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Android TV Boxes are Cheap for a Reason


TV Box When it comes to Android TV boxes I'm somewhat ambivalent. On the one hand, having a small, inexpensive, dedicated device that sits on your TV that you can use to play games, listen to music, watch Netflix and recorded movie files, surf the internet, and install other applications onto is a great idea. On the other hand, the applications that come with Android TV boxes just don't seem to work very well. In fact, beyond being downright frustrating to use, many of the apps are so poor that they're useless. And, let's not forget that these days it's hard to avoid buying a TV that doesn't already have many of these features.

Let me illustrate my objections to Android TV boxes by relating my own experiences. Over the last five years or so, I've bought two. The first was a Mele A210, and the second was an Eshawee X96 Mini ($32 on Amazon). Both were not only cheap but also fairly highly rated by Amazon reviewers. At least, they were highly rated among the cheaper Android TV boxes.

When I received the Mele A210 in the mail, it was missing its controller. I contacted the manufacturer and asked them to mail me one. They said they would, but it never arrived. Luckily, I could get the Mele to work with a USB mouse and keyboard. I'll just get right to the bottom line on the Mele A210, because this isn't a product review, and I would prefer to talk about my other TV box. The bottom line is that most applications were in Chinese, so I had no idea what the majority of them did. The ones that I managed to understand worked so poorly that I gave up in frustration. I finally just put the device on a shelf, where it has been sitting unused for years.

My experience with the Eshawee X96 Mini was better but still not what I had hoped for. It came with everything that was supposed to be in the box, and all the hardware worked. I was also pleasantly surprised that the X96 Mini worked with my Logitech K400 wifi keyboard and trackpad. I love my Logitech K400, so I decided to use it, despite the fact that the X96 Mini's controller worked just fine. But, as I have already alluded to, most of the X96 Mini's applications had major problems, and some were so bad that they were useless.

I'll give several examples of the level of frustration I ran into while using the X96 Mini. First, the chrome browser scroll bar on the right side of the screen is hidden. When you manage to locate it, you find that dragging down with the mouse, makes it scroll up instead of down. After a few seconds, the menu bar disappears, and you have to press the escape key to get it back. There are also far fewer browser settings (including privacy settings) than with the PC version of chrome. No "X" button can be found in the upper right-hand part of the chrome window. Instead, you hit the escape key to exit, as is the case with most, but not all, of the X96 Mini's applications.

The Pandora app is not at all like the version of Pandora that you see when you log on from a PC. The controls are hard to figure out. Sometimes you can't get back to the home screen of Pandora without exiting the application and restarting it. In fact, this is a problem with a few of the apps on the X96 Mini.

The movie player app is even worse. It doesn't allow access to the control bar after a few seconds. This means you can't move to any place in the video, pause a movie, or adjust any other settings. So, you are forced to watch a movie from beginning to end without pausing. There is also no volume control, so you'll have to adjust the volume with the controls on external speakers. It's possible that hitting some key or combination of keys on the keyboard may give you access to the control bar, but you have no way of knowing which key or keys.

In general, the controls for most of the X96 Mini's apps are flaky. For example, it took me four tries to switch account profiles in Netflix. No Netflix app comes with the X96 Mini, so I had to access it through the chrome browser. When I tried to download a Netflix app from the Google Play store, this message was displayed instead: "Your device isn't compatible with this version". After logging into Netflix via the chrome browser, I found that I was unable to scroll to the right on the Netflix home page to see more movies. But that didn't matter, because no movies would play anyway. No error message came up; movies just didn't play. To be honest, this wasn't unexpected. In my opinion, Netflix has a snooty attitude about browsers. It only works with a few of the very latest ones. This makes me think that Netflix just doesn't care much about its customers.

Problems were evident with other apps also. The Pluto TV app took me to a random Pluto TV station. I had no idea which one, because there were no controls of any kind. I was forced to watch this random station and nothing else. The KD player app also had no controls whatsoever, and I was forced to disconnect the power and reboot the X96 Mini to get out of it. I came away from this experience thinking that Eshawee must have simply thrown some apps onto the X96 Mini without testing to see if they actually worked!

The apps that work satisfactorily were in the minority. The music player app seemed to work just fine. The Crackle app worked well enough to choose a movie, play it, pause it, and move to a particular point in it.

I could go on, but I think I've shared enough details to make my point. Before purchasing an Android TV box, a buyer might have had the impression from advertisements that it is a small, cheap, replacement for a multimedia PC. Afterwards, he realizes immediately that this is not true at all. In fact, while some of the applications work just fine, most are so bad that you just want to throw the thing away and forget about it. I have to wonder how manufactures justify putting out TV boxes that are nearly useless to their customers. I can only assume that they just don't care. Unfortunately, potential buyers usually can't find enough details, even in Amazon reviews, to know which apps work and which don't. So, when you buy an Android TV box, despite the amount of research you've done, it's likely that you're still rolling the dice and hoping the TV box has enough functionality that it will be useful. Based on my limited experience, this gamble will likely not pay off. In my opinion you are far better off paying more for another type of device that will do what you need, rather than gambling on an Android TV box. The one exception to this may be if you just want a cheap device that does one thing well, and several reviewers say that the device you're thinking of buying does this one thing well. For example, the X96 Mini plays music off the internet well.

If your experience with Android TV boxes has been different than mine, and you've found an inexpensive one you like, please let us know by leaving a comment below.

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