The Best Android TV Box for All Budgets
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Most people know Android as a mobile operating system, but it has taken over set-top boxes as well. Android TV boxes for streaming purposes abound.

These home media streamers provide an Android ecosystem for entertainment needs. Let’s find out which option is the best Android TV box of 2018.

What Is an Android TV Box?

An Android streaming box is, simply put, a set-top box which runs an Android operating system. Primarily, people use these for streaming media from the likes of Netflix, Hulu, and even home server software such as Plex. However, Android TV boxes can also function as gaming consoles for playing Android games, ROMs via emulators, and streaming from PCs.

nvidia shield tv profile

There are two main varieties, though both are commonly referred to as an Android TV box.

One branch runs Android TV OS What Is Android TV, and Why Was Google TV Killed? What Is Android TV, and Why Was Google TV Killed? Android TV is replacing the now-five-year-old Google TV. And it's not just an update -- it's a complete remake. Read More . 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 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 standard Android app can install on devices running the set-top box iteration. Some Android apps can sideload onto Android TV OS gadgets, although functionality varies since those apps are designed for touch input.

What to Look for in the Best Android TV Box for 2018

When looking for the best Android TV box, you’ll want to consider apps, hardware, and use. The best Android box for Kodi users differs from a gaming-oriented Android streaming box.

Android Streaming Box Apps

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.

netflix amazon hulu hbo streaming apps

However, a device for standalone apps such as YouTube TV, Sling, and Crackle differs from the best Kodi streamer. With the popularity of open-source media center Kodi, this is a major consideration. Although some Android streaming boxes come with Kodi pre-installed, the best Android box for Kodi will come with a clean version instead of one pre-loaded with pirate add-ons.

For gaming and game streaming, RetroArch, standalone system emulators, and Moonlight are available. Game compatibility varies by Android OS version as well as specific games.

Android TV Box Set Up

Consider how much work you’re willing to put into setting up your device. Are you able to sideload apps 3 Easy Ways to Access Sideloaded Apps on Android TV 3 Easy Ways to Access Sideloaded Apps on Android TV If you have sideloaded apps on your Android TV, you need a good way to access them. Read More or willing to learn how? With either type of device, you’ll likely need to sideload some apps.

But navigation admittedly isn’t as intuitive on boxes running a touch interface-optimized version of 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 further determines which 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.

Android Streaming Box Processors

Architecture dictates performance of a processor. The ARM big.LITTLE configuration uses two processor types. While one is power-hungry, the other is weaker yet energy-efficient. Companies such as Amlogic, MediaTek, and Rockchip often employ the big.LITTLE architecture in their system on a chip (SoC) integrated circuits. While theoretically this provides balanced processing, it’s a bit misleading. These don’t really provide many advantages.

ARM’s DynamIQ technology is a more advanced iteration of big.LITTLE architecture with dual ARM CPU core cluster management and connection. DynamIQ allows for big.LITTLE configurations with as many as eight CPU cores on one compute cluster.

Although the Tegra X1 processor, used in devices such as the Nvidia Shield TV and Nintendo Switch, features paired Cortex processors, it’s not in an ARM big.LITTLE configuration. Instead, Tegra X1 processors show only Cortex A-57 cores with its Cortex A-53 cores reserved for low-power moments. Ultimately, even if a device uses a weaker big.LITTLE architecture, if it’s capable of driving 4K content, it should suffice for streaming video and media playback. A faster processor matters more with gaming.

Software Upgrades

For Android TV boxes, software remains a major pain point. Unlike PC operating systems, there’s little standardization for this platform. Many devices branded as an Android TV box merely run a tablet-optimized version of Android. When various Android streaming box options will receive updates is questionable.

Of the three Android boxes I own, the Nvidia Shield TV benefits from the frequent updates. My WeTek Play 2 did see an update to Android 6.0 Marshmallow and compatibility with the official Android TV Netflix app. The Mecool BB2 Pro instead requires a sideloaded version of Netflix.

Ultimately, look for a device that’s offered by a well-known company such as Nvidia, Xiamoi, or WeTek if you want regular software updates.

The Best Android TV Box in 2018

In determining the best Android TV box of 2018, we’ll focus on both varieties of Android set-top devices.

1. Best Android TV Box 2018 Overall: Nvidia Shield TV

NVIDIA SHIELD TV Gaming Edition | 4K HDR Streaming Media Player with GeForce NOW NVIDIA SHIELD TV Gaming Edition | 4K HDR Streaming Media Player with GeForce NOW Buy Now At Amazon $199.00

nvidia shield tv

If you’re looking for a top-notch Android TV box, our pick is the Nvidia Shield TV. This Kodi-capable device packs streaming, gaming, and even server use into one sleek package, making it perfect for cord cutters 7 Reasons the Nvidia Shield Is the Ultimate Device for Cord-Cutters 7 Reasons the Nvidia Shield Is the Ultimate Device for Cord-Cutters The Nvidia Shield may just be the ultimate device for cord-cutters everywhere. Here are seven reasons why it beats the competition without much effort. Read More . The company offers an entry-level version and higher-end Pro model. Both versions sport 4K and HDR capabilities with compatible apps.

While both models offer expandable storage, the main difference between them is included storage space. The base model includes 16GB of built-in storage, whereas the 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 The Best Plex Clients for Streaming Media The Best Plex Clients for Streaming Media What are the best Plex clients for streaming all the latest media? We've rounded up some of the best media-streaming devices around, including the Amazon Fire Stick, Playstation 4, Raspberry Pi, and more! Read More and Plex server options as well.

But the Shield TV does more than video and music; it’s capable of playing games locally or via a network. This lets you stream PC games over the network and play on your couch. Plus, you can play ROMs through various Android emulators available for the Shield TV.

Google Assistant inclusion means that the Shield TV integrates into your smart home. If that’s not enough, the Shield TV can even record live TV and serve as a DVR for Plex Live TV Plex Live TV: Everything You Need to Know Plex Live TV: Everything You Need to Know Plex has added live TV channels to its service, but what exactly is Plex Live TV? We have everything you need to know about this exciting new option for cord-cutters. Read More .

But since the Shield runs Android TV OS, many apps aren’t natively compatible. You can sideload most Android apps, though these may not run as intended.

In all, because of its bevy of entertainment offerings, ease of use, and sheer brawn, the Nvidia Shield TV is the best Android TV box for 2018—if money is no object.

Pros

  • Android TV OS
  • Easy to use
  • Tons of apps
  • Capable of gaming and game streaming
  • 4K and HDR
  • Capable of running a Plex server
  • Kodi and Plex access
  • Able to record over-the-air (OTA) TV
  • Smart home control

Cons

  • Pricey
  • You must sideload non-Android TV OS apps

2. Best Android TV Box for Kodi Use: WeTek Hub

WeTek Hub Android Smart TV Box Bluetooth 4.0 Ultra HD 4k HDCP 2.2 H.265 10-bit DTS Dolby 5.1 Kodi LibreELEC Mediaplayer IPTV Compact Discreet Box Portable WeTek Hub Android Smart TV Box Bluetooth 4.0 Ultra HD 4k HDCP 2.2 H.265 10-bit DTS Dolby 5.1 Kodi LibreELEC Mediaplayer IPTV Compact Discreet Box Portable Buy Now At Amazon $69.90

At almost $200, the Nvidia Shield TV is not for everyone. Non-gamers and those less concerned with power features might prefer a more affordable option. The WeTek Hub is a small yet beefy streaming device featuring a tiny footprint and 4K streaming compatibility. It’s also the best box for Kodi since it comes with it pre-installed.

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.

Altogether, with its 4K capability, Kodi pre-installed, and fantastic app compatibility, the WeTek Hub ranks among the best Android TV boxes.

Pros

  • 4K capable
  • H264 compatibility
  • Kodi pre-installed

Cons

  • Tablet-optimized version of Android means lack of compatibility with many Android TV apps
  • Clunky navigation of vanilla Android apps with remote

3. Best Android TV Box Plus DVR: AirTV Player

AirTV 4K Streaming Media Player Adapter AirTV 4K Streaming Media Player Adapter Buy Now At Amazon $97.99

The AirTV Player is a fantastic Android TV box which, like the WeTek Hub, pairs streaming with live TV. Its onboard over-the-air TV tuner allows users to watch broadcast TV and streaming channels from one consolidated device. Though the AirTV includes a TV tuner, you’ll still need an antenna.

With 2GB of RAM and 8GB of onboard storage, it’s an Android streaming box with modest specs. The AirTV runs a full version of Android TV, not a mobile-optimized version of Android.

While an Nvidia Shield TV is just a bit more expensive, the AirTV player still has its market. The AirTV is best for users seeking a basic device which combines OTA channels with streaming services. If you don’t care about gaming and advanced streaming, such as Plex playback, it’s your best choice.

Pros:

  • Reasonably priced
  • Includes OTA tuner
  • Streaming and live TV capable

Cons:

  • Modest hardware
  • Requires OTA antenna (sold separately) for live TV and DVR use

4. Best Budget Android TV Box: Xiaomi Mi Box

Original Xiaomi Mi Box - 4K Ultra HDR TV Streaming Media Player with Voice Search Remote (MDZ-16-AB) International Version Original Xiaomi Mi Box - 4K Ultra HDR TV Streaming Media Player with Voice Search Remote (MDZ-16-AB) International Version Buy Now At Amazon $57.81

Best android TV box on the planet - Xiaomi Mi Box
Image Credit: Mi

The spartan Xiaomi Mi Box is easily the best budget Android TV box. It’s a median between a stick streamer like the Fire TV Stick and more comprehensive streaming devices like the AirTV. It runs Android TV OS, not a tablet-optimized iteration of Android.

For less than $100, the Mi Box packs a punch by delivering 4K streaming. Unfortunately, the default 4K setting at 60Hz suffers from performance issues, so you’ll need to drop it to 30Hz or even 24Hz for a usable 4K frame rate. But 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.

Pros

  • Less than $100
  • Runs Android TV OS
  • Solid 1080p
  • 4K compatible

Cons

  • Uneven 4K performance

5. Beat Cheap Android TV Box: MXQ Android Box

T96 MXQ Pro 4K Android 7.1 TV Box S905X Quard-core 1G+8G Wi-Fi Embedded UHD 4K H.264 Media Center Smart OTT TV Box T96 MXQ Pro 4K Android 7.1 TV Box S905X Quard-core 1G+8G Wi-Fi Embedded UHD 4K H.264 Media Center Smart OTT TV Box Buy Now At Amazon $38.88

Although it’s not a well-known brand, the MXQ Pro is a budget-conscious option. With an Amlogic S905X SoC and Android 7.1, the MXQ Android TV box is capable of pumping out 4K video. With a small footprint, four USB ports, and 2.4GHz Wi-Fi, it’s certainly serviceable.

Don’t expect anything as beefy as the Nvidia Shield TV or features such as DVR, though. The MXQ Android box doesn’t run Android TV OS either. And outfitted with a mere 1GB of RAM, it’s unqualified for gaming. But for basic streaming purposes, the MXQ Android box is tough to beat.

Pros:

  • Inexpensive
  • 4K capable
  • Android 7.1

Cons:

  • Not a well-known brand
  • Runs mobile-optimized version of Android

6. DIY Android TV Box

Raspberry Pi

While you can buy an Android TV box, you can build one as well. It’s not difficult, though it takes more work than a pre-built unit that works out of the box. For instance, you can install Android on a Raspberry Pi How to Install Android on a Raspberry Pi How to Install Android on a Raspberry Pi Want to install Android on your Raspberry Pi? Here's how to do so—as well as why to install Android on Raspberry Pi in the first place. Read More or a number of Raspberry Pi alternatives The Best Single-Board Computers for Chrome OS and Android The Best Single-Board Computers for Chrome OS and Android Most SBCs run Linux operating systems well, but some also support Android and Chrome OS. If that interests you, here are the best single-board computers to check out! Read More . You can even use cheap PC parts to cobble together a DIY Android TV box How to Build a Cheap Android PC With Inexpensive Parts How to Build a Cheap Android PC With Inexpensive Parts Looking to build an Android PC? It can be tough finding parts that are guaranteed to work---unless you follow this handy guide. Read More .

As with any do-it-yourself project, this isn’t for the faint of heart. App compatibility varies, as will performance since there’s no standardized hardware. Instead, this allows you to choose your own adventure with hardware and software. Because this is a DIY venture, system updates may not come often. However, it’s a fun, simple, and cost-effective way to make an Android TV box.

Pros:

  • Total control over hardware and software
  • Lots of options
  • Cost-effective

Cons:

  • Potentially challenging
  • No official user support

These Are the TV Droids You’re Looking For

While the Nvidia Shield TV, WeTek Hub, Xiaomi Mi Box, AirTV Player, and MXQ Android box are the top Android TV box devices available in 2018, you have 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 add-ons How to Use Kodi Without Breaking the Law How to Use Kodi Without Breaking the Law You don't have to break the law to get the most out of your Kodi box. Here's how to make it work without straying over that thin gray line. Read More .

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 Hub or AirTV. The Mi Box clearly wins the budget category with its incredibly affordable price point and excellent features.

You may even consider picking up multiple Android boxes. Whichever you choose, make sure to install the coolest Android TV apps 8 Amazing Android TV Apps That You Didn't Know Existed 8 Amazing Android TV Apps That You Didn't Know Existed You may not have heard of these Android TV apps, but you need to download them. Read More on it.

Image Credit: Justin Ormont/Wikimedia Commons

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  1. Don
    May 31, 2018 at 10:22 am

    This page keeps crashing. Never ends loading. Too much crap on it to load. Therefore useless since impossible to use. (This is my second attempt att commenting.)

  2. Nathan
    May 22, 2018 at 6:43 pm

    I use the ChannelMaster Stream+ Android TV device, not reviewed here. Unlike the AirTV Player, it has dual internal TV tuners, and runs Android TV Nougat, and uses the Google Live Channels App to view and record OTA live tv. When it was initially released to pre-order purchasers, it was plagued with issues, but within 3-4 weeks, Google released updates to its Live Channels App that have resolved those issues and make this a real contender. There are no monthly fees for the Guide or DVR features. It isn't as Spec heavy as Nvidia Shield TV, but isn't meant to be a gaming device, although it plays most games in the Google Play Store. The downside,... No official Netflix or Amazon Prime apps yet.

  3. Realjck
    March 16, 2018 at 11:53 pm

    I wanna get an Android box for gaming and I finally found the best alternative with the Android VM 'Nox Player' connected from my PC to the TV via a cheap Steam Link. Once properly configured, it works very well and has also a full gamepad support that allows to emulate gestures on screen and motion sensor, it's very convenient and offer much more possibilities than a nVidia Shield in my opinion.

  4. wade
    December 15, 2017 at 8:47 pm

    How can you tell if a box is running tablet-optimized Android?

  5. Harry Skelton
    October 3, 2017 at 1:32 pm

    The biggest complaint for all these boxes is the inability to have common Android features such as access to your contacts list. Oddly enough, these boxes make great Android consoles. Especially the ones that are not Android TV OS. However, the upgrade/update path of these boxes still hover at ZERO. Support for many do not include OS upgrade paths. While the vendors place such features into the box, the actual ability to upgrade to something better is not there.

    Then there is the fact that many of these boxes are ROOTED. Which means if you don't leave the apps alone you could run them, but re-install one and you might get a message on how your device is not trusted.

    At this moment I am typing this on my Android TV box - a AEWin AE256 (from which the Yoka KB2 is made from). Running on a 4K 43" screen that I use for my monitor. With Nova Launcher and all the common apps I use in a normal Android environment.

    So MakeUseOf.com when you do your next review, see how many actually allow access to the contacts, and how many have a working upgrade/update path - such as upgrading from Android 6 to Android 8. You'll find it is all glamour and no brains behind the companies that issue the boxes.

  6. Mister Wirez
    October 3, 2017 at 5:44 am

    I have a Minix NEO U9-H. I love it.

  7. likefunbutnot
    October 2, 2017 at 8:51 pm

    A strong negative for the MiBox: it lacks a proper ethernet port. Given its size and form factor, there's really no reason for it to not have that.

    I do own a Shield TV. It's a good STB, but for the most part I don't think there's any part of its feature set that's worth more than a FireTV that costs less than half as much. Game streaming is meh and while it can kinda-sorta transcode video for Plex, it struggles with multiple simultaneous streams. Were it $50 or $75 cheaper, I'd give it an unqualified recommendation.

    • KwaK
      October 3, 2017 at 7:25 am

      You have my uncertified approval of your unqualified recommendation. I agree with your comment on Nvidia Shield TV - it's a nice piece of hardware ... but for the features VS price, there's no good reason to get it over cheaper alternatives. Heck, there was an article right here not too long ago, which highlighted how you can set-up Raspberry Pi as a TV set-top box. Granted, it requires more fiddling around to get it set up (compared to other plug-and-play, actual TV set-top/media, boxes), but right off the bat - it blows many of them right out the water with the extensibility and features they offer in return.

  8. Alek Davis
    October 2, 2017 at 8:34 pm

    As a parent, it's important to me to have a TV OS that allows my kids to log in with a separate account. I recently purchased an Android box running Android 7.x, and it only supported a single account. Had to sell it on Craigslist.

  9. Doc
    October 2, 2017 at 8:25 pm

    "The base model includes 16GB of storage built in. Whereas the Nvidia Shield TV Pro boasts a 500GB hard drive."
    "Whereas" is a **joining word** - this should be just one sentence. Drop the period, insert a comma, and drop the capital "W".

    • Jeff L
      October 2, 2017 at 11:39 pm

      Thanks for contributing.

    • Mister Wirez
      October 3, 2017 at 5:47 am

      Noone likez a jErK... howz'm Idoin?

      • Doc
        October 3, 2017 at 12:44 pm

        Absolutely fabulous! :p