Buying an Android TV box is an absolute minefield. Chances are you've ended up here because you either know what an Android TV box is and wa
Buying an Android TV box is an absolute minefield. Chances are you’ve ended up here because you either know what an Android TV box is and want some buying advice, or you’ve been advised by others that an Android TV box is the solution to your streaming problems but have no idea what one is. If it’s the latter, I have some bad news: no-one really knows what an Android TV box is – there’s no general definition for these streaming boxes, and it appears that some don’t even run Android TV.
What is an Android TV box?
If you don’t know what an Android TV box is, it’s a small set-top box – about the size of an Apple TV – that runs on Google’s Android operating system, or a re-skinned version of it. This means it’s an incredibly flexible device that allows you to stream content to your TV over the internet or from local storage on the device.
These Android TV boxes come in various guises but many of them market themselves as Kodi or XBMC devices. If you decide to brave the wildlands of eBay, you’ll find many devices calling themselves Android TV boxes, claiming to come “unlocked” or preloaded with hundreds of channels and free content. Resist temptation – these devices are technically illegal.
This is where Android TV boxes start to venture into strange legal territory. To get the functionality many of you are hoping for, the easiest route is to purchase one of these legally grey devices. However, the Kodi platform isn’t actually illegal to use – the way you decide to acquire the content to stream could be – and you’re better off buying an off-the-shelf streaming box and installing Kodi onto it yourself if you want to stay on the right side of the law.
The 5 best Android TV Boxes
1. Amazon Fire TV: Flexible, stable and easily available
Price when reviewed: £79.99
Amazon’s Fire TV may not look like an Android device at first glance, but under Amazon’s custom interface beats Google’s operating system. Because it runs on Android, you can easily install Kodi on Amazon Fire TV and sideload any other apps you may want to run.
You can find older, cheaper, models of Amazon Fire TV on eBay or through other retailers but, if you buy from Amazon, you’ll be getting the 2016 model. The difference, besides the price, is the tasty allure of 4K video output. It also boasts a speedier processor and 2GB of RAM to help keep things running smoothly.
2. Nvidia Shield TV (2017): The gamer’s choice
Price when reviewed: £189.99
2015’s Nvidia Shield TV was already the best dedicated Android TV device arounand and among the best Android TV box on the market in terms of flexibility and features. Now, with the 2017 model, Nvidia has managed to cram in even more while reducing the device’s size, bundling in a remote and overhauling its bluetooth gaming controller in the process. What was once the king of the Android TV box has now become the only device worth looking at if you want games, streaming and ultimate Android flexibility.
Many of this year’s new additions have also come to the software side of the original Nvidia Shield TV, so you shouldn’t have to upgrade if you already own one. It’s still powered by the incredible Tegra X1 mobile chip – capable of outputting silky-smooth 4K video and even rendering the likes of Gamecube and Wii games (provided you have an emulator to hand). The 2017 model may have removed microSD storage but as ot now runs Android 7 Nougat you can plug in a USB 3 external drive and format it so it runs as internal storage – we had a 4TB drive running from it with little issue.
If that wasn’t enouhg, Shield TV will soon recieve support for Google Assistant – the same as found in the US-exclusive Google Home device. Once that rolls out, it’ll turn your Android TV box into the smart home hub you’ve always wanted right out of the box. Its price point may be steep compared to other devices on the market, but it’s clear to see Nvidia’s device is easily the best box on the market right now.
3. Amazon Fire TV Stick: Tiny, but not without its issues
Price when reviewed: £34.99
If you’re after a discrete Android TV box solution, the new Amazon Fire TV Stick is the perfect answer. Working in a similar fashion to Amazon Fire TV, this little HDMI dongle can be loaded up with Kodi and plugged into the back of your TV so you can stream content without a black box sitting under your display.
With portability, however, come functionality sacrifices. Compared to the Fire TV, the Fire TV Stick lacks expandable storage and only comes with 1GB of RAM. This makes it a little trickier to get Kodi running reliably on it – although it is still doable – but it is a great deal cheaper, so the extra hassle could be worth it for you. The Fire TV Stick doesn’t output to 4K, although a 4K-compatible Stick is available in the US, but it does now come with Alexa support to make searching Amazon’s services that little bit easier.
4. Q-Box 4K: Affordable and feature packed Kodi device
Price when reviewed: £58.99
It’s always tricky to recommend Android TV boxes that look a little dodgy and come from relatively obscure manufacturers, but Tonbux’s Q-Box provides a whole heap of features for a reasonable amount of money. While there are no guarantees it comes with the build quality of Amazon, Nvidia or Emtech’s boxes, the Q-Box offers up 4K content, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of built-in storage, optical audio out, and compatibility with external storage.
To make things even more straightforward, the Q-Box comes preloaded with Netflix, YouTube and Kodi. You can then add new Kodi builds easily and don’t have to worry about the initial Kodi setup process. Not bad, really.
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5. Matricom G-Box Q2: The made-for-Kodi box, without Kodi
Price when reviewed: £92.99
Despite marketing itself an Android TV box, Matricom’s G-Box Q2 blurb states that it’s actually a “full Android computer” with far more flexibility than its competitors. It doesn’t come preloaded with Kodi like Tonbux’s Q-Box, but seeing as the G-Box Q2 was built with Kodi in mind, Matricom has made it incredibly simple to transfer content and install Kodi builds from external storage.
Matricom has also equipped the G-Box Q2 with enough power to push out 4K video content, and its 16GB of internal storage means it’s great if you plan to stream Kodi content from your PC. If you’d rather keep all your content stored locally, you can plug in a USB 3 storage device or microSD card to expand your storage.
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