pocket
Xiaomi is one of the world’s fastest growing TV brands; it just hasn’t brought those devices to the U.S. yet, but it’s been offering the next best thing with a line of “Mi TV” branded Android TV-based media streamers and set-top boxes.
At the end of July, the China-based electronics vendor introduced its first “Mi TV Stick” media streamer here. The device is a Full HD (FHD) streaming stick designed to go up against similar concepts from Roku and Amazon’s Fire TV. We were not given an official retail price on the product from the company yet, though we found one selling on Amazon as a “2K Mi TV Stick” from an Amazon affiliate store asking a $55.88 selling price. We expect this price to be somewhat lower as it hits stores, more broadly.
The new device is set to bring the Android TV experience to a highly portable HDMI and USB-connected dongle adapter, that’s basically a more robust version of Google’s Chromecast. In fact it offers Chromecast functionality.
The Mi TV Stick will be entering the market where popular and similarly featured Android TV media streamers are already available from NVIDA’s Shield TV line of products. However, Shield TV’s smallest $149 tube-shaped model isn’t a dongle as such, meaning it doesn’t mount directly onto a TV’s HDMI input. It’s more of a very small thin set-top tube that connects via an HDMI cable to the TV and to a wall outlet via a power cord. But the Shield TV Tube and set-top box cost significantly more and are optimized for up to 4K reception by including an excellent AI upscaling component.
The Mi TV Stick is a basic vanilla HD streamer, though it is based on the newer Android TV 9.0 platform (version 10 and after that 11 are coming soon), bringing extensive use of push-button-activated voice control from Google Assistant through a mic built into the unit’s diminutive remote control.
The FHD version of the Mi TV Stick will work with 4K TVs to get video in up to 1080p resolution, but it won’t pass through 4K/HDR streams.
Who Is It For?
Because of its small size, the FHD Mi TV Stick is easy to take on the road to view favorite programs from a hotel room. At home it provides a means for streaming video to a dumb 720p HD or 1080p FHD television or a video projector. It also provides a means of getting popular new apps, like HBO Max and Peacock, which weren’t available yet from certain smart TV brands’ like Roku TVs, Fire TVs and their respective streaming devices.
For easy portability from room to room, the Xiaomi Mi TV Stick is very similar in design and function to the Fire TV Stick and Roku Stick devices in that it is small enough to connect directly to a TV’s HDMI input and can be powered by plugging a microUSB cable into the side of the Mi TV Stick and a nearby powered USB port on the television, where available. Xiaomi nicely includes the USB cable to make such a connection. In the event that a USB port is not within reach of the short cable or the TV set lacks a powered USB port, Xiaomi also includes a wall outlet charging adapter.
Unfortunately, the Mi TV Stick FHD review sample we were sent included an EU-style wall plug. This isn’t a big deal, as it’s pretty easy to pickup a microUSB power charger with the correct plugs at any electronics store, but it’s a little annoying for anyone who needs it. Xiaomi didn’t indicate if a version supporting the U.S. standard two-pronged power outlet will be shipping to consumers here.
Similarly, Xiaomi didn’t include the two AAA batteries required to power the remote. This is something that is almost standard with media streamers today.
In appearance and use, the Bluetooth-connected remote that ships with the Mi TV Stick is somewhat of a cross between a Fire TV Stick remote and a Roku remote. It’s light, thin, made of a mat-black plastic and about the length of a candy bar. It fits nicely in the hand and all the buttons are within easy reach of a thumb for one-handed operation. But it’s not backlit and some of the controls can be hard to see in the dark. The remote has just nine control buttons and a centrally located direction wheel with a bullseye-positioned execute button. As with most smart TV platforms, the on-screen graphical user interface is designed to do most of the heavy lifting. The remote basically manipulates the highlighted buttons around the screen.
Xiaomi includes two fast-access app button – one for Netflix and one for Amazon Prime — toward the bottom of the button layout. This is pretty standard as smart TV remotes go today, although some, like Roku add a couple more options as well.
Setting up the Xiaomi Mi TV Stick was a breeze. Most of the process is automated when connecting via a compatible smartphone. We connected the review sample to a Samsung 4K TV and both the television and the stick recognized each other and made the necessary adjustments to control the TV volume using the Xiaomi control. Unfortunately, the Samsung TV model did not yet list the brand new Xiaomi device in its setup to operate the Android TV operation with the TV remote.
The Mi TV Stick contains a quad-core Cortex A53 processor in tandem with 1GB of RAM and 8GB of internal storage, which out of the box provided a serviceable response to our button commands, however, after we were prompted to make a firmware update shortly after setup, we found the response time to be much more fluid and snappy.
Using the FHD version of the Mi TV Stick presented a nice colorful upscaled (by the TV) FHD picture, when connected to a Samsung 4K TV. Of, course there was no way of streaming 4K content with this particular device. We did notice that FHD images did not look quite as sharp and detailed as 4K AI-upscaled images from the NVIDIA Shield TV tube style Android TV device.
Audio sound clear and bright, with vocals discernible from background sound effects. Xiaomi adds support for Dolby Audio and DTS sound. For music streaming the device supports: MP3, WMA, AAC, Flac, and OGG codecs.
The Google Assistant voice control took our commands but it didn’t always understand what it was we were trying to tell it, particularly when running inside of apps like YouTube. We find the latest Roku devices to be much more responsive and accurate using Roku’s voice control technology.
One of the key strengths of the Android TV platform is its access to hundreds of the most popular apps, including the aforementioned HBO Max and Peacock services. In addition, Google Play also provides access to dozens of streamable video games, many of which are free or available at very affordable prices. The device works nicely with available titles, not exhibiting much input lag.
Importantly, using the Android TV OS, the device works with Chromecast, making it a good subsititute for a dedicated Chromecast device with additional Android TV features for only a few dollars more.
Images look nice and colorful, though somewhat less sharp than upscaled 4K from an NVIDIA Shield TV, of course, since this only supports up to FHD resolution.
Xiaomi’s Mi TV Stick is nice compact option for getting the user friendly Android TV experience on a HD or FHD television that doesn’t already support it. We expect its biggest market will come from disenfranchised Roku, Roku TV, and Fire TV owners shut out of viewing the HBO Max or Peacock apps as those service rollout more and more popular programs. Neither of these services is offering 4K or HDR streaming as yet, so a FHD streamer on even a 4K TV won’t be missing much. This is also an excellent option for anyone with a Full HD projector, looking to get streaming content quickly and painlessly without have to run extensive wires and cabling. Those Android TV-enthusiasts with 4K TVs missing some apps will want to consider a 4K-supporting media streamer like a Mi Box S set-top box, or an NVIDIA Shield TV.
We therefore award the Xiaomi Mi TV Stick FHD, four out of five hearts.
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By Greg Tarr
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