XiaoMi MIUI TV Review
Thanks to GearBest for the sample.
First Impressions: Xiaomi really do know how to Make a nice box don’t they. Not that I am personally big on white bit it’s all white, with a crisp orange instruction booklet. The MIUI TV is white and the included HDMI cable is white too as is the remote control. I’d rather everything was black or maybe grey but at least there is consistency. The box itself is a really clever design, well it is if your American or rather, if you live somewhere that uses the American plug layout. I may think that US plugs are dangerously flimsy things but their tiny size means they can fold away ever so neatly. The Box is tiny, it’s barely bigger than a normal UK plug never mind having all the clever bits in it. So, sadly this means that I must use a plug adapter, I knew that going in but still it doubles the size of it and makes me a tiny bit sad nevertheless. Time to plug it in.
First Boot: When you first power things on you’re in Chinese, invited to pair the remote control. The hieroglyphics may mean nothing to me but the pictures give you an idea of what to do, pull the plastic bit separating the battery from the remote and boom. The thing pairs basically by itself, awesome. Then you get asked to connect to WiFi. This was rather less obvious and I had to take to the internet to find out what the hell I was supposed to do and where to click. I can’t say I found it to be a frustration free process but I got there in the end. Youtube helped greatly here. It’s curious, the device would seem to have English inbuilt but they haven’t made any particularly simple way to get to it. I find that really perplexing given the first thing android usually asks you to do is to pick the language you want to use. I realise the remote control pairing must happen first but why then not give the language selection right after?
Setting it up: If I could read Chinese (presumably Mandarin but it’s all hieroglyphics to me) then things would be more straight forward. There are some extremely helpful guides on-line that show you how to get it running English. For some reason Xiaomi have hidden access to changing the language, which is there you just can’t pick it. I do not for the life of me understand this. I know it’s a product intended for the Chinese market but why go out of your way to hide things? In short it is not for those who are afraid to tinker or those who want to just plug it in and things just work. If you can’t read Chinese (of whichever variety it is) then you will be groping in the dark.
However….. I did get it set up. While I fail to see why they couldn’t have left the stock, which language option at the start I do not know. That means that once you’re in that you are groping in the dark to do anything and thus my first need was to get things into English. Youtube helped immeasurably here, click here, click this, the third one down etc etc kinda stuff. Install this, oh yes, to get to the real android settings you have to install “Shafia” marketplace thing, app, honestly I’m not really sure what it is. Anyway, with it done you can then get into the real Android settings and half a dozen button clicks later, everything is in English, yey!!! Well almost everything. I realise I’m going over stuff I’ve already said but I just don’t understand why this is the case. It’s all just such unnecessary pain.
Speaking of pain…… if you want to save a ton of it, have a Bluetooth mouse and Keyboard to hand. Trust me, trying to type in things using the remote is not just tedious it makes you want to kill yourself after a while, frustrating is not the word. Some things would just not work, no matter what I tried and for reasons I could not figure out at all. In the past I’ve ROM’d many devices and had to install gapps myself (google apps, such as the all-important Google Play Store.) It was a battle to get them installed on the Mi Box Mini and they then wouldn’t work. It would ask me to login, and then its little swirly icon would swirl until the end of time.
Sometimes I got the distinct impression that the box was either insisting on using some Chinese DNS or it was surreptitiously VPN’ing to china. Data connectivity was regularly painfully slow and could be wildy erratic. It would work but in little bursts and then just stop. Then it began to demand that I update google play services. Even Netflix demanded this, though it worked anyway for a time but as of right now it too wont. What changed from a few days ago when it would work, I do not know. Oh hold on, now it is working. Oh I spoke too soon, it worked for 20 min then stopped and started spitting up an error. Iplayer too I got working and then it would break for no reason. Sigh. Oh, hang on, Netflix has started to work and hasn’t crashed or died in hours. Yey, it works!!!
However the randomly bizarre assortment of Chinese things seemed to all work fine. Well the few things I tried anyway worked fine. Like some film with Richard Gear and a dog or the BBC’s excellent Frozen Planet. Both of which were in English but with squiggly subtitles. Thus they were highly watchable, though with the random odd buffering when it seemed as though the internet connection would keel over for no reason what so ever. The fact is connectivity from the UK to Cathay sucks. To the entire Far East frankly, ever tried downloading something from Japan, oh god or a motherboard driver package from Taiwan? Still there is a slight upside, you have the option to manually select the resolution, UHD, HD or SD during playback. I wish Netflix let you do that.
Content: Well there is a vast, vast array of Chinese stuff. There is a good number of stuff in English on the Chinese things too. Still you have to search a bit, it’s not like firing up Netflix where you don’t have to think for a second about it. If you just stick to the Chinese stuff then everything looks really slick. It feels like its bouncing everything via china. Thus I think I really must conclude that in terms of content, the little box is lacking. By that I mean lacking for me as a non-Chinese speaker.
The one great content boon is that the little device is very happy to stream local content. So if you have a collection of video, that may or may not have come via bit torrent, you can stream it all quite happily. This is something that the Chromecast you have to battle with to make happen. The MiTV streamed anything I threw at it just fine. I made a point t try some very high bit rate stuff and some x265 item too, they all worked great.
Usability: Pain, much pain to make anything function. If you’re an English only speaker then just getting it started isn’t going to be foremost people. This box is best suited for the kind of people who are happy trawling XDA, rooting and rom’ing, digging into the heart of things. If I’d given the box to say my parents or sister, the box would have been as much use as a paper weight.
Storage: The little box just has 4GB. As you might imagine this gets eaten very quickly which is a shame because I could see the box having the potential to be a mini android games console. However the lack of room means that’s not really an option.
Value: Hmmm the little box cost just US$40 or about £25 so the thing is cheap, it’s really, really cheap. Hardware wise I want to love it, okay it really should have an SD card slot but otherwise the hardware looks good. Its hardware is capable and powerful enough to playback 1080p easily even if its x265. If you want it to stream back local content then great. It’ll do that and it comes with a great Bluetooth remote so you can hide the box away and no line of sight is needed. So for that it’s a nice little thing. However for streaming, IPlayer, ITV player, All 4, they just would not consistently play properly. They would work for a bit then stop for no reason and frankly that got extremely frustrating. The Chinese stuff seemed to work better but who wants to spend forever looking for stuff that’ll be in English?
But…… then I came back to the price. It’s a dirt cheap little box of tricks.
Conclusion: If I had a clear conclusion I’d tell you. Before I got the box I so wanted to love it, it struck me as filled with potential. To me it still seems soooooooo potential filled however the reality is that for all the playing about with, fiddling with it, the Google play store remained a problem. I believe it’s down to the device insisting it’s in China but whatever the reason, I could not sign in to Google. So no Play store, no Google Play Music, TV or Movies.
The issues didn’t end there. Installing apps clearly meant for finger and touch screen like iPlayer, the controls using the included remote were problematic. Sure the Bluetooth mouse I paired made it a breeze but you know. Then the ITV player, it worked but after 10 min would crash. Sigh. Crackle, well it would instantly crash on trying to open it. All 4, it would only tell me the service was temporarily unavailable.
So should you buy one? Maybe, maybe not. It was a great deal of pain and effort to tinker with to get even Netflix running but it worked fine eventually. Also its ability to play network files was handy too and for the money, which is only £28 after all, isn’t on its own bad value. It’s the missed potential that still gets me though. As just a little Netflix box and a little local video streamer (including x265) it is a nice little thing. It does both those job very well in an extremely compact form factor (especially if you use American plugs where you are.)