FIRST LOOK: AirTV Mini Brings Chromecast Form Factor with 4K Streaming & Power of Android TV Pie 9.0

AirTV Mini is one of the only Android TV devices that ships with Android Pie 9.0

Last week, AirTV, which is produced by Dish & Sling, officially announced the AirTV Mini, a 4K streaming stick that improves the cord-cutting experience by integrating Sling TV, Netflix, and over-the-air (OTA) channels into one user interface. We got our hands on the device for the first time and these are our thoughts on the Android TV streaming device.

What’s New

The device itself is not very different from the current AirTV Player, except it has the smaller form factor and most importantly it runs Android Pie (9.0) — which still hasn’t come to the NVIDIA SHIELD, Xiaomi MiBox S, or the original AirTV Player.

The device is a variation of the current AirTV Player (white), which also runs Android TV. However, since this one doesn’t have a USB-port for a tuner — you will need a AirTV (black) to be the source to stream locals to the device.

What’s In The Box

AirTV Mini Device

When you first open the box, you’ll see the new AirTV Mini, which looks like a bigger version of the Chromecast - with an HDMI-dongle attached to the body of the device. Since it’s slightly bigger than a Chromecast, you might struggle plugging it into your HDMI port if you have other devices nearby. On our test television though, while it was snug, it fit with a Fire TV Cube, Apple TV, and Roku Streaming Stick+.

To power the device, you will need to plug-in the connected micro-USB adapter into the included power adapter and the AirTV Mini.

Remote

With the AirTV Mini comes a brand new remote. We like this one much better than the old “Fisher Price” looking one that comes with the AirTV Player (white). The new remote is sleek in black (but still plastic) and has quick tap buttons for Sling TV, Netflix, and the Google Assistant. Also on the remote are buttons to go to the Android TV Home interface, as well as your standard in-app controls like D-Pad, Play/Pause, Fast-Forward, Rewind, Info, Guide, and Back.

One of our favorite features on AirTV Player, which is also on the AirTV Mini remote is a Recall button, which brings up a history of your last five viewed channels, so you can quickly go back to shows you were watching.

Controlling Your Television

The remote will also control power and volume on your television, which was quickly detected in set-up and required no additional set-up. The remote can control televisions using HDMI-CEC or IR, the latter which may take a few extra steps.

Voice Assistant

At first, we thought the remote had two Google Assistant buttons — but it turns out the microphone button on the top lets you control the Sling TV interface by voice. For instance, you can just say “Watch NHL Network” and it will switch to that channel. We had a hit or miss experience with it working, but when it did — it was a great experience.

According to AirTV, voice controls are app-sensitive and allow users to find a specific show or movie within the app they are using, or make commands such as “go to guide,” “show me my DVR” or “rewind 10 seconds

Set-Up

Since the device is powered by Android Pie, set-up is especially easy if you already have an Android device. By just launching the Google App on your Android phone, you can have the device download and install user data and applications directly to the device.

After installing a quick software update, the device launched into the Sling interface, where you can log-in to your Sling TV.

Using the Device

Like other AirTV devices, this one is also geared for those who have a Sling TV account. Even if you don’t have one, you can still use their Guest Mode which lets you access free content and purchased shows/movies on Sling.

Sling

Sling TV works just as you would expect on other devices — including My TV, Grid Guide, and Search. It has the older interface that is on other AirTV and Android TV devices, not the newly redesigned one that you see on Roku and Apple TV devices.

Side note: the older interface has a way better interface for watching recorded shows with a bigger thumbnail preview and snappier skipping, so we don’t view this as a negative.

OTA Antenna

One of the reasons behind AirTV is to enable you to watch your OTA antenna from the same interface as your Sling TV account, which doesn’t include locals in Sling Orange and only FOX & NBC in select markets in Sling Blue.

Unlike the more expensive AirTV Player, which has a USB-port, this device doesn’t consume them directly.

In order to stream your local OTA channels on the AirTV Mini, you will need their AirTV (black) device. While the AirTV Player (White) does allow you to stream locals, it doesn’t support streaming them on more than that one device.

Once connected you will be able to view and record locals (if you have an external drive connected to your other AirTV) on the AirTV mini. Pausing of live OTA content is not yet available.

Android TV

High-quality Android TV devices are few and far between. At the high-end you have the NVIDIA SHIELD, at the mid-range you have the Xiaomi Mi Box, and then a bunch of no-name brands at the low-end.

To us, this device felt far snappier than the current AirTV player, which is likely due to 2x the RAM (2GB vs. 1GB). It even felt faster than the Xiaomi Mi Box — despite it having similar specs (Quad Core Cortex-A53 CPU, 2GB RAM, 8GB Storage), which may be the result of having a slightly newer GPU (Mali-G31) and Android Pie (9.0) installed which isn’t yet available on Xiaomi Mi Box S or NVIDIA SHIELD.

Just like other Android TV devices — you can install other streaming services like Hulu, Amazon Prime Video — and other Live TV Streaming Services if you choose.

Netflix

Unlike on non-AirTV devices, Netflix is integrated directly into the Sling TV interface — kind of. In the interface, it shows Trending Shows and does not include Netflix shows in search results. Unfortunately, it’s buried all the way at the bottom of the interface and doesn’t seem to have a way to move it around.

It will be interesting to see if Sling TV builds a deeper integration with Netflix or other streaming services on AirTV and their streaming apps on other devices.

4K Streaming

The device supports 4K HDR streaming including HDR10 and HDR10+, but doesn’t support Dolby Vision. While there isn’t a lot of content that this will affect, it’s good to know if you are trying to future proof.

Audio

The device support audio via Dolby Digital and Dolby Atmos.

Should You Buy It?

The AirTV Mini ($80) is more expensive than the Xiaomi Mi Box S — which has been as low as $40 recently. The device is a nice alternative in the world of Android TV boxes for those who don’t want to spend $180 on the NVIDIA SHIELD — which good enough hardware and the latest version of Android (9.0). We would consider buying one, even if if we weren’t planning to use it with Sling TV — since it was a snappy Android TV experience.

However, for those with Sling TV and other AirTV devices — this is a great way to extend the experience to additional rooms with a small footprint. The device is small enough that you could throw it in your bag when you travel, if you want to bring it with you.

We would definitely recommend this device over the current AirTV player which feels outdated in comparison. It feels modern and if you’re looking for a device with Android TV, rather than Fire TV or Roku — with Android Pie 9.0, it definitely feels like a capable 4K streamer for all of your streaming needs.