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Best Android TV boxes and sticks for streaming games, Netflix and more

Complete your home entertainment set-up with these set-top and plug-in devices

David RS Taylor
Thursday 04 November 2021 15:16
<p>We tested for storage and processing speed, as well as what range of streaming services and apps were on offer </p>

We tested for storage and processing speed, as well as what range of streaming services and apps were on offer

In a world of cables and satellites bringing you channel upon channel of TV of questionable quality, it’s a surprise when you switch on your box and nothing appears. But nowadays, many of us now only use TV screens for games consoles and streaming services anyway.

The development of streaming devices and Android TV products has changed how we consume our media. It’s not just live TV that you can watch via Android TV: many boxes enable you to access a host of apps, from streaming services such as Netflix and Disney+ (although you still need to have a subscription), to your PC gaming library. These Android TV devices have rapidly become central entertainment systems in many homes.

You might have seen the name Google TV more recently. This is because Google is performing a huge upgrade to Android TV, changing the user interface to make it a smoother, easier experience. This is something to bear in mind when looking at a purchase, but most more modern boxes will be compatible with the update, and older boxes will still enjoy some aspects of the new UI, even if they can’t fully integrate. Of course, older boxes won’t just stop working immediately, either, so you have time to enjoy your old device before joining the new world.

There’s a raft of cheaper models that purport to do the same job as the more mainstream, usually slightly more expensive devices. For the time being, it’s safer to stick with the more well-known brands, but, as in the smartphone market, it won’t be long before we start to hear some of the brands’ names with more regularity.

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How we tested

Testing a set of entertaining Android TV devices wasn’t the most arduous task for us, but we managed to retain our professionalism when looking at what would make each device worth your time. Firstly, we tested for tech capability, from storage and processing speed to range of streaming services and other apps. We then looked at ease of use: does the device have its own user set-up, or does it employ a more generic Android UI? How straightforward is it to get to the show or game you want?

Another aspect to consider was the physical proportions of each device, an under-appreciated but important factor, especially when space is at a premium (or maybe that’s just our cluttered front room). The Android TV market is awash with products, so whittling down the list for personal preference and need is worth more time here than in most other areas of gadgetry. Just don’t sit too close to the screen.

The best Android TV boxes and sticks for 2021 are:

  • Best overall – Nvidia shield TV pro: £179,
  • Best Android TV stick – Amazon Fire TV stick 4K max: £36.99,
  • Best budget box – Xiaomi mi box S: £59.99,
  • Best affordable 4K device – Roku express 4K: £39.99,
  • Best for a pure Android experience – Google Chromecast: £30,
  • Best sound – Roku streambar: £129.99,
  • Best no-frills stick – Amazon fire TV stick lite: £16.99,

Nvidia shield TV pro

Best: Overall

Rating: 9/10

  • Dimensions: 98mm x 159mm x 259mm, 250g
  • Picture: 4K HDR, Dolby Vision HDR and HDR10, AI-enhanced upscaling
  • Storage and memory: 16GB, 3GB RAM

The Nvidia shield TV pro is an absolute powerhouse of Android TV. It has everything you need, from Dolby Vision and Atmos sound, to 16GB storage and 3GB RAM, to Nvidia’s gaming services letting you access your PC game library. The TV pro also offers some exclusive Android-optimised games, including Half-Life 2 and Borderlands. Plex is also pre-installed, giving you further viewing options to mainstream services like Netflix and iPlayer if you’re that way inclined.

The TV pro works with Google Assistant and Alexa, has Chromecast 4K built in, and has two USB ports on the side so you can play your entire Lord of the Rings film collection. It also uses AI to upscale HD video to 4K in real time, elevating your favourite binging show to never before seen levels, and producing the highest quality picture for each programme or film you could possibly get. It’s pricier than the rest of the devices on this list, but it’s worth it for the range of features Nvidia has fit into the pro. It also helps that it looks every inch the futuristic machine.

Amazon Fire TV stick 4K max

Best: Android TV stick

Rating: 8.5/10

  • Dimensions: 99mm x 30mm x 14mm, 48.4g
  • Picture: Dolby Vision, HDR10, HDR10+
  • Storage and memory: 8GB, 2GB RAM

There are very few differences between streaming boxes and sticks, especially now sticks have started to come with 4K compatibility, so if space is a premium, a stick is a solid purchase.

Amazon’s Fire TV collection has been at the forefront of streaming since the first product arrived on the site in early 2014. The company’s latest device, the pithily-titled Amazon Fire TV stick 4K max (try saying that five times in a row), is probably the best-value mainstream streaming device on the market.

Amazon says the 4K max is its quickest streaming device, and we’re inclined to agree: navigation is smooth and apps open up almost immediately. Of course, the clincher here is the 4K compatibility, but the 4K max also supports Dolby Vision and Atmos audio, along with HDR, giving you an extra level of sharpness. You can also incorporate the stick into any smart home products you have, such as viewing footage from your video doorbell without stopping what you’re watching. Very smart.

Xiaomi Mi box S

Best: Budget box

Rating: 8/10

  • Dimensions: 140 x 20mm x 10mm, 145g
  • Picture: 4K Ultra HD, HDR
  • Storage and memory: 8GB, 2GB RAM

The mi box S from tech upstart Xiaomi offers almost everything you need from Android TV in a compact and good-value box. It has 8GB of storage and 2GB of RAM, which is impressive for the price, alongside its Google Assistant capability and Chromecast built-in. Working on Android 8.1, the mi box is compatible with thousands of apps and offers the same 4K HDR picture tech as more expensive rivals. The Dolby Audio is surprisingly effective from such a diminutive box, and wireless screen mirroring is easy to set up if you want to project your phone onto the big screen while still texting your mate next to you about how good the film is that you’re watching. Overall, the mi box is small and mighty for a great-value price.

Roku express 4K

Best: Affordable 4K device

Rating: 8/10

  • Dimensions: 20.8mm x 86.3mm x 39.3mm, 44.6g
  • Picture: 4K HDR10, HDR10+, upscaling from 720p and 1080p, compatible with non-4K
  • Storage and memory: 1GB RAM

Roku has fashioned a strong niche for itself when it comes to streaming devices, and its latest product continues a strong showing from the brand. The express 4K is one of the best-value ways of streaming in 4K on the market, and is a rapid, smooth bit of kit that streams high quality picture through a dual band wireless connection.

The Roku platform is probably the easiest on the market to navigate, and offers a heap of free content for users to enjoy. On top of that, it’s compatible with all the major streaming apps, along with live TV, and also has the advantage of being able to share video, imagery and more from Apple products via AirPlay, if Android isn’t enough for you. It’s a great device for beginners, or to enhance a second TV, and a fairly risk-free purchase that will actually work for most people as their primary viewing service.

Google Chromecast

Best: For a pure Android experience

Rating: 8/10

  • Dimensions: 52mm x 52mm, 49g
  • Picture: up to 1080p 60fps
  • Storage and memory: 8GB, 2GB RAM

When it comes to Android, Google is the alpha and omega. Having bought Android in 2005, Google set about developing the operating system we know today. Android itself might actually be developed by 84 brands (including Sony, Motorola, Dell and Samsung), but Google is the sponsor, and is almost synonymous with the OS in many people’s minds.

It makes sense, then, that Google’s own Chromecast device would work seamlessly with Android, offering the purest form of Android TV available. With Google TV set to supersede Android TV for the search engine behemoth, Chromecast is a great way to use Android apps and streaming services on your TV and get ahead of the upgrade game. Casting your laptop, tablet or phone screen to your TV is straightforward, and there’s even iPhone compatibility. It’s simple, effective and looks good.

Roku streambar

Best: Sound

Rating: 8/10

  • Dimensions: 60.9mm x 355.6mm x 106.6mm, 1088.6g
  • Picture: 4K HDR10, upscaling from 720p and 1080p, compatible with non-4K
  • Storage and memory: 1GB RAM

This is a quality box with the benefits of a great soundbar, making a complete entertainment package. The Roku streambar offers the classic list of streaming services, from Netflix to Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video, alongside Apple TV and UK on-demand channels. However, what makes this device really worth your attention is the sound quality: this is a good soundbar in its own right, producing surprisingly powerful bass and a consistent Bluetooth connection for all your music services. It’s so good, in fact, we included it in a round-up of the best budget soundbars. That’s a pretty stellar record.

Amazon fire TV stick lite

Best: No-frills stick

Rating: 7.5/10

  • Dimensions: 18mm x 30mm x 13mm, 32g
  • Picture: HDR10, HDR10+
  • Storage and memory: 8GB, 1GB RAM

If the 4K max is the serious sibling, the Amazon fire TV stick lite is the laid-back cousin. It gives you the essentials of streaming without any fluff or fuss, offering pretty much every mainstream service you could think of, alongside live TV, music and Alexa capability. It also fits neatly behind most TVs, plugging directly into the HDMI port. For such a low price, it’s a no-brainer for anyone used to Amazon products.

The verdict: Android TV boxes and sticks

All of the above will do a great job of streaming your favourite shows from the comfort of your sofa. However, for sheer breadth of choice, the Nvidia shield TV pro is unbeatable, offering you the top streaming services, further streaming options via Plex, and the chance to play your favourite PC games on the big screen without losing any picture quality. For a full audiovisual entertainment system, the Roku streambar provides brilliant audio to match its high-end picture.

Voucher codes

For the latest discounts on TVs and other tech offers, try the below links:

Upgrade your home set-up with the best TV streaming devices and boxes for binge-watching your favourite shows

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.

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