[Exclusive] Hands-On with the Xiaomi Mi Box

The Xiaomi Mi Box is going to be released to consumers very shortly. Already, some individuals have reported that the device has appeared in their local Wal-Mart for the sticker price of $70. Florida local Google Play user has purchased one and has given us their first impressions along with a bunch of photos. In our discussion with the individual, they noted it was a step up from the Chromecast, although they did not mention any comparison to Android TV.


Our look at the Mi Box when it was announced at Google I/O

Unboxing

Mi Box
The box is fairly simple. You get the remote, which includes a microphone and communicates over Bluetooth. There are two cables: HDMI to connect your Mi Box to your TV, and a power adapter to plug in into an outlet. There’s also the Mi Box itself.

The front of the box mentions it is $76 with coupons included. While that may be the recommended price, we weren’t sure what the additional coupons meant. The side of the box mentions the coupons.

Consumers receive $50 credit for Sling TV when they prepay for 3 months of the service. They receive a free $5 credit for Vudu to get 4K Tv shows and movies. They receive a month free trial of CBS All-Access (a $6 value). They receive a 3-month free trial of Pandora (a $15 value). There may be more, although the photo cuts off. Adding up these values seem to equal $76 in free stuff. The device itself won’t cost $70, but you get that much in additional credit.

What version does it run?

The Mi Box that was purchased has version 6.0.1, Android Marshmallow. This comes with the May 2016 security patches. This is what was expected from Xiaomi, as the software was in a fairly stable state by Google I/O in May and there was no indication it would come with Nougat on release day.

An interesting thing they found when exploring the file system was that the whole system appeared to be readable. Although they couldn’t navigate too deeply, the file security seemed unexpectedly lax.

Some stats for nerds
Some stats for nerds

Looking into the build prop model, the device reported XIAOMIM1TRIAL. Splitting up this string, it seems like this is the Xiaomi box. The M1TRIAL could mean this is a preview version of Android Marshmallow and will be updated through an OTA update closer to official release. The M1TRIAL could indicate this is the Mi Box 1 (as opposed to future Mi Boxes), and this device in particular was a Trial version that Wal-Mart had laying around.

Storage

The Mi Box comes with 8 GB of storage. It’s not much, especially not for rich media apps and games. Assets for large screens can be expensive and single games may be a gigabyte. With some of that flash storage used for system applications and components, you’re not left with very much. (One commenter states that 5.13 GB will be available on a new device.)

There is a port for power, USB, and HDMI
There is a port for power, USB, and HDMI

Thankfully, as of Android Marshmallow, there is the adoptable storage feature. This allows a user to insert an SD card or a USB external storage and use it as part of internal storage.

However, when they inserted a USB drive, they noticed that the “[u]sb won’t power an external and formatted flash drive doesn’t appear.” A USB keyboard also did not seem to work with the Mi Box. Both of these omissions don’t entirely make sense for a final product.

Both are supported on other Android TVs and in Android in general, lending support to the idea that the Mi Boxes will get some sort of OS or firmware update right before launch to make these final changes.

Software

The Mi Box in the US is just like any other Android TV. It runs the Leanback Launcher and all of Google’s TV apps. Like many other Android TV OEMs, there is a custom row in the launcher for “Mi Box Recommendations”. There’s a number of apps that the system recommends you install through Google Play.

What does it recommend? Everything!
What does it recommend? Everything!

These apps include Netflix, Sling TV, Vudu, Pandora, Redbull TV, HBO Now, Watch ESPN, CBS Sports, CBS News, HBO Go, Spotify, Pluto TV, Hulu, and VLC. Xiaomi has made a number of content partnerships which likely allowed the price of the hardware to be fairly low.

Pluto TV works great in Live Channels and helps promote the feature
Pluto TV works great in Live Channels and helps promote the feature

Exposing Pluto TV means that Live Channels is also enabled and can definitely help promote the Live Channels app to more users.

It is possible to do things like control the device’s media volume, even being able to mute the system entirely without using your TV remote.

"[T]he ad section to opt out is a regular mobile ui and I can't interact with it"
“[T]he ad section to opt out is a regular mobile ui and I can’t interact with it”

Performance

The Mi Box was said to support 4K HDR 60FPS video. How well does it do that? Although there was not a top of the line TV to test it with, it was tested with general usage.

[I]t’s pretty freakin awesome and a definite step up from the chromecast I had. Although I kind of wish that it came with 7.0 but can’t complain. I very much enjoy the live tv app. And the interface is extremely fast, smooth and intuitive.

Voice control may not work too well at the moment, something that could definitely be fixed with a quick firmware update.

And doing anything with voice isn’t very easy. it often doesn’t detect my speach in a quiet room and when using speach to type into a text field (like for the app store) it’s kind of hard to tell when it’s picking you up when it’s listening and if it heard you unless it does hear you.

Conclusion

It seems like some Wal-Marts are beginning to sell the device even if they aren’t supposed to yet. There are some reasons for not selling though there may be in the inventory. Xiaomi may be waiting for more inventory to be delivered, waiting for the right release date, and finishing a few last minute software changes to give the product the polish it needs.

Based on the reviewer’s first impressions, they really liked the device. The Live Channels app, the ability to install apps, and voice search are all things which make Android TV a step up from Chromecast. If the next Chromecast is indeed $70, then it ends up costing the same to get the device with more features.

If you see one in your local Wal-Mart, you may consider picking one up, but don’t expect it to finished yet. It’s possible the previous flukes with the USB connection was only on that device, or that firmware hasn’t been made available to devices yet. Most companies will issue an OS patch right before a final hardware release, so most problems should be fixed soon.

As for Android Nougat, v7.0, there hasn’t been any word on whether that will be released to the Mi Box. Xiaomi has been active in China, where they control the operating system, so it can’t be directly compared to their US plans. Hopefully it will be released as there’s a lot of great new TV features in Nougat that consumers will be missing out on otherwise.

Have any other questions? Let us know in the comments below.

Nick Felker

Nick Felker

Nick Felker is a student Electrical & Computer Engineering student at Rowan University (C/O 2017) and the student IEEE webmaster. When he's not studying, he is a software developer for the web and Android (Felker Tech). He has several open source projects on GitHub (http://github.com/fleker)Devices: Moto G-2013 Moto G-2015, Moto 360, Google ADT-1, Nexus 7-2013 (x2), Lenovo Laptop, Custom Desktop.Although he was an intern at Google, the content of this blog is entirely independent and his own thoughts.

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  • gonefishin

    Does this support the playback of VC-1? I own a pair of Shield TVs that do, but I’m in no hurry to chock up $200 for another when I could spend $70 and get a Mi Box.

  • androidphan69

    What’s the item number# for Wal-Mart

    • youareme7

      SKU 54827138

      UPC 190997000012

      • androidphan69

        Found some in clermont. Had to call a manger to get them to sell me it since the computer wouldn’t let them sell it.

  • C-Law

    I have a nexus player that is running Android 7. Works great. I don’t have a4k tv. Probably no real reason to upgrade right?

  • hovee

    Hey guys, those are my pictures that I took of the Mi Box. I would have appreciated it if you contacted me first rather than taking them off my imgur page and claiming them as your own. http://imgur.com/a/rxQL4

    • SlyJay

      Wow, they’re such crooks. Not a single credit anywhere. Thanks for stealing from others without credit Nick Felker…….

    • I apologize for using the photos. I did not claim them as my own, although I accidentally mixed them in with the photos from other sources. I’ll remove them.