AirTV Mini review

This streaming dongle fills nearly every need a cord cutter would want

Our Verdict

At its essence, the $79 AirTV Mini acts as a streaming dongle and fills nearly every need a cord cutter would want—including Chromecast functionality. All its capabilities can be a little convoluted, but overall a solid choice.

For

  • Sling TV, Netflix, and Android TV apps
  • Compact enough for travel
  • Chromecast functionality

Against

  • Not a complete solution
  • Software lacks polish
  • Set up with AirTV is too complicated

AirTV Mini is a streaming device that plugs directly into your TV’s HDMI port as a way to get streaming video. It adds Sling TV, Netflix, Google Assistant, Android TV apps like YouTube, and Chromecast functionality to any TV set. More importantly, it’s compact and portable as well as inexpensive, without feeling cheap.

While AirTV Mini on its own is above average in the functionality it brings to an HDTV, it really should be considered as an extension for people who also have a main AirTV unit. Although it's fully functional on its own, the standard AirTV provides the ability to connect a TV antenna and pull in free channels over-the-air—and, unlike other options, you can then stream those free local channels to phone or now, an AirTV Mini. The Mini is really the missing part of a completely free TV ecosystem.

At its core, the AirTV Mini paired with an AirTV is a wonderful and modern option to keep local TV in your life.

Design

The overall design can largely be disregarded because it’s meant to live tucked away behind a massive TV and barely pokes out of an HDMI port. It comes with a MicroUSB cord which can be plugged directly into a USB port on the TV for power or attached to a USB power adapter to be plugged into an electrical outlet. 

While still pretty covert, it isn’t the most compact streaming video dongle available: Amazon’s FireTV stick or Google Chromecast, both make the AirTV Mini look a little chunky. But, that said, it’s definitely small enough to be packed into a backpack for use while traveling. 

When you do have it laying around your room it’s not ugly or hard on the eyes in an all black matte finish, just an unglamorous piece of hardware.

(Image credit: Tyler Hayes)

Content

The play for AirTV Mini is to bring Sling TV and local free channels to a person’s TV set. Not all Sling TV apps on various devices like Apple TV can display the local channels that a regular AirTV with a connected antenna brings in. Why not? Some apps can’t display the OTA channels so you’ll need an AirTV Mini to get all that content onto a TV set, compared to accessing those on a phone or tablet.

Even if you don’t want free TV from an antenna, being able to plug in an AirTV Mini and get a native Sling TV app experience might be worth the cost. For those unfamiliar, Sling TV is TV for “cord cutters.” 

The service provides a mostly a la cart way to get TV channels without paying for a full cable service. It also runs completely over the internet so you can watch anywhere Sling TV has an app—like an iPhone or Android phone.

The addition of Netflix on the AirTV Mini, while appreciated, feels like it's been shoehorned in. No one is likely to buy this streaming stick just to get Netflix on their TV, but leaving the app off would likely keep people from using it as much—having to switch between different streaming options.

Similarly, the Google Assistant and Android apps are nice additions, but Android TV doesn't feel like it's vital to the core of the product (the caveat to that being that it enables the AirTV Mini to play videos off YouTube).

Overall though, the Android TV apps are limited in scope and quality, compared to Apple TV and will likely cause more trouble to set up than value they provide.

(Image credit: Tyler Hayes)

Performance

For our review, we plugged an AirTV Mini into a 720p, 32-inch TV which had no native streaming options, and was able to give it a new digital life.

The good news is that after constant use, the AirTV Mini never felt sluggish or stuttered while streaming. What does it mean to put a streaming device through its paces? It means being a channel surfer, or an app surfer. 

To mimic this type of user, we spent a night constantly switching between Sling TV, Netflix, and other device functionality. We would watch 5 minutes of one program and then switch to something else. After a few hours of trying to mix it up, the AirTV Mini remained basically unchanged from first use.

There’s nothing more frustrating than when apps or video freeze or stutter during use, but that wasn’t an issue with AirTV Mini. This may change in future software updates, of course, but for now, it performs perfectly adequate, like you’d expect.

Final verdict

In a nutshell, the $79 AirTV Mini is an inexpensive way to bring lots of streaming video options with you while traveling, and supports local broadcast channels if you have an AirTV with antenna. By the same stroke, however, it feels like it needs the AirTV for the complete solution to cord cutter's  woes, is a little bulky compared to competing devices and its software interface is a little boring. None of that are deal-breakers, though, and compared to Roku or Amazon Fire TV, AirTV Mini competes head-to-head and is worth your consideration.