Xiaomi Mi Box S
This is 'Gen 4' of the Mi Box, but to we Westerners, it's 'Gen S' because...for some reason...
(Side note: As best as I can tell Mi Box S is currently a Walmart exclusive)
So this is an interesting topic to me. This little box seems to cause a lot of controversy in the market place. Some people say Xiaomi is crap, some people swear by the new Mi Box S (and the Xiaomi brand). I didn't read, or watch anything specific to the Mi Box S myself before I purchased it. I wanted to go at it blindly and formulate a fresh opinion without being tainted and trying to find the shortcomings others felt it had.
There IS something that frustrates me inconsolably about the Mi Box S, but it's probably not what you would expect, and I'll definitely cover it in this write up.
So here we are in 2018 (2019 fast approaching), with a new set top box, utilizing Android TV (8.1). A lot of the 'big problem' we read about with these 'new editions' is that it features a lot of the same-ol.
In terms of hardware, yeah, not a lot changed. It's almost a clone of what it was in 2016 with some minor differences. Does this mean it's junk? NO. Without going too far in to it, a lot of functionality is designed around power architecture implementation from things like the Mali 450 and A53 Cortex processor that Mi Box S utilizes. While these are older cost effective options for hardware, they also offer a lot of stability to Android TV. They were a little bit ahead of their time when released and are still great options for a solid streaming set top box. Nay-sayers will disagree, and while you'd expect a newer model to offer more cutting edge hardware, the Mi Box S (still) doesn't disappoint.
It's my opinion that Xiaomi went with an affordable and stable implementation here. Kudos Xiaomi for that.
So let us look past the specifications, and in to what actually matters. How much does it cost vs how well does it perform?
I opened the box, and I pulled out the contents.
-Mi Box S
-Laughably short wall adapter
-Remote (batteries included)
Here were my first thoughts:
The Mi Box S is small, sleek, and very clean looking. I spent about 15 minutes trying to decide if there was plastic tape protecting it but I concluded there was not after a lot of unsuccessful attempts to find an edge for it.
The back features a 3.5mm aux jack for external stereo sound output, as well as an HDMI 2.0(a) (for UHD @ 60Hz & HDR...more on this later), a USB-A 2.0 for additional storage or charging devices (like a controller), and a DC input port for the wall adapter... lets not wait for this one...I want to clear the air with my biggest hang up for this device.
Xiaomi...You of most companies know... USB-C is the way to go. What are you doing here? What is this fixed outlet DC implementation to power the new Mi Box S? I own your laptops, they use USB-C with USB-PD standards, and they are older than the Mi Box S. Other than using this crap way to power the device, you gave us a miserably short cable to work with. I mean, really. This proved to be a hangup for me. A big one. The cable to the wall adapter is just around two feet (.6 meters).
Instantly noteworthy is the fact that there is no gigabit Ethernet port. It seems the consumer base asked for this feature back in 2016. Maybe it was just not obtainable or practical for Xiaomi? I'm not sure, but I do know it still isn't there on the Mi Box S.
It took only a few minutes to set it up
It was a breeze. I launched it, connected the remote as the on screen instructions advised, and went through a very simple setup. Shortly after an Android TV update the familiar Android TV layout launched. I opted to sync my Google account - which implanted all of my usual channels that I have installed on my Shield. I would like to note; one channel was missing from the Mi Box S that is available on the Shield - PRIME (Amazon). Xiaomi, I guess did not complete a certificate with Amazon, however, the other main channels I watch are there.
-MLB, and so on...
Once I had everything setup and logged in, I sat back, watched, and enjoyed for a bit.
With the new Mi Box S the biggest difference is the integrated Google Assistant and Chrome Cast capabilities that are incorporated in to Android TV 8.1. Xiaomi has added a press-to-speak so you can utilize the Google Assistant built in feature. While this is a neat feature, it's ultimately kind of dismal. I very rarely use Google Assistant in devices (like my Shield) because it often is buggy, or fairly worthless. It could even be that Google doesn't speak Southern USA American...Y'all wud'nt git et.
Anyways, the remote feels somewhat like the feature I described. It's somewhat dismal and somewhat on the cheap side. It feels like a light, over sized, plastic shell of a controller. I'm not impressed with it, but it does work perfectly for what needs to be done.
I don't buy devices like this specifically to game on. While I have gamed on the NVIDIA Shield, I just don't use these devices for gaming typically. They are streaming devices for watching (for me). I will say it is fun to sit down and play games on it. I use an 8BitDo SN30 Pro with the Mi Box S to play a few of the games I have on it (NBA Jam, Bombsquad and Final Fantasy X). It's been a fine experience, but again, not what I depend on these devices to do.
A quick note on HDMI standards and HDR:
HDMI Output from the device is 2.0a, which allows for HDR & UHD (4K) @ 60Hz. Something I notice that confuses people still is HDMI standards/revisions/generations. If you want to output in HDR & 4k @ 60Hz, you must have an input/output that matches or exceeds. You will be unsuccessful (for example) to stream out from a 2.0(a) at UHD/60Hz IN TO a 1.4 HDMI standard. It either will not work at all, or will downscale to the capable output setting.
HDR can be toggled off/on within the device. All features are typically set to auto detect for best performance so not much to worry about here. If you prefer HDR off, it can be found under settings, and disabled.
I like it. There are some things I wish were done differently, however I am not at all dissatisfied.
The Mi Box S works as intended, with no different flaws that the Shield doesn't also produce (an occasional hiccup while navigating, and random 'bug' report). While the Shield (as a control comparison) has a beefier more robust hardware and output assortment, it also comes in at a premium price. If I wanted just a set top box for mild gaming, heavy watching, the Mi Box S does the trick.
Missing Prime Video is disappointing, but forgivable. I would (as of now) recommend it, and also recommend people look past the lack in hardware specific updates. For the cost it's a solid choice.
In the future Xiaomi, listen to the consumer. You (Xiaomi) did well for now in producing a worthy next generation Mi Box, but listen to what people want,. If not I fear you'll stay primarily in the eastern market only.