Most people may know Android as a mobile operating system, but it has taken over set-top boxes as well. For streaming purposes, Android TV boxes abound. These home media streamers provide an Android ecosystem for entertainment needs. Find out which option is the best Android TV box on the planet!
What Is an Android TV Box?
An Android TV box is, simply put, a set-top box which runs an Android operating system (OS). Primarily, these are used for streaming media from the likes of Netflix, Hulu, and even home server software such as Plex. However, Android boxes function as gaming consoles as well for both Android games and playing ROMs via emulators.
There are two main varieties, though both are commonly dubbed Android TV boxes. One branch runs Android TV OS. As the name suggests, it’s a version of Android specifically engineered to display on a monitor or television screen. Its design allows for easy navigation with a remote or gamepad rather than touch controls. The other variant runs a tablet-optimized version of Android. That means navigation with a remote works fine, but you’ll need to use a mouse or use a third-party remote for proper exploration.
App compatibility muddles the distinction between the two even further. Android TV boxes run apps created for Android TV OS. Therefore, not every Android app can install on devices running the set-top box iteration. Some vanilla Android apps can sideload onto Android TV OS gadgets, although functionality varies since these are designed for touch input. For example, my Nvidia Shield TV can’t run the Funimation app, whereas my WeTek Play 2, running a tablet-optimized version of Android, benefits from access.
- Android TV OS boxes
- Boxes running tablet-optimized Android
What to Look for in an Android TV Box
When selecting an Android media player, app compatibility is key. Most apps should function fine on both tablet-optimized forms of Android and Android TV OS. This is especially true for common media applications like Netflix, Hulu, PlayStation Vue, and Crunchyroll. Although other apps such as Funimation still don’t have Android TV OS counterparts.
Consider how much work you’re willing to put into setting up your device. Are you able to sideload apps or willing to learn how? With Android TV devices or standard Android boxes, you’ll likely need to sideload some apps. But navigation admittedly isn’t as intuitive on boxes running a touch interface Android since you’re not using a touchscreen. It’s doable, but you must switch into the mouse mode on your remote or employ a third-party offering with a mouse.
What resolution you’re outputting determines what device is best. Because 4K is the next evolution in content delivery, there’s a bevy of 4K streamers. Many Android media players include this feature, yet few do it well. Finally, think about what, if anything, besides streaming you’d like to perform. If you’re keen on gaming or game streaming, the Android box you pick differs from what you’ll want if you’re merely watching Netflix.
Best Android TV Box on the Planet
In determining the best Android TV box available, we’ll focus on both varieties of Android set-top devices.
Best Overall Android TV Box: Nvidia Shield TV
If you’re looking for a top-notch Android TV box, my pick is the Nvidia Shield TV. The Shield is the ultimate tool for cord-cutters. In 2017, the Shield TV received a major refresh. Inside the box, you’ll find a candy bar remote and gamepad. For 2017, there’s an entry-level version and higher-end Pro model. Both versions sport 4K and HDR capabilities with compatible apps.
The main difference is storage space. The base model includes 16GB of storage built in. Whereas the Nvidia Shield TV Pro boasts a 500GB hard drive. As such, it’s capable of acting as a Plex server, making it one of the top Plex client devices and Plex server options as well.
But the Shield TV surpasses purely streaming video and music. Hailing from Nvidia, it’s capable of playing games locally or via the network. Using my Shield TV, I can stream PC games over the network and play on my couch. Plus, you can play ROMs through various Android emulators available for the Shield TV. This Android TV streaming device runs Kodi as well and features expandable storage. There’s also Google Assistant for smart home integration.
But since the Shield runs the Android TV OS, many apps aren’t natively compatible. You may sideload any Android app, though it may not run as intended. If that’s not enough, the Shield TV can even record live television and serve as a DVR for Plex Live TV. Because of its bevy of entertainment offerings, ease of use, and sheer brawn, the Nvidia Shield TV is the best Android TV box you can buy — if money is no object.
- Android TV OS
- Easy to use
- Tons of apps
- Capable of gaming and game streaming
- Capable of running a Plex server
- Kodi and Plex access
- Able to record over-the-air (OTA) TV
- Non-Android TV OS apps must be sideloaded
Best Mid-Range Android TV Box: WeTek Play 2
At almost $200, the Nvidia Shield TV is not for everyone. Notably, non-gamers and consumers less concerned with power user features might prefer a more affordable option. The WeTek Play 2 is a solid mid-range option. It’s a small yet beefy streaming device and comes with several useful apps such as Kodi preinstalled. Moreover, the WeTek Play 2 arrives with an unadulterated version of Kodi so it’s completely free of pirate streaming add-ons. Kodi itself is completely legal and may be used to its fullest extent without breaking the law.
But what really sets the Play 2 apart is its connectivity. On the back, there’s an input for hooking up a coaxial cable. Local OTA channels are notoriously difficult to stream, so this is an excellent inclusion. With its DVR functionality, this Android TV box doubles as a set-top box for watching live TV. At around $100, the WeTek Play 2 strikes a pleasing balance of power for the price.
However, the WeTek differs from the Shield TV in that it runs a tablet-optimized version of Android. So certain apps are a bit clunky and require using mouse mode. A 2017 update rolled out by WeTek brought the Android TV OS iteration of the Netflix app to the Play 2 making navigation with the remote a breeze. With its native inputs for DVR use, 4K capability, and fantastic app compatibility, the WeTek Play 2 ranks among the top Android TV boxes. As an alternative, you may consider the AirTV. Similar to the WeTek, it integrates live OTA television and streaming. However, as TechHive reveals, the AirTV too heavily relies on Sling TV.
- Connections for OTA tuner, cable, and satellite
- Runs tablet-optimized Android for excellent compatibility
- Kodi pre-installed
- Lack of compatibility with many Android TV apps
- Clunky navigation of vanilla Android apps with remote
A strong competitor to the Play 2 is the Probox 2 AVA. Our own James Bruce rated the Proxbox 2 AVA a 9/10 on the basis of its competitive price and rich software support.
While its hardware lags behind the octa-core processor of the Play 2, its software suite more than compensates. Overall, it’s a strong alternative to the WeTek Play 2.
Best Budget Android TV Box: Xiaomi Mi Box
The Xiaomi Mi Box is easily the best budget Android TV box. That’s in part because it runs Android TV OS, not a tablet-optimized iteration of Android. The Mi Box is pretty spartan. Included is simply the device and a candy bar remote which resembles that of the Shield TV or Fire TV. It’s a median between a stick streamer like the Fire TV Stick or Roku Streaming Stick and more comprehensive streaming devices like the WeTek Play 2.
For less than $100, the Mi Box packs a punch by delivering 4K streaming. Unfortunately, Android Central notes that while the default 4K setting is fine, bumping up to a higher hertz, like 30 or even 24, and the frame rate tanks. Luckily, for 1080p streaming, the Mi Box handles video impeccably. It’s tough to complain about such an affordable device, and presumably, if you’re willing to snag a 4K television set, you’ve got no problem swinging for a more expensive streaming device. The Nexus Player from Google (our Nexus Player review) contends with the Mi Box.
- Less than $100
- Runs Android TV OS
- Solid 1080p
- 4K compatible
- Uneven 4K performance
These Are the Droids You’re Looking For
While the Nvidia Shield TV, WeTek Play 2, and Xiaomi Mi Box are the top Android TV devices available, there’s plenty of choices. But be careful what you select. The landscape is riddled with poor quality Android TV streaming boxes for low prices. Often the adage “you get what you pay for” holds true.
Moreover, certain Android TV streamers include versions of Kodi pre-installed with pirate addons loaded up. My MeCool BB2 Pro is a competent 4K-capable set-top box that, like the Play 2, runs a tablet-optimized Android version. But it’s tough to recommend since it includes pirate Kodi addons installed already. What you select boils down to your needs. For 4K TV owners, gamers, and cord-cutters, the Nvidia Shield TV remains the best choice. If you want something more affordable, check out the WeTek Play 2, AirTV, or Google Nexus Player. The Mi Box clearly wins the budget category with its incredibly affordable price point and excellent features.
However, you may consider picking up multiple Android boxes. My media center houses my Nvidia Shield TV which is my daily driver for streaming and gaming. Although, my WeTek Play 2 stays hooked up mostly as a DVR for OTA television but also for streaming from the apps such as Funimation which don’t yet have Android TV OS app counterparts.
What Android TV boxes are you using?
Image Credit: Justin Ormont/Wikimedia Commons