Not all smart TVs are made equally. Each TV manufacturer offers its own software, all with varying levels of user-friendliness and app compatibility. If you want to ditch the confusion and headaches, opting for an Android TV box can revolutionize how you consume streaming content on your TV. Tying together streaming apps, socials, and games, Android TV places everything at your fingertips in an easy-to-navigate and attractive UI. This makes your streaming experience seamless and much more enjoyable.
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Aren’t All Android TV Boxes the Same?
While all of the TV boxes on this list run Android TV, their components are what sets them apart. How powerful an Android TV box is, is going to largely determine its function. For example, you may be after something inexpensive that can stream Netflix. Someone else may be looking for a box that can upscale images to 4K, whereas another person may be more interested in video game emulation. Therefore, what you want to get out of your Android TV box is going to dictate which one you go for.
Best Overall: Nvidia ShieldTV
The Shield TV from Nvidia is hands down the best Android TV box on the market. There’s only one problem: it’s pretty pricey at $142. While the cost alone is bound to scare off potential customers, it is also one that you won’t likely regret buying. Despite being released in 2019, the Shield TV still boasts one of the most powerful processors of any Android TV box with Nvidia’s Tegra X1 CPU.
Furthermore, the Shield TV has one of the best remotes out there. It has a unique triangular design, making it significantly less likely to take a tumble off your coffee table. The remote also has illuminated keys, an admittedly small touch, but you’ll be left wondering how you ever did without it the next time you’re binging with the lights off.
Finally, the Shield TV’s storage is expandable via a microSD card. However, there aren’t any USB ports on the device, nor is there OTG support, so any accessories you may want to use, such as gamepads, will need to be connected via Bluetooth.
Easiest to Use: Chromecast With Google TV
The latest Chromecast from Google ticks many boxes – so many in fact, that if it weren’t for the more powerful Nvidia Shield, we’d probably lean toward this as the best Android TV box on the market. Despite not being the most powerful, it is very capable, boasting 4K HDR and both Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos.
The Chromecast also comes in a compact, unobtrusive design. Since it plugs directly into an HDMI port on the back of your TV, most people will never even see it, which makes it perfect for those who prefer a more minimal setup. In addition, the Chromecast is running Google TV – a new and improved version of Android TV. All of your apps will work, it’s more aesthetically pleasing and it intelligently curates content from installed apps to help you more easily find something to watch. It’s priced at $49.98.
It’s not all rainbows and butterflies, though. The Chromecast only has a paltry 8GB of internal storage. It’s possible to expand its capacity, but you’ll need a USB-C hub with power delivery. This increases cost and adds more unruly cables. However, since the Chromecast is probably going to be hidden behind your TV, it’s unlikely you’ll notice.
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Best Affordable Android TV Box: Xiaomi Mi Box S
If the price of the Shield TV is a turnoff, but you still like the idea of a powerful box, look no further than the Xiaomi Mi Box S. Xiaomi is relatively unknown in the West, but in Asia, Xiaomi is a major player in the electronics space. One of the few devices to make it Stateside, the Mi Box S is a great alternative to the Shield TV. The CPU isn’t as powerful, but you’ll get 2GB of RAM, a built-in Chromecast, and 4K HDR support. Taken together, these features will provide an excellent Android TV experience for the price.
That being said, there is one major downside: the minuscule 8GB of internal storage, which can be problematic if you like a lot of apps. That being said, the Mi Box S has an integrated USB port on the back, so expanding the storage is as easy as popping in a flash drive. The product can be yours for $59.50.
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Best Budget Box: TiVo Stream 4K
The TiVo Stream 4K is an impressive box for the price. Similar in design to the Google Chromecast, the diminutive box from TiVo plugs into the back of your TV via an HDMI port. Featuring 4K HDR compatibility and support for Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos, it’s a steal for around $29.99.
The only downside to the TiVo Stream 4K is the custom UI. For whatever reason, TiVo decided to jazz up the stock Android TV user interface with some extra bells and whistles. It’s entirely unnecessary and a little distracting if you’re familiar with the Android TV UI. Yet, it’s not a dealbreaker, as it doesn’t impact performance or app compatibility.
Best for a Shoestring Budget: Onn Android TV 4K
Walmart’s Onn brand has released some decent electronics, but the cherry on top is the Android TV box. This tiny box features one of the best performance-to-price ratios with an asking price of about $20. What do you get for so little? A powerful Amlogic S905Y2 processor, 2GB of RAM, 4K UHD, and Dolby Atmos support.
Regrettably, despite an impressive price point, the Onn Android TV 4K is not perfect. The biggest issue is the tiny 8GB of internal storage. Once the operating system is factored in, only about half of that is usable. This can result in headaches if you like to install a lot of apps.
Fortunately, you can add more storage via USB, yet that presents another problem. Since there is only one micro USB port dedicated to powering the device, you’ll need to source a micro USB splitter cable that supports OTG to connect the USB. It’s a bit of fiddling around, and the end result is a TV box with cables jutting out of it like an octopus. However, if that’s not a problem, the Onn box is the most cost-effective way to experience Android TV.
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Best for Gaming: Nvidia Shield Pro
The Nvidia Shield Pro is almost identical to the Shield TV. However, it differentiates itself in a few key areas. First and foremost, the Pro has more RAM and increased internal storage capacity. The Shield Pro can handle 4K HDR playback at 60fps, Dolby Vision, and HDR 10. Furthermore, it features 4K upscaling, which increases the pixel count of lower-resolution sources to fit on your screen. In addition, the Shield Pro hardware is physically larger, allowing the inclusion of full-sized USB ports. These can be used to connect external hard drives, keyboards, gamepads, and more.
As you may have already guessed, the Nvidia Shield Pro is even more expensive than the Shield TV at $199.99, which, when compared to other boxes, was already pretty pricey. Furthermore, it’s even more so if you opt for the official Nvidia Shield controller.
That Nvidia bothered to make an official gamepad accessory should clue you in to the fact that the Nvidia Shield Pro is an extremely capable gaming device. Whether you want to play native Android games, stream games from your PC, or through Nvidia’s cloud-based gaming service GeForce Now, the Shield Pro is the way to go.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why should I buy an Android TV box instead of a TV with Android TV built-in?
Many new televisions on the market have Android TV software built in to them. If you’re shopping for a new TV and want to cut down on the clutter, TVs with Android TV are a good option. But if you’re not looking to buy a new TV, Android TV boxes are an inexpensive way to get Android TV on your current television.
Furthermore, Android TV boxes, particularly some of the higher-end models like the Nvidia Shield, boast significantly more power than most TVs, so you’ll be able to do more with your Android TV box, such as video game emulation. Additionally, Android TV boxes are much more likely to receive software updates, so they will be more compatible with apps in the future as well as integrate newer features as they are developed.
Where are the Rokus and Fire Sticks?
Rokus and Amazon’s Fire devices are both popular options for streaming content. However, neither Roku nor Amazon Fire devices run Android TV. Instead, they rely on software unique to those devices. There are pros and cons to Roku and Fire over Android TV, but which one is best for you is going to largely depend on your individual needs. There are a number of different Roku products on the market, with each one tailored to a particular consumer. The same can be said of Amazon’s Fire devices.
What is Nvidia GeForce Now?
If you’re looking for an Android TV box for gaming, your best bet is the Nvidia Shield Pro. It allows you to play games through GeForce Now, Nvidia’s cloud-based gaming platform. A cloud-gaming service allows users to play games that are hosted on servers and streamed to supported devices. In the case of GeForce Now, the games are run on high-end hardware, then beamed to you, so games look fantastic regardless of the hardware on your end.
GeForce Now doesn’t have a storefront where you can buy games. Instead, it links with your existing accounts, like Steam, GOG, Epic, etc., so you’ll be able to play all of the games you already own! GeForce Now is free; however, your games are streamed from a “basic rig” for up to an hour. If you want to extend your gaming session or play your game from hardware with the latest and greatest graphics cards, you’ll have to cough up some cash.
Image credit: Jonas Leupe via Unsplash
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