Yes, there are cheap Android TV boxes worth buying, but there is also junk. The key is to know the difference between the two. We are going to show you how to tell the difference between a bargain and something that belongs in the garbage.
Quick Look At Our Top Picks
An Android TV box is the best way to turn your TV into a smart TV or add a bit more flexibility to a TV set up using proprietary smart software, but your home entertainment setup is only as good as the weakest link. If you have a top-end TV and sound system, you will be letting yourself down if you augment it with a cheap Android TV box. You should be looking at our list of the best Android TV boxes instead.
But what if you have a pretty standard setup, and don’t even have a 4K TV? What if you aren’t after something to play games and act as the hub for a home entertainment library? What if you just want something that lets you binge Netflix, watch YouTube, and stream live TV channels on your TV? You need this guide to the best cheap Android TV boxes.
We will take you through what actually matters when choosing an Android TV box and give you the minimum specs that you should consider while shopping. We’ll also share our recommendations for the best affordable Android TV boxes that you can buy today.
What Is An Android TV Box?
Before diving in, I want to answer this question for anyone new to the field. What is an Android TV box?
A TV box is a piece of hardware that enables you to stream content directly from the Internet to your TV screen. It works a lot like a smartphone or a tablet. You can download apps, which you access and control through the TV box using your remote, and they enable you to watch online content on your big screen.
You can get the Netflix app, the YouTube app, the Amazon Prime Video app, the Hulu app… Pretty much all streaming services have an app that you can download directly to your TV box.
An Android TV box is a TV box that runs on the Android operating system, the same as many mobile phones. You can also get Apple TV devices, which use the Apple operating system, and there are a variety of other options out there as well.
The reason to choose an Android TV box is the same reason as choosing an Android phone: flexibility. Many operating systems—Apple, for example—only come on Apple hardware, and you are locked down in terms of what you can add.
Android, on the other hand, is an open operating system so a wide variety of hardware manufacturers can use it. You also have more options in terms of what you can download and how you can customize your experience. For these reasons, it is one of the most popular and supported OS.
This also means that it is easier to find cheaper Android TV boxes, as the operating system is very accessible to manufacturers.
The Difference Between Expensive & Cheap Android TV Boxes
If you look at the marketplace, you’ll see basic Android TV boxes available for as little as $20 and as much as $200, but if you read the descriptions written by marketers it might be hard to tell the difference between the two. The prices can go even higher for premium boxes that include gaming options or more computing power.
So what actually sets affordable and top-end Android TV boxes apart?
You will probably find that every box you look at says that it can stream in 4K, and they will all be powerful enough to do it. The reality is that you won’t be able to watch Netflix in 4K on just any Android TV box. This is not because the box isn’t capable, but rather because the streaming companies haven’t authorized them to access their 4K content.
Netflix states that they authorize TV boxes to access their 4K content on a model-by-model basis for the purposes of quality control. They don’t want people complaining that they don’t offer decent 4K when in reality the disappointed customer is just watching on a machine that isn’t up for the task.
The actual approval process seems to be a bureaucratic one, though; while big-name devices such as Sony and Samsung seem to have a way to jump to the front of the list and have their devices approved quickly, smaller manufacturers that also deliver affordable 4K-suitable Android TV boxes don’t.
In the end, this is a problem of red tape rather than hardware but if watching the major streaming services in full 4K is a priority for you, many affordable Android TV boxes will leave you disappointed.
An affordable TV box usually comes with 1-2GB of RAM, while a pricier box will typically come with 4-8GB. This means that the more expensive boxes work faster and can run more applications simultaneously without giving you the loading circle.
It also means that the more expensive TV boxes are capable of running more sophisticated programs, such as gaming simulators and more elaborate versions of Kodi, but the smaller RAM of a cheaper box is capable of running most of the popular streaming applications with ease.
You can expect an affordable Android TV box to come with 8-16GB of ROM, while more expensive boxes will have a minimum of 32GB, and potentially much more.
You need a lot of ROM if you want to download content and store it on your box, so more expensive boxes are great if you have your own media library or you want to install games. If you are just streaming, however, you don’t actually need a lot of ROM.
The NVIDIA Shield, one of the leading Android TV boxes, has a Tegra X1 chipset, which makes it a very powerful and very expensive piece of hardware ideal for gamers.
Even affordable boxes typically have a decent Quad-core processor, though, so while it will be nowhere near as powerful as what you get with an NVIDIA Shield or other premium box, it is more than powerful enough to deliver seamless streaming even in 4K.
Voice Command & Smart Home Integrations
These days when you get a premium box the voice command options for easy searching come standard, but you almost never see this on a more affordable box. You can try and get it working with third-party apps, but the experience is never as seamless as you would hope. Instead, you can expect to do your searching with the onscreen keyboard and arrow pointers.
As an extension of voice command, most premium boxes integrate with smart home systems such as Amazon Alexa or Google Smart Home. This is another feature that is very rare with affordable boxes. If these bells and whistles are priorities for you, then an affordable box won’t be satisfying.
Based on these differences, if you go for a cheaper Android TV box the things that you are missing out on are principally viewing in 4K, voice command, smart home integrations, and power and space for advanced activities such as gaming.
If those things aren’t really a priority for you then you can get an affordable Android TV box without being disappointed, but what are the minimum specifications that you should be looking for?
- Android 9.0 or later
- 4K capable
- Quad-core processor
- Dual Wi-Fi 2.4/5Ghz
- Bluetooth 4.0
- 2GB of RAM
- 8GB of ROM
Once you hit these minimum specifications, it’s about knowing which features are most important to you and prioritizing them. Is your priority Netflix in 4K? There’s an affordable Android TV box for that. Do you feel like you need voice control? You can find an affordable Android TV box that does that too. Want space to play with Kodi? You can find budget options. It’s just difficult to find a cheap box that does all of the above.
Best Cheap Android TV Box Recommendations
With these minimum specifications in mind, here is our list of the five best affordable Android TV boxes that you can buy today, all of which actually deliver well above our minimum specifications.
You can get the Amazon Fire Stick 4K for less than $50. While it is a relatively modest stick in terms of power, with just 1.5GB of RAM and 8GB of ROM, it has been designed by Amazon specifically for streaming so it does a lot of the things that the more expensive boxes do.
Specifically, it is authorized to unlock Prime Video and Netflix in 4K, it has a good quality voice remote, and it integrates seamlessly with the Amazon Alexa smart home system if you have one.
It’s not powerful enough for gaming, but the main drawback with this device is that it doesn’t use a pure version of the Android operating system. Rather, it has Amazon Fire TV built on top of it. This means that you can’t download apps from the Google Play Store but instead need to use the much more limited Amazon app store.
In addition, when you search you will get Amazon results first, even if you have to pay for them and you have free access to the same content elsewhere. Even considering these factors, many people think that this is a small price to pay to get Netflix in 4K, voice command, and smart home integration.
The Dynalink is very similar to the Fire Stick 4K in that it is also available for less than $50 and it will also unlock all the major streaming services, including Netflix and Prime Video, in 4K due to it being Google Certified.
It is also a fairly lightweight box, with just 2GB of RAM and 8GB of ROM, so it’s not ideal for gaming but is an affordable mix for streaming. As well as streaming, the Dynalink is compatible with Chromecast, so you can easily send any content from your phone to your big screen with just a click.
Its Google integration means that it also has Google-supported voice control, and it can be integrated into Google smart home systems if you wish.
The EKO 4K Ultra HD TV Dongle is very similar to the Dynalink in terms of both functionality and price. It is only behind the Dynalink on this list because it came out second; you should earn some points for being first.
This dongle works the same way, running the Android 10.0 operating system with the Google OS on top. This Google functionality means certification for accessing the major streaming services in 4K, and you get the Google voice remote and Google smart home integration options.
It is another lightweight device with limited RAM and only 8GB of ROM. This means that while it is optimized for streaming, it doesn’t really have the weight and power to do more, such as run sophisticated versions of Kodi or present gaming simulators.
Despite these drawbacks, with the EKO 4K being available for less than $50 and providing both 4K streaming and voice control it feels like a premium device.
If you are looking for a more powerful, affordable Android TV box to support gaming, sophisticated versions of Kodi, or even your own home-grown media library, then you will be impressed by the QPLOVE box which is available for less than $70.
For this, you get an impressive 4GB of RAM and 128GB of ROM, which is more than enough space to store an impressive library of movies and games. Need more? There are also options to expand your storage with a TF card.
Its Quad-core processor is capable of delivering 4K, 6K, and even 3D, but you won’t get Netflix in 4K. That won’t matter, of course, if you are mostly watching your own content. There is also no voice command, but it does come with a mini keyboard remote to facilitate navigation.
While the name TiVo might scream “old-fashioned,” their streaming device is actually one of the newest and best things to hit the streaming market in recent years.
TiVo has partnered with Google and uses the Google OS. This means that you get the certification to access all the major streaming services in full 4K, and you get the voice control and the Google Assistant-powered smart home integrations.
Even with those features, what really stands out about the TiVo device is the TiVi app which aggregates content from all your streaming apps into one guide that feels very much like the guides on cable TV devices. Browse live TV, see on-demand options, and get smart recommendations based on what you have watched and liked.
Despite all this, the TiVo Stream 4K is actually the most affordable of all the devices on this list. Again, the only drawback is that it won’t suit streamers who want to do anything beyond simple streaming with their device.
Do cheap Android TV boxes work?
Yes, cheap Android TV boxes can work very well. They just don’t come with all of the bells and whistles–like voice command and smart home integrations–that the high-end models will. The thing to remember is that your home entertainment setup is only as good as its weakest link. If you have a top-of-the-range TV and sound system, a cheap box will let you down. If you don’t have a 4K TV, you don’t need a 4K Android TV box.
What is the best Android TV box?
The best Android TV box for you depends on what your priorities are and what you want to do with it. If you are looking for a cheap box and if streaming Netflix in 4K is important to you, consider the Fire Stick 4K or the Dynalink. If you want to use Kodi, consider the X88 Pro or the QPLOVE box.
Where to buy an Android TV box?
If you are looking for an affordable Android TV box, Amazon is one of the best places to browse for options. This is because many of the more affordable options are made by smaller companies that don’t have large distribution networks, so Amazon is one of their key selling markets.
Since there are so many to choose between on Amazon, though, it is important to know your requirements from the outset so that you can narrow down your options and find the right device for you.
Android TV boxes come in all shapes and sizes, and how much you need to spend to avoid disappointment depends on what you are looking for. If you know the minimum requirements for a decent box and what features are important to you, then you can easily find something for less than $100, if not less than $50.
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!