Yesterday in Beijing, Chinese handset maker Xiaomi revealed the Mi Box Mini, an Android TV-like device that can play games.
Everyone and their mother (in Tech News) is monitoring Xiaomi, the *fourth largest smartphone maker in the world behind Samsung, Apple and Lenovo (owners of Motorola). But that doesn't mean everything they put out is gold.
Xiaomi's been at the TV game the longest after it's smartphone when they first released the Mi Box, their answer to Apple TV. Like the Apple device, the Mi Box could play games, download apps, and stream content. However, unlike the Apple device, the content supported by Xiaomi is mostly China-centric, and this is no different with the Mi Box Mini.
Let's a take a step back and look at the Mi Box Mini. The thing is small, sleek, and did I mention small? At the size of a smartphone charger, the Mi Box Mini only has a plug and an HDMI output. It connects online via Wi-Fi. Xiaomi is offering "1.4 million hours" of content to go with it.
Of course, since it's an Android device, and similar to Android and Apple TV, the Mi Box Mini also has another feature going for it: gaming. The Mi Box Mini's specs surpass those many early Android consoles:
Most of the content available on the Mi Box Mini, and the Mi Box, for that matter, is in Chinese. Some of it might also be illegal and unlicensed content, but I did find Archer in English.
Enough about the video, onwards to video games! Sadly, like its predecessors, the Mi Box Mini isn't a gaming machine, even after the various deals that Xiaomi has made, including the one with Ouya. Part of the problem of the device as a gaming platform is Xiaomi's own lackadaisical offerings.
The company has on its store, free of charge, games like Timberman, Flappy Bird and Plants Versus Zombies. Of course there are also loads of Chinese-made mobile games. The games are simple casual titles that would find their way onto many a smartphone, mine included (I really liked Timberman).
Now, according to Xiaomi's forum's and Engadget, there's a way to side-load apps onto the Mi Box Mini. I haven't figured out how. There's no Micro SD or SD slot anywhere, so the hardware is limited to 2GB of usable memory. The Mi Box Mini should also connect to any Bluetooth controller, however it's not connecting to my Moga Pro.
However, at a price of about £20, the Mi Box Mini is incredibly attractive for people looking for a media solution to terrestrial and cable TV. With Xiaomi supposedly slated to hit US shops in the coming year, they may work out something with the Mi Box Mini for western audiences at large. I still can't get over how tiny the box is.
*Xiaomi provided a free Mi Box Mini to all attendees at the Xiaomi Mi Note press event in Beijing on Thursday. In attendance were members of the press, guests invited by Xiaomi, and lucky members of Xiaomi's "Mi Fans" fan base.