Android is one of the most popular mobile phone operating systems today. In fact, its market share is steadily increasing and its major competitor, the iOS, lags behind the said platform as of the time of writing this article. You can also check out our guide on best gaming monitors in 2016.
What makes Android great? Well, there are a lot of reasons to love Android. First, it is open-source, which means that any developer can create their own apps and version of the operating system. Second, it is greatly developed by Google and the OS itself gets upgraded every year. Third, there are a lot of things you can do with the operating system, one of them being that you can stream your favorite content directly on your HDTV.
Wait, what!? Yes, you’ve read that right; you can use the Android operating system to stream your favorite content over the internet at the comfort of your own home. You can do this thanks to a thing called “Android TV Boxes”.
What are Android TV boxes and why are they slowly gaining popularity? As mentioned before, the Android operating system is a versatile OS in that you can stream online content right on your HDTV or favorite TV sets. This can be done using an Android TV Box. Not only that but they are so versatile that you can also use them as a gaming platform as well.
If you are on the lookout for great Android TV Boxes, then you’ve read the right article. I will recommend some of the most popular ones in this article so that you will not have to find them anywhere else. Before anything, I want to talk about what you should look for when buying an Android TV Box.
What to look for when buying an Android TV Box?
The Android TV Box allows you to turn your TV into a streaming hub. You can stream content from a variety of different sources online and you can also play games with it. But, what exactly do you need to look for when buying an Android TV Box?
1. Android Lollipop or Newer. Android Lollipop has been released for two years now and Android TV Box manufacturers might still use them. I highly recommend that you get a TV Box having at least an Android 5.1. This is to ensure that you’re not only getting a better hardware implementation but also the software integration as well. Most, if not all, TV boxes sport a generation or two lower than the latest Android operating system. At the time of writing, the latest Android operating system is Nougat. Therefore, current TV Boxes sport at least the Android Lollipop and Marshmallow operating systems. The difference between them aren’t deal breaking, with most of the features present in Android Lollipop are still present in Marshmallow. Probably, their biggest difference would be that Android Marshmallow is much more efficient than Lollipop in terms of handling apps and power savings.
2. Necessary codecs. When you’re shopping for Android TV Boxes, chances are that you might find some that have an extensive array of different audio and video codecs. What are codecs anyway? Codecs are essentially responsible for compressing and decompressing large media files (hence the name CoDec). Because media files are getting larger and larger nowadays, it is important that you compress it somehow. That is what codecs do; they compress the media and decompress it when you’re going to use it. This is best for both you and the Android TV Box you’re going to use. Now that you know what codecs are, what exactly do you need? Well, there are a plethora of codecs out there but the ones that you should look out for are H.265, Dolby, MPEG-4, just to name a few.
3. Plays a variety of Formats. Android TV boxes play media either from the internet via streaming services or via your local storage (internal or external). If you are looking for an Android TV Box, it is also important to take note the formats it is able to support. As much as possible, look for TV boxes that support the main formats such as MP4, AVI, MPEG, RMVB, MKV, MP3, WMA, AAC, AC3, OGG, among others.
4. Frequent OTA Updates. Android TV Boxes require frequent updates because the operating system itself is ever changing. There might be some things that are added and there might be some fixes made as well. You would want to acquire an Android TV Box that receives frequent OTA updates. This is to ensure that fixes and feature improvements will be implemented to ensure a smooth operation of the device.
5. Resolution. We now live in a world where Full HD resolution is the bare minimum. Even the 720p HD resolution, which was a standard many years ago, is now deemed obsolete. That is because higher resolutions such as 1440p and the Ultra HD, 4K resolution, are slowly making its way into the mainstream. As much as possible, have an Android TV box that has a Full HD (1080p) resolution support.
6. HDMI 2.0. As previously mentioned, 4K videos are slowly becoming rampant in most streaming services. Services like Netflix and Hulu are already offering movies and TV series that have a 4K resolution. But, in order to enjoy these videos and movies, you need to have an Android TV box that has the HDMI 2.0 port. I won’t get into the technical details of the said port but what I am going to say is that the HDMI 2.0 port allows you to stream and play 4K resolution videos at a consistent 60fps. This is all possible because the new HDMI standard offers much higher bandwidth compared to the old HDMI 1.4.
7. A wealth of USB ports. Ever wonder why there are USB ports on Android TV Boxes? Well, the USB ports are there for so many reasons. You can plug in a mouse and a keyboard for easy navigation; plug in a microSD card reader, you can also plug in an external hard drive so you can stream movies right from your local storage. It is important that you have at least 3 USB ports present on the Android TV Box. Another question that you might ask is if you need a USB 3.0 port. Absolutely! Reserve the USB 3.0 port/s for your external storage disks to ensure that you get a higher data stream.
8. Performance package. An Android TV Box is not only used for streaming content over the internet or local storage but it can also be used as a gaming system. The Android ecosystem is diverse and there are a plethora of games to choose from. Although dual-core processors do a good enough job streaming content, it is not enough for today’s games. The minimum requirement would be a quad-core processor with clock speeds of more than 1.5GHz. If you can get one, buy an Android TV Box with an octa-core processor for an even better performance. Aside from the processor, the graphics module of the TV Box is equally important as well as the RAM (Random Access Memory). Typically, Android TV Boxes that cost more than $50 have decent enough GPU to handle most of the games on the Google Play Store. Also, aim for a TV Box that has at least 2GB of RAM for a smooth and buttery performance. Of course, more RAM=better.
9.Connectivity. Android TV Boxes use the internet to connect you to your favorite streaming service. To make sure that there are no problems with the connection, you need to have a TV Box that has an impressive WiFi or LAN track record. Most modern Android TV Boxes now use a Gigabit ethernet LAN port and Dual-band WiFi modules that will ensure that your streaming service will not be interrupted at any time due to low internet speed and connectivity problems.
10. Build Quality. If you’re going to invest on something, you need to make sure that it is made of premium components. This is also true for Android TV Boxes. Because you want them to last long, you need to look at the materials used in the construction of an Android TV Box that you fancy. A mixture of metal and sturdy plastic is the way to go.
Now that you are aware of the things that you need to know before buying an Android TV Box, I will now suggest some of the most popular ones you can find on the market. Below are five of the best Android TV Boxes.
Best Android TV Boxes
1. Powerlead H96 Pro Review
When it comes to TV Boxes, you not only want one that has a nice exterior but you also want one that has very good specs at an affordable price. The Powerlead H96 Pro is a testament that not all things that are inexpensive do not have great specs. Right out of the box, you are looking at an Android TV Box that runs the Android Marshmallow operating system. But that is not the strongest feature of this product; the strongest selling point of the H96 Pro is its ability to stream 4K content at a steady 60 frames per second.
That is all possible thanks to the TV Box’s HDMI 2.0 ports. Another thing that makes the H96 Pro popular is that it is not only great for streaming online content; you can also use this as a gaming platform as well. Armed with an Amlogic S912 octa-core processor at 2 GHz and a Mali-820MP3 3D GPU as well. Couple that with a hefty 3GB of RAM and you will have a potent gaming system without compromising performance.
Most Android TV Boxes have nearly the same design and they are only differentiated with the product branding. That is another aspect where the H96 Pro shines above the rest. It has a glossy finish at the top of the product with a huge 4K lettering at the center and its branding on the upper left. It is a bit on the heavy side but it is still compact enough that you can place them anywhere you want.
For its connectivity, you can have two options: you can choose to plug an ethernet cable as it can support speeds of up to 100mbps. Or, you can opt for its WiFi capabilities instead. Personally, I would rather choose the Ethernet cable so that your streams will not be interrupted due to WiFi signal latency. Although this comes at a price since the cables need to be quite long if your router is situated somewhere far from the TV Box. I am not saying that its WiFi connectivity is bad; far from it. But, for a steady and consistent stream, I highly recommend using the LAN port instead.
This Android TV Box also supports a variety of audio and video codecs such as H.264, H.265, MPEG-4, MPEG-2, Real Video, and so much more. It also has some of the most popular streaming apps already pre-installed such as Netflix, Youtube, among others. When first powering on the device, I highly recommend that you download the latest updates for the pre-installed apps so that you will not run into any problems.
For storage options, the H96 Pro already comes with a 16GB EMMC Flash memory and it can also support another storage option in the form of a microSD card up to 32GB in capacity. You can cram all of your favorite games on the unit without running into any problems.
I know that there are other Android TV Boxes out there that are way better in terms of performance but for a price of under $100, this is probably the most bang-for-the-buck TV box out there. The Powerlead H96 Pro is available for only $89.99.
2. MINIX Neo U1 Review
If you want a stock version of Android and you want awesome features like the ability to play 4K resolution videos with no restrictions, the MINIX Neo U1 is one of the best TV boxes out there. The thing about the Neo U1 is that it delivers all of the promised features. Most companies tend to oversell their product and turns out that it performs underwhelmingly.
The best feature of this particular TV Box is its ability to run 10-bit 4K resolutions at a constant 60FPS. As you’ve probably guessed by now, that is thanks to the Box’s HDMI 2.0 port. The TV box has dimensions of 21x 127x 127 mm and the build quality is pretty good. You might also notice that this product is a bit larger than others. It has a larger form factor because of its included heatsink. You see, TV boxes tend to get hot, especially if you’re using them for gaming. To help keep the unit cool, MINIX has incorporated a large heatsink inside the device for better cooling capabilities.
This Android TV Box also comes with a detachable antenna that can act as a WiFi receiver and a Bluetooth 4.1 receiver as well. There are also a handful of ports that you can use such as a microSD card slot which allows you to expand the device’s storage, 3 USB 2.0 ports, an HDMI 2.0 port, a gigabit ethernet LAN port, microphone and headphone jacks, and a handy USB OTG port that allows you to reflash the box’s firmware if anything bad happens.
One interesting thing about this Android TV Box is the inclusion of a mini keyboard. This convenient keyboard allows you to navigate to different websites more quickly than any other TV box’s out there. Probably, the only quirk I can think of is its remote control. It still uses Infra-red signals, which if you didn’t know, requires you to be in the line of sight with the TV box. It does its intended purposes like allowing you to cruise over all of the Neo U1’s features but it would’ve been nice if it were a bit more responsive.
There is another feature that separates the Neo U1 apart from others and that is the ability of the device’s firmware to detect any changes in the frame rates. When it detects that frames have dropped or whether you’re streaming content from a different country, the MINIX firmware will automatically adjust the frame rates so that your viewing experience will be smooth as silk. In other words, the Neo U1’s firmware optimizes your streamed content all the time to output the maximum frames it needs.
In terms of hardware specs, the MINIX Neo U1 comes with the Amlogic S905 64-bit quad-core processor, a Penta Core Mali-450 GPU, 2GB of DDR3 RAM, 16GB of internal EMMC storage, and it also comes with the Android 5.1.1 out of the box. The good news is that you can now upgrade to Android Marshmallow. All you have to do is go to the about settings page and check firmware updates.
What most people love about the Neo U1 (well, aside from the things that I’ve already mentioned ) is its amazing support. MINIX is a company that is dedicated to bringing you amazing products that are well-supported. During its initial release, a lot of people complained about buggy software interfaces, glitches, and what not. But, MINIX was quick to patch the problems and it was smooth sailing ever since.
Although this unit costs $119, much more expensive than the previous recommendation, the MINIX Neo U1 is one of the best price to performance Android TV boxes on the market.
3. Leelbox T95Z Plus Review
What do most Android TV Boxes have in common? When you ask people that question, what they will usually answer is that dull, boring, squarish design. Most of the TV boxes that you can find on the market are crafted with only one thing in mind: performance. But, the aesthetics of the TV box will also come into play in a buyer’s decision.
That is where the Leelbox T95Z Plus shines. The T95Z sports a hexagonal design and it looks futuristic as well. It also has a small strip of LED light that is available on each side of the TV box. It is perfect for people who want to enjoy movies in the dark as the device is well-illuminated.
Aside from its stellar design, the Leelbox T95Z Plus also has an impressive performance to go along with it. It comes with the S912 Octa Core CPU with clock speeds of 2GHz, the Mali T820MP3 GPU, 16GB of EMMC Flash memory (storage), 2GB of RAM, and it also runs with Android Marshmallow.
Because of its performance package, the T95Z Plus is not only best for streaming online content but it can also be a great gaming system as well. The overall feel of the TV Box’s interface is quite fluid and it has an impressive array of codecs so you will have little problems when playing various kinds of content. There is one minor hiccup in that the T95Z Plus fails to play some 4k Resolution videos but that is probably because the video uses the DTS audio, which this device doesn’t support.
Anyway, this Android TV Box has amazing connectivity options. It has a gigabit port that supports up to 1 gigabit/s speeds, a dual-band wifi which ensures that if you desire to stream using your WiFi connection, it will become steady and consistent. Interestingly enough, when using the WiFi connection instead of the gigabit port, I experienced faster speeds. I think the WiFi connectivity of this device has been optimized very well.
The Leelbox T95Z plus also supports wireless peripherals such as a mouse and a keyboard thanks to the included USB 2.0 ports. You can plug the peripheral’s USB dongle into the said port. Just make sure that you’re using a wireless peripheral with a 2.4GHz signal to ensure that there will be no problems with regards to its connectivity.
As a gaming device, the T95Z Plus does not disappoint. It can play even the most demanding games but do not expect to play them at a consistent 60fps. What I am saying is that this device can be used as a gaming system and it does it pretty well; just don’t expect to play graphically-intensive games smoothly with this device. If you’re playing casual games like Angry Birds, for example, you will never experience any hiccups.
And lastly, the remote control that comes with this product is not as cool as the box’s design. It is pretty much your standard remote control but thanks to the Android TV box’s specs, navigating through the different menus using the remote is smooth.
With an impressive hexagonal design, an impressive array of codes, an equally remarkable spec sheet, and LED lighting, the Leelbox T95Z Plus is something you should consider when buying an Android TV Box. This product costs $69.99.
4. Plater M8SII Review
If you do not want to drop more than $50 on an Android TV Box, it is still okay. That is because there are relatively inexpensive TV Boxes that are worth every dollar. One of these said TV boxes is the Plater M8SII. The M8SII is fitted with a new Amlogic S905X processor which promises faster performance across the board. It is also coupled with a 5-core Mali-450 GPU and 2GB of RAM.
It is pretty awesome that powerful specs are crammed inside a budget TV box. Although, do note that this product doesn’t look fancy at all. It dons a simple look but do not be fooled by its plain exterior as the performance package hidden inside it is more than enough for you to reach for your wallet to buy one of these.
For a small and inexpensive Android TV Box, the M8SII by Plater has all of the required codecs for you to play 4K resolution videos smoothly. Although some users report that there is a bug in the TV box wherein if you play 4K resolution videos at 59fps, it will stay stuck and never move. I think this is all on the software side and hopefully, it will get patched at the soonest possible time.
The Android operating system used here is the Android Marshmallow 6.0. Since there are no restrictions, you can pretty much download any app from the Google Play store and it should work nicely with the said Android TV Box.
As a gaming device, the M8SII is pretty standard. It doesn’t boast of impressive performance but it is also not a slouch either. In graphically demanding games, you will experience stutters but it is still a bit playable. For all other apps, it performs nicely and without a hitch.
There was an issue before with its WiFi performance. Despite having an 802.11n WiFi support, speeds are abysmal. There was one person who experienced a measly 2mbps connection when using this TV box when he had a 50mbps internet service. Thankfully, it was soon rectified with a firmware update.
That just goes to show you that this product has an amazing after sales support. With a complete list of codes, 4K resolution support, an impressive new Amlogic S905x SOC, and a superb customer support, the Plater M8SII is not only a great budget Android TV Box, it is also one of the most recommended.
5. Nvidia Shield TV Review
I saved the best product for last. The final Android TV Box on this list is none other than the Nvidia Shield TV. The name “Nvidia” should ring a bell, especially for people who have gaming PCs. You see, Nvidia has been known to be a highly competitive graphics card manufacturer and although they are known for such, they’ve ventured into other things as well. One of which is the Nvidia Shield TV.
Now, there are previous iterations of the Shield. The Nvidia Shield portable which looks like a game controller with a small screen and the Nvidia Shield K1 which is a tablet with impressive specs as well. The Nvidia Shield TV is a nice TV Box as it plays literally anything you throw at it.
Do you want to play 4K resolution videos at 60 fps? No problem! Do you want to play games with this device? That is definitely a yes! As mentioned earlier, Nvidia is known in the graphics card space and they know exactly what it takes to have a powerful gaming device.
Two of the strongest features of the device is its amazing content playback and gameplay support. Seriously, even the most demanding and graphically-intensive games are no problem for this particular Android TV box. It comes with a 64-bit quad-core processor, 3GB of RAM, a Gigabit ethernet port, a dual-band Wifi support, and it even has the Dolby 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound inputs as well. This device comes with 16GB of storage with an option to expand the storage even further with the use of a microSD card.
Since this device is also a great gaming platform, the Nvidia Shield TV comes with a controller. It kind of looks like an Xbox controller which is good considering the popularity of the said gaming console. Aside from its usual array of buttons, the Shield TV’s controller also comes with a handy microphone. This allows you to use voice commands instead of using the controller to navigate through the different menus and settings of the device. Heck, you can even use the built-in microphone to use Google Now, which is a handy way to get the things that you want online.
Since this is an Android TV Box, the Nvidia Shield TV also has a remote control and a unique stand. Unfortunately, those two things that I’ve mentioned earlier are sold separately, so you need to dish out some more cash. If you do decide to buy the remote control, you are going to have a fun experience with it.
The remote control is highly responsive and it uses the Bluetooth technology, so you do not have to be in the line of sight of the TV Box for it to work. Furthermore, the buttons are highly responsive and it didn’t present any lag at all. Like the included controller, the Nvidia Shield TV’s remote also comes with a handy and sensitive microphone as well.
As for the stand, it allows you to put the device in a vertical orientation (because without the stand, you just put it on top of the table having a horizontal orientation like other TV Boxes). I do consider the stand as optional since the Nvidia Shield TV has a pretty good design even when it is in its horizontal orientation.
There is also a handy capacitive power button that is very responsive to your touch. If you want to power off the device, all you have to do is do a quick tap on the power button and it should turn off almost immediately.
When talking about the performance, the Nvidia Shield TV shines the brightest. Thanks to the Tegra GPU that is inside the unit, it is capable of blazing through all of the content you throw at it. Heck, as of the time of writing this article, there is no Android TV Box that comes close to the performance of the Nvidia Shield TV.
There is one area where the Nvidia Shield TV falls short and that is its Android integration. As of now, there are still some apps that you cannot install on the device. Although, you can install all of the popular streaming apps that you want but there are still a lot of apps that you cannot install mainly because it is not yet supported. This is not the fault of the company but rather, it is the fault of Google for not releasing an immediate support for the said Android TV Box.
Of course, all of this power comes at a price; a steep price. The Nvidia Shield TV currently retails for $199 for the base set only, $49.99 for the remote, and $29.99 for the stand. Yes, it is the priciest Android TV box on the market but with all of the performance you’re going to get, the price is warranted.
I have an Android TV Box. What now?
Once you’ve acquired your favorite Android TV Box, there are certain things that you need to do. These are:
1. Update the device’s firmware. The first and most important thing that you should do is update the TV Box’s firmware. This is to ensure that there are no bugs and any issues that were present before have been rectified. As mentioned earlier, a person was able to fix his WiFi problem with his Android TV Box just by updating its firmware. It is very easy to do and you’re usually prompted by the device when it receives an internet connection. Important note: if you’re going to update the firmware, make sure that the updating process will not be stopped at any time until it is finished. Interrupting the update process can render your Android TV Box inoperable. So be careful with that.
2. Download your favorite streaming app. The Android TV Box was made for a reason: to stream your favorite online content right on your TV. The next thing you should do is download your favorite streaming app. Most Android TV Boxes now come with Kodi pre-installed. For those of you who do not know, Kodi is an open-source Android app that allows you to stream content from various sources. Because of its nature, the app is not held back by any licensing issues so you can literally stream content from anywhere you want. Aside from Kodi, there are also a few apps that you might fancy. Plex is another streaming app that is slowly gaining popularity. Youtube should always be in your arsenal no matter what. If you’re into paid subscriptions, Netflix and Hulu are both popular options. Netflix gives you the ability to stream 4K content so you might want to use that.
3. Use your local storage. If you do not want to stream content online, you can also use your own local storage as well. You can store a lot of movies, TV series, and any media that you want inside the Android TV Box’s internal storage or microSD card. You can also use a USB stick and plug it in the device and stream content from there. As much as possible, only use content that you got officially from reputable sites. Torrent downloaded movies are a big no-no, not only for its legal and copyright issues, but they might also present unforeseeable problems like choppy playback, delayed audio, among others.
4. Download your favorite games and apps. The Android TV Box is not only limited to streaming content; it can also be used as a gaming device. If you want to play games on the TV Box, you can pretty much do so, provided that the specs can handle the game you wish to play. Most Android TV Boxes today should be able to play all of the casual games available on the Google Play Store. You can also download all of your other favorite apps for use on the TV Box as well. So basically, using an Android TV Box is like using your phone; the only difference being that you have a bigger and better screen.
5. Keep your Android TV Box up to date. Nothing is more annoying than to experience a lot of bugs when using your Android TV Box. I know that you are prompted to update your device’s firmware when you first start it up but it is good practice to always make sure that you update not only your TV Box’s firmware but also the apps that are installed. Most TV boxes come shipped with Kodi, a popular streaming app, already pre-installed. Since the app itself is regularly improved, it is a nice thing to keep it updated regularly. Do this for all of your other apps and games as well. Updates are essential since they not only fix bugs but some updates also include feature improvements as well.
Android TV Boxes are great because it turns your TV into a potent streaming hub. Most households nowadays have amazing HDTVs and it would be a waste if you’re not going to utilize it to its full potential. Android TV Boxes allow you to stream online or local content and you can also use it as a gaming device as well.
There are a lot of them out there but it is important that you read customer reviews so you will get a better perspective of their quality and performance. The TV boxes that I’ve mentioned in this article are the best ones you can find on the market. They have an extensive set of codecs for maximum playability, great specs, and almost all of them are affordable (except the Nvidia Shield TV).
The Android platform is ever-evolving and it is nice for Google to implement the said operating system into these amazing TV boxes. I hope that this article has helped you choose the best Android TV Box that’s right for you.
As mentioned above, there are a lot of Android TV boxes out there. If there is an Android TV Box that you want to suggest, please do tell in the comments section below.
Learn More about Android TV on Wikipedia