The Best Android TV Box
Android TV boxes aren’t like other set-top streaming devices, as anyone who’s done a little comparison shopping can tell you. That’s because Android TV, unlike Amazon Fire TV, Roku, and Apple TV, isn’t predicated on a top-down development model. It’s a TV entertainment platform based on Android and managed by Google, but distributed among third-party OEMs which are given free reign to tweak, customize, and optimize Android TV as they see fit. As a result, there’s a diversity of set-top boxes from NVIDIA, Xiaomi, and more. Unfortunately, the wealth of choice makes it difficult to sort the good from the bad. Some Android TV boxes — notably the Nexus Player and Razer Forge TV — have been discontinued. Others, like the Sharp AN-NP40 and CCC Air Stick, aren’t available in the U.S.
That’s why we’ve compiled a list of the best Android TV boxes and Android TV televisions on the market right now. It’s not exhaustive, but if you’re looking for an Android TV device that’s (1) positively reviewed and (2) available for purchase, you’ve come to the right place.
By Kyle Wiggers
What is Android TV and how does it work?
Android TV is a version of Android with a 10-foot interface designed for televisions. Google’s Leanback Launcher puts TV shows and movies first and foremost, with vertically-scrolling rows populated by content from video apps like Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Plex, Amazon Instant Video, VUDU, Showtime Anytime, Kodi, Disney Movies Anywhere, WatchESPN, Crackle, EPIX, and YouTube; music apps like Google Play Music, Spotify, Tidal, Sirius XM, and Pandora; and subscription TV apps like PlayStation Vue. Sling TV, and YouTube TV.
Android TV devices offer native Chromecast integration, allowing apps to cast content to Android TV boxes and televisions. And they’re integrated with the Google Play Store ecosystem, which boasts a growing collection of movies, music, apps, and video games.
Simplified Android TV home screen: When you set up an Android TV box for the first time, you’ll get a list of app recommendations from the Google Play Store (based on your installation history). At the top of the Android TV launcher is a new Google Assistant shortcut, and below it is a “favorite apps” row and “watch next” option that lets you continue binge-watching shows with a single click.
Android TV channels: In Android Oreo, personalized recommendations and popular content appear in horizontal rows of thumbnails next to apps, and hovering over those thumbnails shows short animated previews of live TV, trailers, or highlight clips.
The Google Assistant on Android TV: The Google Assitant launched on Android TV in late 2017, and it’s as fully-featured as you’d expect. In addition to controlling playback with voice commands like “rewind ten minutes” and “play the previous episode”, you can play or resume TV shows and movies with a voice command, control connected appliances and lightbulbs (try saying, “turn the lights to movie mode”), use third-party apps and services (“talk to Domino’s and track a new order”, “order popcorn from Google Express”), and answer trivia questions (“who starred in the newest Die Hard movie?”).
Best Android TV Boxes
Android TV boxes are more or less comparable to Amazon Fire TV devices and Apple TV in that they’re entirely self-contained. They’re compatible with almost any modern television or monitor with an HDMI port, and they stream content via a Wi-Fi or Ethernet connection.
|Specs||NVIDIA Shield TV|
|Dimensions||98 x 159 x 25.93mm|
|Price||$179/$199 (w/ Shield Controller)|
The NVIDIA Shield TV is widely considered to be the best Android TV box on the market, and it’s no wonder why. In addition to the standard array of Android TV features (like access to the Google Play Store and support for the Google Assistant via a microphone-equipped remote control), the angular, neon green-accented Shield TV plays nicely with NVIDIA services like NVIDIA GameStream, which lets you stream games from PCs with compatible GeForce GTX graphics cards, and GeForce NOW, a $7.99 per month cloud gaming platform that beams titles like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, Fortnite Battle Royale, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and Destiny 2 over the internet to the Shield TV’s client.
Thanks to a powerful NVIDIA-designed Tegra X1 processor and Kepler GPU, the Shield TV can run games like Half-Life 2, Portal, Tomb Raider, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, Final Fantasy IX, The Witness, and Doom: BFG Edition natively, all of which have prime placement in the Android TV box’s Shield Games app. And in China, the NVIDIA Shield TV has another killer feature: GameCube and Wii games from Nintendo. Shield TV owners in Chinese markets have access to New Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Galaxy, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, PUNCH-OUT!!, and Metroid Prime, and more.
You don’t have to be a gamer to appreciate the Shield TV’s best features, though. It’s one of the few Android TV boxes with support for 4K HDR (high dynamic range) content in Netflix, Amazon Video, and VUDU in the HDR10 format. (Google Play Movies & TV and YouTube stream in 4K, but neither support HDR on the Shield TV yet.) It’s also one of the few Android TV boxes with an IR remote control that can adjust your TV’s volume and turn it off and on. And if you download and install the Shield TV-specific build of Plex, the Shield TV becomes a fully-featured media server capable of finding, pulling, organizing, and streaming movies, TV shows, and music from the internet and locally networked devices.
It’s worth noting that to get the best gaming experience on the Shield TV, you’ll need the $60 Shield Controller, which is sold separately. The latest incarnation has dual vibration motors and a 3.5mm headphone jack that pipes audio from the Shield TV over Bluetooth.
The optional SmartThings Link from Samsung, a $40 USB dongle that plugs into one of the Shield TV’s USB ports, transforms the Android TV box into a smart home hub, adding native support for ZigBee and Z-Wave Internet of Things (IoT) devices like LIFX bulbs, LG SmartThinQ appliances, Ecobee’s lineup of connected thermostats, and Nest Cam security cameras. You manage connected devices with the Samsung SmartThings app, which is available for free in the Google Play Store.
|Specs||Xiaomi Mi Box|
|Dimensions||101 x 101 x 19.5mm|
The Xiaomi Mi Box, which launched in 2016, is one of the cheapest Android TV boxes on the market. But don’t let the bottom-barrel price tag fool you — it’s surprisingly uncompromising for a budget set-top box.
The Mi Box supports 4K high dynamic range (HDR) content in HDR10, making it one of the cheapest set-top boxes of its kind. (The 4K-ready Roku Premiere, Premiere+, and Ultra start at $80, $100, and $130, respectively, and the Apple TV starts at $149.) Like the NVIDIA Shield TV, the Mi Box ships with a mic-sporting remote control that taps into the Google Assitant. You can ask questions about the weather (“what’s the temperature?”), search for an actor or actress (“show movies with Nicole Kidman”), or dim the lights from the comfort of your couch.
When it comes to apps, the Mi Box has unfettered access to the Google Play Store. The Mi Box is compatible with the same selection of Android TV games and applications as the NVIDIA Shield TV. And on the home screen, Xiaomi’s “Mi Box recommends” feature highlights popular selections such as Netflix, Hulu, and Fox Sports.
The Xiaomi Mi Box isn’t perfect, of course. It doesn’t ship with a game controller, though it’s compatible with most third-party Bluetooth controllers on the market, and the aforementioned remote control doesn’t have a 3.5mm headphone jack. And its performance leaves something to be desired — graphically demanding games like Soul Calibur and Asphalt 8 tend to become sluggish.
Still, if you’re looking for an Android TV box that won’t break the bank, it’s tough to beat the Xiaomi Mi Box. Sweetening the pot is the forthcoming Android Oreo update, which will bring with it new Google Assistant features and a redesigned home screen.
Best Android TV Televisions
If you’re in the market for a new TV, why not pick up a television that runs Android TV? Android TV-integrated sets offer the same features as Android TV boxes, but with a key difference: There’s no need to worry about finding a spot in your entertainment console for a breakout box, because all of the necessary hardware is built right in.
Sony 65-inch A1E Bravia OLED
|Specs||Sony 65-inch A1E Bravia OLED|
|Dimensions||1,451 x 834 x 86mm (without stand)|
|Weight||29.8kg (without stand)|
The A1E Bravia OLED TV is Sony’s first foray into organic light emitting diode (OLED) technology, which boasts deeper blacks, higher contrast, and richer colors than LCD, the conventional choice. (In OLED displays, each individual sub-pixel creates illumination, while LCD screens produce a picture by shining a backlight through a liquid crystal panel.) It’s an absolute stunner; the price tag might not fit within every Android TV buyer’s budget, but if you’re looking for a television with incredible picture quality and tons of extra features, the A1E checks every box.
Sony’s A1E isn’t your average TV. It has a tabletop kickstand that positions the set at a slight angle (Sony calls it a “stand-less” design), and it doesn’t have conventional speakers. The A1E features an “Acoustic Surface”: two small actuators behind the screen, one on the left and one on the right, vibrate the glass to create sound. In tandem with a rear-mounted subwoofer, the A1E’s able to produce audio that rivals the quality of high-end soundbars.
When it comes to software, the Sony A1E ships with a fully-fledged version of Android TV based on Android Oreo. It comes preloaded with Amazon Instant Video, Sony’s Ultra app, and Netflix (all three of which support 4K HDR playback in Dolby Vision and HDR10 formats) in addition to dozens of other apps from the Google Play Store, including UltraFlix, CNNGo, Crunchyroll, TuneIn, PBS Kids, Google Play Movie & TV, and YouTube. (Unfortunately, the A1E’s VUDU can’t play back 4K content in HDR.) Chromecast support is in tow, as is Google Assistant integration.
The A1E also supports Amazon Echo and Google Home devices. Once you’ve run through the TV Control Setup app, shouting, “Alexa/OK Google, turn on the TV” will fire up the A1E and any other A/V equipment you’ve configured within the TV’s settings menu — including audio receivers, DVRs, and set-top cable boxes. Other commands switch inputs, change channels, mute audio, and more.
Unfortunately, the A1E’s processor — the Sony’s X1 Extreme — isn’t on par with the high-end Android TV competition. Expect the occasional stutter and pause while scrolling through the home screen, or when playing demanding games and watching 4K videos. And right now, the A1E’s VUDU can’t play back 4K content in HDR. Still, if you’re in the market for the best Android TV set money can buy, the A1E is this year’s top contender.