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AirTV Mini Review: Android TV sweetens the deal on a Sling-focused streamer

Alternatives to traditional cable have become more and more popular over the past several years, with Sling TV being one of the most popular options for getting live TV over the internet. If you’ve gone all-in on Sling, the company’s AirTV Mini might be the perfect streaming dongle for you. Here’s what you need to know.

AirTV Mini is a Sling-first device

The biggest thing you need to know about the AirTV Mini is that it is 100% a Sling-first experience. Can you use it without Sling? Absolutely! However, you’ll be greeted with Sling’s interface on each reboot, and you’ll at least need to try Sling to get the device set up for the first time.

With that in mind, Sling’s integration on the AirTV Mini is pretty great. There’s a specialized version of the app specifically for this hardware and it runs really well. It integrates with this hardware, too, using the included remote which has buttons for “recall,” “info,” and “guide.” There’s also, of course, a large Sling TV button to open the main app interface.

With all of these features, Sling feels like a complete live TV experience that will be familiar to most people. For example, if you have family who wants to cut the cord or if you want to help them do so, there’s not going to be a huge learning curve with the AirTV Mini. The only thing I think the remote really lacks is a channel rocker, but that’s not uncommon for streaming devices.

Adding on to the experience is the AirTV 2. This product adds on to the AirTV Mini by connecting to local over-the-air stations and broadcasting them over your Wi-Fi network through the Sling app. There’s not much of an advantage to using this with the AirTV Mini, though.

Android TV runs extraordinarily well on this hardware

One of the most exciting things about the AirTV Mini, though, is that it’s one of the first consumer-facing Android TV dongles. Where most hardware is a set-top box form factor or just built into the TV, this device lets you plug in to any TV’s HDMI port and display Google’s operating system.

How does it run? With Android TV Pie out of the box, I’ve got to say the AirTV Mini performs a whole lot better than I expected it to! Scrolling through the homescreen, opening apps, or even using Google Assistant runs without skipping a beat. There are little freezes here or there, but that’s not uncommon on any TV hardware. At the end of the day, it just runs well!

My use of the AirTV Mini was in my office where usually, I would watch some reruns or news through channels on Sling TV, catch up on YouTube videos, or play a show or movie in the background while working. For this purpose, it works great and even manages 4K HDR content well. I did briefly hook up the device to my main living room setup, too, and the results were stellar there as well.

Really, it’s hard to take any points off of the AirTV Mini, especially since the software it’s based on is just getting better. Android TV continues to grow with welcome improvements and more apps.

Missing content is perhaps the only negative

So what’s wrong with the AirTV Mini? Really, I’ve only experienced one big negative — it doesn’t support Hulu. While I applaud the AirTV Mini for shipping with Netflix support and even adding Prime Video since its debut, it’s hard to overlook the fact that the Hulu app is not supported and even blocked.

On every other Android TV device I’ve ever had, Hulu works like a charm and is available from Google Play with ease. On this device, though, Hulu doesn’t show up in the Play Store and doesn’t function properly, either. Even a sideloaded version has issues with stuttering content.

Why is this the case? I’m not sure. I asked the folks behind the AirTV Mini if they knew why the app didn’t work, but they never gave an answer. If I had to guess, there’s some dispute between Sling TV and Hulu’s Live TV service. YouTube TV still works, but I’d assume at least part of that is because this is Google’s platform, after all.

Final thoughts

The AirTV Mini is an $80 streaming dongle which, admittedly, is not cheap. For some, a less expensive Roku or Fire TV might make more sense, but if you’re hooked on live TV through Sling and want hardware that does that well, this is a great option. It doesn’t hurt that you get a $25 credit for Sling with your purchase, either.

For the time being, this is the streaming dongle that will remain in my office. If you want to pick one up for yourself, it’s available on the AirTV website.

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Ben is a writer and video producer for 9to5Google.

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