Android streaming boxes have created a unique niche in the home theater streaming market: they’re straightforward little boxes designed for streaming web video and home media based on Google’s smartphone operating system.
Android smartphones enjoy some of the best slideshow and local media apps available, so it makes sense that an Android streaming box is the easiest way to get that content on your TV faster than anyone can say, “Please don’t show me anymore of your vacation photos.” Whether you’re looking to watch your home movies, check out the latest clips from YouTube, or stream your favorite music from your MP3 collection, an Android streaming box is a solid choice.
Read all about Android streaming boxes and decide which features are for you. Then, check out the grid above to see which Android streaming boxes we recommend most.
Android streaming box vs. android tv box
Most Android streaming boxes market themselves as Android TV boxes because they’re connected to a TV and running Android. Makes sense, right? Unfortunately, things get a little messy with the term Android TV, because it’s also the name of Google’s official streaming box platform that only runs on select devices.
As you’re shopping, make sure you know the differences:
Android streaming boxes are small, nondescript, affordable boxes that run the mobile version of Android – which means that manufacturers are taking the operating system made for phones and modifying it to be slightly more user-friendly in TV environments. They offer comprehensive support for audio and video files no matter what format they’re in, and they play mobile games available from the Google Play Store. If you just need a straightforward media box that can get your local media on your TV without breaking the bank, an Android streaming box is a strong choice.
Android TV boxes run the “Android TV” operating system, a separate, specific platform designed for use with a remote control. Similar to Apple’s tvOS, Android TV focuses on connecting users with streaming content. Android TV boxes are typically twice as expensive as Android streaming boxes, but they include much more powerful hardware. If you’re looking for a streaming media box that includes additional functionality (like support for Google Home/Assistant), an Android TV box may be a better choice.
Did you know?
Most Android streaming boxes can connect to both WiFi or wired Ethernet network. WiFi is fast enough to stream most content. However, for 4K video, the faster speeds of Ethernet is better.
Important pointers for selecting an android streaming box
Android streaming boxes have made a lot of headlines over the years because many less-than-legitimate manufacturers sell them pre-configured for watching illegal streams of pirated video. Android streaming boxes have plenty of legitimate, legal uses – but unfortunately, their association with piracy means that you’ll need to be careful what hardware you buy.
Here’s what you need to know to stay safe.
If an Android streaming box offers “free TV,” don’t buy it. Unless they’re talking about TV content that you already know to be free – such as free kids’ videos from the PBS app – it’s important to remember that there is no such thing as a free lunch. If an Android streaming box suggests it can offer you paid content for free, it’s not doing so legally, and no binge-watching session is worth going to jail for.
If an Android streaming box has its own version of the Google Play Store, don’t buy it. Some Android streaming boxes are connected to third-party app stores. On first blush, this can seem like a convenience – it’s a custom app store with only compatible apps! However, the majority of these stores are connected to independent businesses who don’t have the security practices in place that Google does to help keep you safe. Whenever possible, stick with streaming boxes that only download apps from the official Google Play Store.
Check product reviews to see how often software updates are provided by the manufacturer. Some manufacturers issue frequent updates to help keep their Android streaming boxes stay secure, while others simply rely on users to do their own OS updates. If you’re not comfortable installing updates on your own, limit your searches to only models with strong track records for software updates. The product list above can help point you in the right direction.
For your safety
Android streaming boxes can heat up pretty quickly, so make sure to place yours in an area that’s well ventilated. If possible, buy an Android streaming box with an aluminum shell (and not plastic) for better heat dissipation.
Android streaming box prices
As you’re shopping for an Android streaming box, keep these price ranges in mind.
In the $30 to $49 range, expect to see low-end devices that are just barely usable. An Android streaming box in this price range might be good for someone who is mildly curious about the platform, but if you plan on using yours regularly, spend a little more and get a higher-quality device.
In the $50 to $99 range, you’ll find the best value. Android streaming boxes in this range have quick processors, all of the connectivity options you could ask for (like Bluetooth, WiFi, and Ethernet), and many even support 4K resolution. Whether you’re a seasoned tinkerer or a casual enthusiast, you don’t need to spend more than $100 to get an Android streaming box that meets your needs.
In the $100+ range, you’ll find all of the overpriced options – and in many cases, the extra money doesn’t buy any extra features. If you’re considering an option that costs more than $100, compare it carefully with some mid-priced Android streaming boxes first.
Before buying and setting up your Android streaming box, consider these tips.
Make sure you have adequate WiFi signal in the location you expect to place your Android streaming box. Your android streaming box will rely on a strong network connection, even if you’re just using it for local media. If you’re not sure how to get started, download a network speed analysis app to your smartphone, and start running speed comparison tests in various locations of your home. Once you have a sense for the fastest and slowest speeds on your network, test the speed near the location where your Android streaming box will be. Ideally, your Android streaming box should have a WiFi connection with a full four bars.
Look into compatibility with universal remotes before buying a specific model. Many Android streaming boxes include remotes, but those remotes aren’t always amazing, and they’re often the first things users replace. We recommend using a universal remote with your Android streaming box, which makes it important to be certain that the Android streaming box you buy will be compatible. If you plan on using your Android streaming box with a third-party remote, verify ahead of time that the two will work together.
Organize your home media before you set up your Android streaming box. If you plan to use your Android streaming box to display your personal photos and videos or play back your music collection, make sure it’s all organized ahead of time. Without a consistent organizational scheme in place, you may end up wasting time in front of your TV trying to find your content.
Q. Why are Android streaming boxes often advertised with keyboard remotes?
A. Setting up an Android streaming box isn’t difficult, but it can mean tweaking a lot of settings to get it just right, and that can result in a lot of typing. Many users find it useful to have a remote that includes a full QWERTY keyboard for searching or typing long character strings that would take too long to enter with a standard remote control.
Q. How much RAM should a good Android streaming box have?
A. The RAM on an Android streaming box won’t have a dramatic update on performance, but it’s not expensive, so it’s worth maxing out. Most Android streaming boxes come with a minimum of 2GB of RAM, which is plenty. Don’t buy an Android streaming box with less than 2GB of RAM.
Q. How do I get software updates for an Android streaming box?
A. Some Android streaming box manufacturers provide software and firmware updates free of charge – but that’s rare. In most cases, you’ll need to perform software updates yourself, which is not as complicated as it may sound. Updating software is usually a matter of downloading a file from the web, copying it to a USB thumb drive, and booting the streaming box with the thumb drive inserted (this typically brings up an interface that initiates the upgrade).