In short: Xiaomi today announced its latest Android TV solution, the Mi Box S. The announcement was made to coincide with Google's own announcements made during the company's hardware event. Along with the formal introduction, Xiaomi and Google confirmed the Mi Box S is coming to the US, and is actually available to pre-order starting today ahead of its scheduled October 19 launch date. The Xiaomi Mi Box S is priced at $59.99 and is only available to buy through Walmart.
Background: To all purposes, the Mi Box S seems to be a rebranded version of the Mi Box 4 which launched in China back in January of this year, and is in itself only slightly different to the original Mi Box. The result of which is there are very little differences inside and out between the original Mi Box and the new Mi Box S. The main box looks almost identical to the original Mi Box made up of a small, black and generally nondescript piece of hardware with only the "Mi" branding visible on the front. Inside, the Mi Box S is almost identical to the original Mi Box thanks to a core combination of 2GB RAM, 8GB storage, and an Amlogic S905X quad-core SoC.
Where it does differ, however, is in its smarts, as unlike the original model the new Mi Box S does come loaded with the Google Assistant built-in. Allowing users to make use of the digital assistant to control various aspects of the viewing experience, as well other compatible smart devices around the home, in addition to receiving feedback to questions asked. Along with Google Assistant, the Mi Box S comes with a boost in the OS department by drawing on Android 8.1 (Oreo) from launch. Otherwise users can expect pretty much the same feature list as the original Mi Box, including the ability to cast content from another device, and support for 4K Ultra HD and HDR. Interestingly, the remote control accompanying the Mi Box S is where most of the obvious design changes can be found. Generally speaking, the remote is the same size, shape and design as the original Mi Box remote, but due to the Google Assistant integration the new remote now comes with a microphone and a dedicated 'Assistant button' to activate listening. This is along with a Netflix shortcut button for easy access to the video subscription service and a "Live" button likely designed to facilitate quick-switching to live TV channels.
Impact: Under normal circumstances the Mi Box S would barley be representative of a next-generation device and would probably be largely ignored by the market. But the Android TV box market is now a sparse landscape with very few options available for consumers to choose from. While the NVIDIA SHIELD is the go-to streaming box for many, the SHIELD is an expensive device and it's here in the sub-$100 market where the original Mi Box found its place as an entry-level option. As the Mi Box S has seen very few changes, Xiaomi has managed to also keep the price low. In fact, it is now $10 lower than what the original Mi Box launched for, and in spite of the additional features. This low price, coupled with the lack of choices available at this price point, will mean the Mi Box S is likely to appeal to a number of new buyers, as well as those looking to upgrade from the original Mi Box.