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AirTV Mini is a capable and reliable streaming player, although it heavily leans on Sling TV. This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, considering Dish Network owns both AirTV and Sling TV, but unless a consumer plans to use the device with Sling’s live TV streaming service, there’s not much reason to buy one.
AirTV offers a number of devices which tend to focus on specific tasks or selling points. For example, there’s the original AirTV Player which is a typical set-top box. Then there’s the AirTV 2 which is not a streaming player, but a device that can be connected to an antenna to receive local over-the-air TV channels for free. The AirTV 2 can then be linked to players and devices that are connected to the same network and stream those local channels, albeit through the Sling TV app.
In contrast, the AirTV Mini is the company’s dongle device that, although cannot access locals directly, connects to a TV’s HDMI port and provides access to streaming apps. Essentially, the AirTV Mini works similar to a Fire TV Stick, Roku Stick, or Chromecast with Google TV.
In this review
Basic, but familiar hardware
AirTV Mini is small, light, and plastic. There’s not much point spending time on the design as it is simply a small dongle device. Other than the non-removable HDMI cable and the power port on the opposite side, there are no additional ports, buttons, or features. The AirTV Mini is simply a small black box with the company branding on the top.
Likewise, the packaging is also very basic with the shipping box also the box housing the AirTV Mini, power supply, and paperwork. All in all, this is a very basic product, shipped in equally basic packaging.
The remote control is a little more involved, although it is also small, light and plastic. The weight and plastic nature makes the remote feel cheap in the hand, and while small, it is slightly larger than some of the remotes shipped with competing HDMI dongle devices. For size reference, the AirTV Mini remote is roughly about 1.5 times the size of the remote that’s bundled with the Fire TV 4K, and slightly taller (but much wider) than the new remote included with Nvidia’s SHIELD TV.
Appearance aside, the AirTV Mini remote does come with all the major buttons you would expect. Besides the four-way navigation buttons and volume up/down controls, there are dedicated play, fast-forward, rewind, mute, and power buttons. In addition to quick access buttons for Sling TV, Netflix, and the Google Assistant.
Android TV, but made for Sling TV
The AirTV Mini comes powered by Android TV. Due to this, it offers an experience that will be familiar to anyone who has used an Android TV device before, with an emphasis on channels instead of apps. However, this is Android TV made for Sling TV and that changes the experience somewhat.
The main and absolute primary difference is the operating system always launches Sling TV when the device is turned on. There doesn’t appear to be any option here to change this in the settings, so unless it is being paired with Sling TV, then users will first need to always load Sling and exit (which itself is not always easy to do), before they reach what is considered the typical Android TV home screen.
Once on the home screen, things feel a lot more normal and expected with users able to access many of their favorite apps. Generally speaking, there aren’t many apps included out of the box. Therefore, besides Sling TV and Netflix, users will need to download their favorite apps from the built-in Google Play Store. For anyone wondering, AirTV Mini’s version of Android TV does include ‘Staff Picks’ ads.
While the AirTV Mini is clearly designed for use with Sling TV, there were no major issues with downloading and installing competing live TV streaming apps, such as YouTube TV and fuboTV.
The one notable exception to this was Hulu, with the app completely missing from the AirTV Mini’s Play Store. Anyone considering this device to use with Hulu (either basic Hulu or live TV), look elsewhere.
Similar to other Android TV devices, the AirTV Mini also comes with a built-in version of the Google Assistant. This is a fairly typical version of the Google Assistant on Android TV, with voice commands capable of searching for content, asking questions, or controlling compatible smart home products.
However, the implementation feels like it needs a little work. During testing, Google Assistant would not always launch when the dedicated button was pressed, and seemed sluggish in general.
Besides the missing Hulu Live TV app, the overall Android TV experience feels quite light for a customized version. This also resulted in the settings being a little limited compared to other Android TV devices, although all the essential options are there. Just don’t expect a highly customizable experience, as the purpose of the software is to drive Sling TV usage.
Next-level Sling TV streaming
For anyone already using Sling TV, there is an argument to be made that the AirTV Mini is the best player overall. While AirTV blatantly advertises the Mini as “built for Sling,” that’s still an understatement. After using Sling TV on multiple other platforms and devices, the experience on the AirTV Mini is, far and away, the most stable and reliable experience overall.
It just works and easily adds to the overall streaming experience. Of course, that raises the question of why Sling TV’s other apps are far less reliable? Either way, it is clear that if using the AirTV Mini with Sling TV, subscribers can expect a heightened live TV streaming experience, compared to other Sling platform apps.
The interface has been tweaked slightly on the AirTV Mini. The differences aren’t significant enough to necessarily make it better or worse, but collectively they do help to make the app feel cleaner and more optimized on the hardware.
One notable difference is the additional integration of Netflix. While it is not uncommon for an Android TV device to come with the app pre-installed and a shortcut button on the remote, the AirTV Mini takes that integration to the next level. For example, within the Sling TV app, there’s even a dedicated Netflix channel listed in the TV guide.
This channel does not show any Netflix listings, but acts as a quick way to jump from the sling TV app to the Netflix app. For example, if channel surfing and unable to find anything good to watch, the user can quickly switch to Netflix without having to exit the Sling app. Again, considering the AirTV Mini boots up into Sling TV each time, this is a handy feature for anyone who subscribes to both Sling TV and Netflix.
Unfortunately, the shortcut only works one way with subscribers needing to either exit the Netflix app altogether, or use the remote’s dedicated Sling button to get back to Sling TV again. On a number of occasions, attempting to exit the Netflix app proved problematic, making the Sling shortcut button the best option.
AirTV Mini review summary
The AirTV Mini is a basic device and one that should require a little deeper consideration before purchasing. As a result, the AirTV Mini can be summarized in two ways. If intent on using Sling TV with the AirTV Mini, then this is a great little device that performs well and offers a heightened Sling TV streaming experience. However, if a consumer is unsure whether they will use Sling TV, and especially over the long-term, then this is simply not going to be worth the investment. The device so heavily leans on Sling TV that it offers little value to non-Slingers.
Then there is the more general issue of the price. At $79.99, the AirTV Mini is not a cheap or even competitively priced. For example, the Chromecast with Google TV also runs on Android TV and costs just $49.99. Furthermore, a basic Fire TV or Roku Stick can also be picked up for even cheaper and provide a comparable experience, albeit on a different operating system. Overall, AirTV Mini is not really worth the money unless it is being used by a loyal and long-term Sling TV subscriber. Even then, it is probably still not the best option.
The exception to this is potential Sling TV subscribers. Sling seems to almost permanently be running a promotion where new subscribers can prepay for two months of service and get the AirTV Mini for free. At $60 with two months of Sling TV included, the AirTV Mini suddenly becomes worth considering, providing there is little chance of cancelling Sling two months later.
Additional AirTV Mini information
Air TV Specs:
- RAM: 2GB DDR4
- Storage: 8GB eMMC Flash
- GPU: ARM Mali-G31
- Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n/a/ac 2.4G/5G 2T2R Wi-Fi
- Bluetooth 4.2
- Chromecast Built-in
- DC Power Adapter: 5V/1.0A
- Resolution: 480i/p, 576i/p, 720p, 1080i/p and 4K
- Connections: HDMI CEC, DC
- Built-in Google Assistant
- Video Compression: HDMI CEC, MPEG2/MPEG-4 H.264/AVC, H.265/HEVC 4K UHD video decoding
AirTV purchase options: