In this guide I’m going to go over everything you need in order to pick the best cheap Android TV box. So, if you’re strapped for cash, but you still want to get a great streaming device, keep reading!
I love looking at big houses and fancy cars. It’s great to dream, but at the end of the day, I’m going to get in my Mazda and go home to my little house.
It’s the same thing when you’re shopping for a streaming device. You may want to get that $300 NVIDIA Shield that’s on my list of Best Android TV Boxes, but it might not be in your budget. But how do you buy a cheap Android TV box and still be happy?
This guide will take you through what you’re going to be giving up when you look at a cheap Android TV box, as well as a couple of things I absolutely will not skimp on – no matter how cheap the device is. Finally, I’ll give five recommendations for Android TV boxes that are low on cost, but high on features. Most of them are around the $50 range, but all are under $100.
If you’re ready, let’s dive in!
Understand what you’re giving up
If you’re looking at a cheap Android TV box, you need to understand what you’re giving up. It makes sense that higher priced streaming devices will usually (but not always) have better features. What I’ve found is that most of the cheaper TV boxes will often skimp on some of the things that don’t show up in the specs.
For example, here’s what you might be giving up by going with a cheap Android TV box:
- Performance Components: You wouldn’t expect a Honda to have the same engine as a Ferrari. In order to bring the costs down, manufacturers often have to skimp on some of the components. Don’t expect to get a high performance TV box at bargain basement prices.
- Regular firmware updates: Streaming devices get better over time – if the manufacturer updates them at all. Without regular firmware updates, the TV box that looked like a great deal when you bought it can quickly become outdated.
- OTA upgrades: If the manufacturer doesn’t offer OTA (Over The Air) firmware upgrades, you may have to use the “toothpick method” and manually update the device. Manual updates are much more complicated and most people just skip them entierly.
- Forum support: If I’m having a problem with my device, the first place I’ll usually go for answers is to the manufacturer’s forum. It’s rare for the cheaper streaming devices to have a good community support network.
- Support after the sale: It takes money to run a customer service department. If they aren’t making it on the price of the TV box, this is usually the first thing to go.
Five things I won’t skimp on
Now that you’ve got a better idea of what to expect with a cheap Android TV box, let’s go shopping!
Geekbuying and Gearbest are two of the most reputable places to buy an TV box. If you want the latest stuff, as soon as it hits the market, they’re the first place to go. Usually, I will buy most of my devices through Amazon.com, but that’s because I’m an Amazon Prime member and I get free 2-day shipping. What can I say? I’m impatient when I shop for my tech. Note: You can see a full write-up of my shopping experience in my GearBest Review.
That being said, a quick look at Geekbuying and Gearbest list over 500 TV boxes! Ouch.
Now, that counts the same box with slightly different specs listed multiple times, but still…that’s a lot of possibilities.
Let’s try to narrow down that list a little?
There are some things that I simply won’t skimp on – no matter how cheap the TV box is.
- It MUST have Android 5 or Android 6: Unless you’re stuck in 2015, there’s absolutely no reason that you should be buying a TV box that still runs Android 4.4. In fact, Kodi 17 will require Android 5.0 or higher to run.
- No Generic TV boxes: Seriously. If the company can’t put it’s own name on their product, how much do you think they’ll support it after you hand them your money?
- Don’t bother looking at eBay or Craigslist: I’ve talked about this before in detail, so let me just say this. If you buy a box from some guy on Craigslist, you’re throwing your money away. Give it to me instead please. 🙂
- If it says “Allwinner” or “RockChip” just skip it: It’s been very, very well documented that Allwinner has been copying its development code from other companies without getting the proper licensing, which is a no-no in the open-source community. Similarly, RockChip has absolutely no developer support from within Team Kodi. Personally, I wouldn’t want to buy a device that isn’t 100% compatible with the most popular app I’m going to run on it.
- It MUST have a custom launcher: If your wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, etc. is going to be using the TV box, you’re going to hear a lot of complaining if it’s not easy to use. I don’t want to hear them complain, do you?
Cheap Android TV box recommendations
(All under $100. Most under $50)
Those five things help narrow the possibilities down quite a bit, but there’s still a lot of TV boxes out there. I’ve looked over the devices that are still standing and come up with five of my favorites. These are in alphabetic order, so don’t look at this as a ranked list. All of these are good choices from solid companies.
The Beelink GT1 is one of the first TV boxes to hit the market with the new Amlogic S912 chipset.
Running Android 6.0, the Beelink GT1 has 2GB of RAM, and 16GB of storage space, which is fairly common. What sets is apart is the new octa-core S912 processor which has support for 4K video playback at 60 frames per second, 10-bit hardware decoding, 802.11 ac wireless and gigabit Ethernet.
However, as with any brand new chipset, there are some small performance bugs which may need to be worked out. It may take a little time before the firmware catches up to the hardware.
Although Beelink has, in my opinion, fairly generic devices, they do have an active support forum and an OTA firmware update process. With Beelink, you’re not going to get a streaming device with a lot of bells and whistles, but you are going to get something that will do the job and not cost a lot.
Beelink MINI MXIII
I’ve written about the Beelink MINI MXIII in an earlier article here. The MINI MXIII has the smallest form-factor of any streaming device on this list – just under 10 cm squared.
It has the same chipset as the MINIX NEO U1, which is on my Best Android TV Box list, but at less than half the price.
With that small size, you are giving up some functionality. There are only two USB 2.0 ports, gigabit Ethernet, a micro-SD card slot and a digital optical out. Wi-Fi is single band 2.4GHz, so expect to use the wired Ethernet, or have your router close by.
Even with those limitations, the MINI MXIII deserves a look. It’s got a slick user interface, as well as the OTA firmware update process and good support network as it’s newer brother, the GT1 above.
Entertainment Box MXQ Pro
The Entertainment Box MXQ Pro is the only Android TV box on this list with the older Amlogic S905 chipset. But, if you live in the UK, you know that this list wouldn’t be complete without one of Entertainment Box’s devices.
The MXQ Pro has 1GB of RAM, and 8GB of storage space available, which is a bit on the light side. However, the S905 is a more mature chipset, so it will have all of the bugs already worked out of it’s firmware.
What I love about Entertainment Box is their support network. They have an extremely active user forum, and have fairly regular firmware updates available for their devices. There’s no OTA firmware update process for the MXQ Pro at the moment, but they say it’s on the way soon.
Finally, if you live in the UK, they offer free shipping as well.
Find the Ebox MXQ Pro at Entertainmentbox.com
The Nexbox A95X is the most generic device on this list and is available in several different configurations. One of the more confusing things about this TV box is that you can find the A95X with both the newer Amlogic S905X CPU as well as the older S905 CPU. Be extra cautious that you’re getting the device you want.
Looking at the newer A95X with the S905X CPU, it comes with 2GB of RAM and either 8GB or 16GB of storage space. There’s a custom launcher with a familiar design which looks like a cross between the Netflix user interface and the NVIDIA Shield UI, running atop Android 6.0.
Unfortunately, there’s no OTA firmware upgrade available for the A95X at this time. Any firmware upgrades will have to be done the old-fashioned way. And although there is an official support forum on Nexbox’s website, there is very little activity at the time of this writing.
The Probox2 Air is the most expensive TV box on this list, but it’s also the most refined.
Like the Nexbox A95X above, it runs the new Amlogic S905X chipset and has 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage space. It’s running Android 6.0 and can run 4K\UHD video at 60 frames per second.
However, where it really sets itself apart is with the custom Apex UI launcher. The slick, Android TV-like interface is available in 16 different languages, and is designed to be used with a regular d-pad remote control. You can still use the slick ProBox2 Remote+, but this is one device where you probably won’t need an airmouse unless you’re looking to use it for gaming.
OTA firmware upgrades have been rolled out to most of the other models in the Probox2 lineup, and is expected to come to the ProBox2 Air soon. Probox2 also has a forum where users can go to get support, although there are only a few hundred comments overall.
Find the Probox2 Air at Amazon.com
Buying a cheap Android TV box doesn’t mean you have to settle, but it does mean that you need to look closely at the device you’re buying. There are hundreds of different options out there, but as long as you know what you’re getting, what to stay away from, and what you’re giving up, then you should still be able to have a great TV box that will save you some money. It doesn’t hurt to pick something on this list, either. 🙂
What do you think? Do you have a cheap Android TV box that should be on this list? Let me know in the comments below!