Updated for 2019: 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!
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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 my 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 Without regular firmware updates, the TV box that looked like a great deal when you bought it can quickly become outdated.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 entirely.
- 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 6 or Android 7: Unless you’re stuck in 2016, there’s absolutely no reason that you should be buying a TV box that still runs Android 5.
- 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 some 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.
Skystream is back again with the SkyStreamThree and this time they’ve doubled down on their success.
OK…sorry for the bad pun. I can’t resist. 🙂
In all seriousness though, Skystream took what made the Skystream Three a killer Android TV box and doubled it.
The processor has been upgraded to the Amlogic S912 octa-core CPU – double the cores from the One. The internal storage has been doubled from 16 GB up to 32 GB. System memory hasn’t quite been doubled, but it has definitely been given a big boost. There’s now 3 GB of memory, up from 2 GB. And now DDR4 memory, which has the edge in performance over the older DDR3 in most TV boxes.
There’s also a slick new custom interface which is more modern than the brightly colored interface from their older boxes. You’ll still find most of the large icons where you’d expect them to be, but they don’t jump out at you as much as they used to.
What really gets me excited is the extra features that they’ve crammed into the Skystream Three.
They’ve integrated Google Voice Search into the media center so you can search for whatever you want to watch instead of typing it out on the on-screen keyboard. With Google Assistant, “OK Google” is always available to answer questions.
Also new on the Skystream Three is Widevine certification. It’s one of the main requirements for getting Netflix, YouTube, Amazon and Hulu in HD quality.
What to love: Looking at the specs, there’s a lot to love. More memory. More CPU power. More storage. Pair that with the famous Skystream support network, and we’ve got a great TV box.
What’s missing: Still missing USB 3.0 which will really hurt transfer speeds from external hard drives. There’s also an increase in price to go along with the increases in memory, storage and CPU.
- 5.1 Audio Passthrough
- H.265 Hardware Decoding
- Android 7.1 Nougat
- Dynamic Refresh Rate Switching
- OTA Firmware Updates
- HDMI 2.0
- USB 3.0
- Dual-Band Wi-Fi and\or Gigabit Ethernet
- The latest version of Kodi
Find the best price on the Skystream Three directly from Skystream.com
Amazon Fire TV
The first Android TV box on this list is from Amazon? Actually, yes.
The Amazon Fire TV Stick is already one of the most popular Kodi devices. Amazon upped the ante with the new Fire TV 4K. If you’ve been trying to decide between the old Amazon Fire TV vs Fire Stick, the new Fire TV gives you another option to consider.
Let’s start with the basics. The new Amazon Fire TV is not a high-end device. It’s not trying to go after the NVIDIA Shield TV or the Roku Ultra. It’s aiming at the middle ground.
Here’s what I mean by that: Gone are all of the ports that were on the original Amazon Fire TV. You won”t find an SD card slot, or an Ethernet port, or a digital optical port. But it doesn’t need them either.
Bottom line is that the new Amazon Fire TV is an incredibly tweakable TV box that belongs among the elites. It’s an added bonus that it’s well under the $100 price point.
Find the Amazon Fire TV at Amazon.com
Beelink GT1 Ultimate
The original Beelink GT1 is one of the first TV boxes to hit the market with the new Amlogic S912 chipset, and the GT1 Ultimate takes it to the next level.
The Beelink GT1 Ultimate is running Android 7.1, upped the RAM from 2 GB to 3 GB, and doubled the storage from 16 GB to 32 GB. The octa-core S912 processor has support for 4K video playback at 60 frames per second, 10-bit hardware decoding, 802.11 ac wireless and gigabit Ethernet.
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.
Find the Beelink MINI MXIII at GearBest.com
Entertainment Box MXQ 4K
If you live in the UK, you know that this list wouldn’t be complete without one of Entertainment Box’s devices.
There are two versions of the MXQ 4K: There’s one with 1 GB of RAM and 8 GB or storage, and the upgraded version with 2 GB of RAM and 16 GB or storage. In this case, definitely spring for the upgraded RAM and storage. You won’t regret it.
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
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!
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