If you're one of many South Africans who don't have access to a smart TV, Xiaomi's Mi TV Stick gives you full access to the sort of smarts you'll get from most Android-based smart TVs, at a fraction of the price.
It might be 2023 but it’s still entirely possible that you’re using a dumb TV. That’s nothing to be ashamed of. TVs aren’t exactly essential purchases and if the panel’s still working, why upgrade? Well… streaming, obviously. That’s where the Xiaomi Mi TV Stick comes in.
South Africans love media boxes, perhaps because they’re cheaper than dropping multiple thousands of rand on a full smart TV. Or maybe it’s some phenomenon we haven’t figured out yet. But if a streaming box is out of your budget range, or you just don’t have the space, a TV stick is the next best option. And Xiaomi’s contender is one of the better ones.
Xiaomi has a few of these on the market but you can tell the newest model (which isn’t all that new, in all honestly) apart from the others by the fact that it’s got a little Mi etched onto the top face of it. Older models have the word Xiaomi, in full. Not that you’ll spend more than a few minutes looking at this thing before it goes right into the back of your TV. Still, it’s the thought that counts.
The Mi TV Stick has no moving parts. There’s an HDMI male connector on one end and a micro USB power port set into one edge. Otherwise? You won’t find anything else to poke, prod, move, or fiddle with. That’s the domain of the remote control and the Android-powered software inside the stick.
Setup is simple. Extract from box. Connect micro-USB end to dongle. Insert HDMI end into TV. Insert other end of power cable into spare USB-A port in your TV. Use included two-prong adaptor and/or HDMI extension cable as needed. See? Simple. Your gran could do it. She won’t, but she could.
There are two ways to interact with the Mi TV Stick. The one we preferred was the included remote control. It’s compact but sturdy, based on the wonderful design Apple uses for its Apple TV remote though not quite as slick. Still, it’s a breeze to use. Buttons are kept to a minimum. Dedicated keys for Netflix and Prime Video, volume controls, a navigation wheel, and Home, Menu, and Back buttons make up the bulk of the device.
That leaves the top two buttons. The first, obviously, is the power button. The option just below that is for summoning Google’s Assistant to help you to search and navigate without using the onscreen keyboard. Just hold in the button, say ‘Hey Google’, and you’ll be assisted to the best of the virtual assistant’s capabilities. Which, admittedly, isn’t much. It’ll track down shows you know the names of and provide some other basic assistance but you might find it simpler to just do it all yourself.
Unless, that is, you’re already using Google’s Nest ecosystem in your house. In that case, the remote can be used to issue commands to other gadgets on the network. We’re not sure what you’re using, but there’s a bunch of compatible tech. Open your curtains. Ask for the traffic report. Some other third thing. These are options that depend on the work you did before you bought the Mi TV Stick.
Widespread voice control might be a nebulous feature (why would you have a smart home and not a smart TV, after all) but the Android-based operating system isn’t. Android 9.0 is the OS that Xiaomi’s little stick is modelled after. The menus and input options, like keyboards, will feel familiar but the resulting interface wouldn’t look out of place on a TCL or Skyworth TV. Those brands, and others, love to use Android as a base. The vertical arrangement of tiles makes choosing an app, or a recommendation from one of those apps, a breeze.
We ran into a few minor issues from the outset. It’s possible to download the apps you want, provided they’re not already installed, and not be able to launch them. Showmax and Disney+ are examples of apps we downloaded that mysteriously crashed, time after time. Rather than offer any explanation, it was left to us to figure out that a software update was needed for the stick itself.
Later, the same thing happened while an episode of something or other was running. Following a few hitches and starts, the app crashed and we were informed that an update would be taking place now. There was nothing wrong with the procedure itself, the Mi TV Stick just needs to work on its communication. But at this price, it needn’t work too hard.
Xiaomi Mi TV Stick verdict
The Mi TV Stick will set you back, at most, a thousand bucks. We don’t care how good that Black Friday special claims to be, you won’t replace a dumb TV with a smart one for that money. Xiaomi’s addition means you don’t have to. Just plug in, turn on, sign in, and pretend that your older Sinotec or less-talented Samsung TV was always capable of speaking to the internet. Sure, it’s another remote control on the table but it’s a very small remote. And there’s even voice control if you’re willing to put up with that.