Home Apple AirTV Mini review: A streaming dongle for Sling TV diehards

AirTV Mini review: A streaming dongle for Sling TV diehards


For those who subscribe to Sling TV—and plan to for some time—the AirTV Mini might be one of the best streaming machine for you.

In contrast to a Roku or Amazon Fireplace TV Stick, the $80 AirTV Mini is constructed round Sling’s dwell TV streaming service. The Sling TV app launches mechanically when the machine boots, and the distant has useful shortcut buttons for navigating Sling’s menus. Whilst you can actually entry Sling by way of different units, none of them make it fairly as simple.

Nonetheless, anybody who has second ideas about committing to Sling ought to look elsewhere. The AirTV Mini and Sling TV are so inextricable that utilizing the streaming machine for some other function generally is a trouble, and your choices for various dwell TV companies are extra restricted than they’re on different units. For many Sling subscribers, a Roku participant, Amazon Fireplace TV, or Apple TV will nonetheless be higher matches.

A streamer for Slingers

Although it’s a bit hefty for a streaming dongle, the AirTV Mini nonetheless manages to hold out of your tv’s HDMI enter by way of a brief, rubberized cable. It has a quad-core processor and 2GB of RAM, which is satisfactory for scrolling easily by way of menus and launching apps at once. It additionally helps 4K HDR video in apps like Netflix and YouTube, nevertheless it received’t show superior HDR codecs equivalent to Dolby Imaginative and prescient and HDR10+. Whereas the dongle solely has a single micro-USB port for energy, you need to use a USB OTG cable to plug in an exterior USB laborious drive or recreation controller.

slingairtnetflix Jared Newman / IDG

The Sling TV app launches mechanically when the AirTV Mini boots up.

Everytime you boot up the AirTV Mini, it masses immediately into Sling TV, whether or not you’re paying for the dwell TV service or not. (Learn our full Sling TV assessment right here.) The underlying software program, nevertheless, is Android TV, so you’ll be able to all the time hit the distant’s residence button to see a menu of different apps, equivalent to Netflix and YouTube. (The Sling TV menu additionally has its personal integration with Netflix, so you’ll be able to scroll by way of suggestions or soar into the app with out visiting the primary app launcher first.)

The distant management is equally Sling-centric. Alongside the same old directional pad and playback management buttons, it has a giant blue “Sling” launch button close to the highest. It additionally has devoted buttons for viewing the Sling TV information, the channel recall menu, and the data display screen for no matter’s at the moment taking part in. None of those buttons serve any function exterior the Sling app.

airtvminiremote Jared Newman / IDG

The AirTV Mini distant has devoted buttons for Sling TV’s programming information, channel recall operate, and data pages.

In contrast to the AirTV Participant from a pair years in the past, the AirTV Mini has no full-sized USB ports, so you’ll be able to’t immediately plug in a TV tuner to look at over-the-air channels from an antenna. As an alternative, you’re supposed to make use of AirTV’s networked tuner, a separate $80 field that may stream broadcast TV into the Sling app over Wi-Fi. The AirTV tuner helps USB laborious drives for recording over-the-air channels as effectively, so you could possibly doubtlessly have a number of AirTV Mini streamers served by a single tuner and DVR. (I attempted connecting the AirTV USB tuner adapter to the Mini by way of an OTG cable, however this solely brought on the Sling TV app to reboot with out recognizing it. Hauppauge’s USB tuner didn’t work both.)

airtv box AirTV

The separate AirTV networked tuner ($80) can stream over-the-air channels into the Sling TV app.

Taken as an entire, the AirTV system is a handy approach to mix Sling TV, different streaming apps, and non-obligatory over-the-air channels. For those who’re used to how a cable field launches immediately into dwell TV, with distant shortcuts for commonest TV features, AirTV supplies the same expertise. And mixing Sling with an antenna stays an effective way to save cash over different dwell TV streaming packages. The Sling app on Roku and different units would possibly present the identical content material, nevertheless it’ll make you thumb by way of extra menus and click on extra buttons alongside the way in which.

Hitting Sling’s limits

The issue at this level just isn’t a lot the AirTV system, however the underlying Sling TV service.

Whereas Sling TV has a decrease beginning worth than most different dwell TV streaming companies ($25 monthly for both Sling’s Orange or Blue base packages), it additionally lacks native channel protection in most markets, which is an issue in the event you can’t get these channels by way of an antenna.

slingairtvguide Jared Newman / IDG

With out the AirTV tuner, you may not get native channels by way of the Sling TV app.

Sling’s company guardian, Dish Community, additionally tends to play hardball in its negotiations with TV networks, which is nice for preserving costs down however not ultimate for sustaining a constant channel lineup. To wit: Sling hasn’t carried HBO since November, and it dropped regional Fox Sports activities channels—together with the YES Community in New York—in July. Having {hardware} that revolves round Sling might be a legal responsibility if the service loses extra channels.

Sling TV additionally continues to pull its toes on 60-frames-per-second video help, with NBCSN, NFL Community, TNT, and CNN among the many many channels nonetheless missing these smoother framerates. The omission is more and more inexcusable as different dwell streaming companies, equivalent to YouTube TV, PlayStation Vue, DirecTV Now, and Hulu with Dwell TV add 60-frames-per-second help throughout all channels. The AirTV tuner doesn’t help 60-frames-per-second video both, so that you’re additionally getting markedly inferior video high quality for native channels in the event you tie in an antenna.

Whereas we’re nitpicking: Though the AirTV Mini has a Google Assistant button on its distant for voice controls, Sling TV itself doesn’t combine with Google Assistant. Meaning you’ll be able to’t use voice instructions to launch Sling’s dwell channels or on-demand programming. You possibly can’t even discover Sling content material in Google’s top-level search outcomes, as you’ll be able to with PlayStation Vue.

Android TV annoyances

At the same time as a streaming participant for different apps in addition to Sling, the AirTV Mini runs into a number of the similar issues we’ve seen with different Android TV units, equivalent to Xiaomi’s Mi Field S.

The built-in Chromecast capabilities, as an example, tend to cease working when the AirTV Mini is asleep, so it’s essential to activate the machine with the distant earlier than you need to use your cellphone because the distant as a substitute. The AirTV Mini additionally lacks help for Amazon Prime Video, and Hulu says it received’t help the machine as a result of it doesn’t meet the corporate’s technical necessities. (Each apps do, a minimum of, work by way of Chromecast.) As with the Android TV-based JBL Hyperlink Bar, PlayStation Vue was unbearably uneven in my expertise as effectively.

slingairtvandroid Jared Newman / IDG

Exiting the Sling TV app takes you to a regular Android TV launcher (with obligatory high billing for Sling).

For those who determine to cease subscribing to Sling TV, the AirTV Mini presents additional hassles. You possibly can’t uninstall or disable the Sling TV app, nor can you progress it out of the primary place in Android TV’s favourite apps listing. You possibly can’t cease the machine from booting into the Sling TV app, both, and the distant management will immediately have numerous ineffective Sling-specific buttons.

All of which implies you actually need to be assured in your enjoyment of Sling TV to spend money on the AirTV Mini. Greater than some other streaming machine, the AirTV Mini’s Sling-centric distant helps simplify the act of leaping into dwell channels from Sling, and it even makes launching over-the-air channels simpler in the event you use the separate AirTV tuner.

However one of many nice advantages of cord-cutting is the liberty and suppleness to change between streaming companies as wanted. In alternate for extra comfort round Sling TV, the AirTV Mini hinders your capability to change to the competitors. That’s most likely your complete level.

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Newton Allan
Newton Allan is an expert of Apple and has started as a journalist for us (Trevino). He currently contributes for Trevino by writing about the latest happenings in the Apple INC.

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