Thanks to the lockdown, many are glued to their television sets to keep themselves occupied, if not sane.
However, sticking to what the local TV channels are broadcasting or offering is frustrating—thanks to repeat telecasts that are re-run and keep you bored. Option: switch to OTT streaming channels and you can open a plethora of content to keep you engaged. But you need to own a smart TV for that, and if your “smart TV” is old, then installing those updated apps would be a huge task.
Older smart TVs have issues with firmware and OS updates as most brands don’t offer updates to their existing televisions, forcing you to upgrade to a new television, just like they expect you to upgrade your smartphone. Fortunately, smart TVs in the budget segments are not as expensive and there are a few too many to choose from. But do you really need to upgrade and spend more than you actually need? I mean, do you even need to replace your old, perfectly working flat panel television by spending upwards of ₹20K? It may make sense if you want to upgrade to a larger panel size or opt for a 4K instead of that old HD-ready.
Xiaomi’s Mi Box 4 is here to make your existing television smarter, and for a puny price of a casual family dinner. The Mi Box 4 has all the tricks up its sleeve to convert your idiot box into a smart Android TV, for just ₹3,499.
The Mi Box 4 is about the size of a table coaster, and as thick as a conventional smartphone. All black and matte-finishes, it has a plastic build and is pretty rugged. Bundled along with the Mi Box 4 is a fully functional Bluetooth remote, an HDMI cable and a power adapter. Sadly, you would have to invest in two AAA batteries for your remote, which is not included here.
The Mi Box 4 has a simple and plain-Jane design with an HDMI 2.0 (CEC compatible) port, a power socket, a standard USB 2.0 port and a hybrid 3.5mm audio port to connect to your external stereo speakers (analog) or media receiver (via optical S/PDIF). If you plan using the optical audio out, you will have to invest in an optical cable with a 3.5mm connector on one end, or add a 3.5mm-to-TOSLINK connector to a standard optical cable, which is an additional expense of around ₹500 upwards. Connect the cables to your TV, plug in the power and Voila! Your existing TV is now smarter than your neighbour’s TV.
The Mi Box 4 features Android 9 Pie out of the box, and Xiaomi promises upgrades to the firmware as and when they release. With Android 9, you are sorted and all the latest OTT apps will be at your service without any issues. The Box comes with a Bluetooth remote that features minimal buttons to operate. There’s a D-pad for moving around the interface apart from Back, App drawer and Home buttons to quickly escape from what you don’t want, and a volume rocker to control those audio levels. A missing mute button is a bummer, and you may have to rely on your television to do that.
Dedicated Netflix and Prime Video buttons on the remote will help you jump straight into the best content online. Since the Mi Box 4 is based on Android TV, a dedicated Google Assistant button and a microphone on the top edge will let you speak to your television, summoning Google’s assistant to help you fetch content online with your voice. You can also use Google Assistant to control your smart devices around your house. So yes, the Mi Box 4 supports Netflix and Prime Video, so you don’t need to purchase Amazon’s Fire TV Stick to enjoy the same.
The interface is plain and simple — thanks to Android TV onboard. Searching for content is simple and easy with voice or the on-screen keyboard. Recommendations to your type of content are all over the screen, but to personalise it, you may need to type in your Google ID during the setup process.
The Mi Box 4 is a 4K media player that supports HDR10 and Dolby Audio + DTS 2.0. Sadly, there’s no Dolby Vision support, like what Amazon’s Fire TV Stick 4K supports. However, it won’t matter if your TV does not support it. There’s also Chromecast Ultra support built-in so you can stream up to 4K resolutions from compatible smartphones and Chrome browsers. Lastly, the device is powered by a 2GHz quad-core A53 Cortex processor with 2GB of RAM and 8GB of storage and supported by a MALI-450 GPU. Resolutions supported are 4K, 1080i/p, 720p, 576i/p, 480i/p up to 60Hz. It connects to your home internet using Wi-Fi ac on either 2.4GHz or 5GHz (recommended), but sadly has no options to connect using physical Ethernet cables. Bluetooth 4.2 onboard can be used to connect wireless keyboards, mouse or speakers.
The Mi Box is completely bloatware-free and you can install most apps from the Google Play Store, but these are TV apps only. If you have an APK file, you could sideload it to your TV too. Sadly, the Apple TV app is not compatible (or even available) here.
As for the performance, the Mi Box is almost flawless and there’s nothing to complain. The interface is smooth — no lag or delays. Connectivity with the wireless router is strong too, and I found no drops and such. There’s an option for low data mode too where you can save on internet data if you are using a mobile network or if your internet connection has an FUP. The only part that was a disappointment to me was the 148g unit itself. There’s no option to wall mount it or hide it behind the TV and I am forced to place it on a table around the TV. Xiaomi should have bundled or provided an option for wall mounting or attaching it to the back of the TV. In that matter, the Fire TV Stick becomes invisible as it has a very small profile and attaches itself directly to the HDMI port, like a pen drive.
Overall, the Mi Box 4 is a superb option for those who cannot afford to upgrade their old smart TVs, or for those who want to make their existing televisions smarter, on a very affordable budget. At ₹ 3,499, the Mi Box 4 (4K) is a lot cheaper than the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K that retails for ₹5,999 or even the Amazon Fire TV Stick (HD) that’s available or ₹3,999 for that matter. The only place the Amazon Fire TV Stick wins is the support for Dolby Vision and Apple TV. The Mi Box 4 is an great smart companion to your existing TV.