Xiaomi Mi TV Stick review: The wrong Android TV dongle at the wrong time

With a $50 list price, the Xiaomi Mi TV Stick aims to be a relatively cheap Android TV streaming dongle for 1080p televisions. Like other Android TV devices, it offers Google Assistant voice controls, Chromecast support, and a slick menu for recommending things to watch.

But all that is undermined by the Mi TV Stick’s performance, which ranges from just average (in apps like Netflix and HBO) to unusable (in Hulu). Combined with a chintzy remote and the likelihood of a much more interesting Android TV device just around the corner—that is, Google’s own “Sabrina” streaming dongle—the Xiaomi Mi TV Stick doesn’t offer much in its favor.

This review is part of TechHive’s coverage of the best media streamers, where you’ll find reviews of competing products, plus a buyer’s guide to the features you should consider when shopping for this type of product.

Slow stick, cheap remote

In the same vein as Amazon’s Fire TV Stick and Roku’s Streaming Stick+, the Mi TV Stick is a finger-length device that plugs directly into the HDMI slot on modern televisions. Depending on the arrangement of your TV’s HDMI ports, you may need a short HDMI extender cable to make the Mi TV Stick fit; Xiaomi doesn’t include one in the box.

For tech specs, the Mi TV Stick uses a Cortex-A53 quad-core processor and Mali-450 GPU with 1GB of RAM and 8GB of onboard storage. The components are similar to what Xiaomi has used in its previous Android TV players, the Mi Box and Mi Box S, but it has half as much RAM as those devices, and it doesn’t support 4K video.

In practice, the hardware results in a sluggish experience. The system routinely vacillates between smooth and choppy frame rates while scrolling through menus, and the home screen can take upwards of five seconds to reload after exiting an app. Even just pressing a button on the remote often fails to produce an immediate response.

Hulu, for whatever reason, seems to bring out the worst of these issues. Scrolling around the app causes the Mi TV Stick to freeze for seconds at a time, and it occasionally becomes so tripped up that it just crashes back to the home screen. Crashing also occurred during media playback, usually while trying to fast forward or adjust the device’s volume.

The fact that Xiaomi hasn’t fixed issues with one of the most popular streaming services doesn’t instill confidence, especially since some early adopters of the Mi TV Stick have been complaining about the matter since last August. A Xiaomi representative hasn’t explained these issues either.

The remote, meanwhile, is also a letdown, though not a surprising one since it’s nearly identical to what shipped with 2018’s Mi Box S. (The only difference: It now has a shortcut button for Amazon Prime Video.) The minimalist remote has a hollow, cheap feel to it; more importantly, it lacks an infrared emitter for direct control of TV volume and power. The best you can do is control the Mi TV Stick’s internal volume level (which tops out at whatever maximum you’ve set on the TV itself), or use HDMI-CEC to control a connected sound system. In 2020, there’s really no excuse for this omission.

mitvstickremote Jared Newman / IDG

The Xiaomi Mi TV Stick remote has volume buttons, but the lack of IR support means it can’t directly control a TV’s volume.

Also worth noting: There are no additional ports on the Mi TV Stick, aside from Micro-USB for power. While some Android TV devices can gain a USB port through a USB-OTG cable, this didn’t work with the Mi TV Stick. Both an Xbox One controller and a USB thumb drive failed to register through the USB-OTG cable, and plugging in a USB keyboard caused the device to reboot.

Android TV

mitvhome Jared Newman / IDG

The Xiaomi Mi TV Stick runs Android 9.0.

The Mi TV Stick’s hardware is especially disappointing because the underlying Android TV software has gotten quite good. App availability—once the Achilles heel of Android TV—is no longer an issue, as the platform now offers pretty much every streaming service you might want. With Amazon continuing to fight with WarnerMedia and NBCUniversal over money, the presence of HBO Max and Peacock on Android TV even gives the platform something of an edge. (You can finally get Peacock on Roku devices.)

The Android TV home screen takes some getting used to, but it can be really useful if you spend some time tailoring it to your liking. At the top of the screen—beyond a now-obligatory row of teaser content—is a customizable row of quick-launch app shortcuts. Underneath that are a series of “channel” rows from different apps, providing recommendations on what to watch. By scrolling to the left of any channel row, you can remove it or rearrange its order on the home screen.

mitvcustom Jared Newman / IDG

Android TV offers customizable home screen rows, each with recommendations from different apps.

While you’ll still have to dig into individual apps to see their full catalogs, being able to glance at suggestions from across Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, HBO Max, Disney+, and other streaming sources is pretty handy. The only problem is with Android TV’s “Play Next” row, which is supposed to help you quickly resume any shows you’re already watching. Many streaming sources continue to ignore this feature of Android TV, rendering it largely useless.

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