This article was written and originally published on Stuff
When it comes to Android TV boxes, the options seem limitless. We are spoilt for choice with Xiaomi Mi Boxes, the (now deceased) Kwesé Play and a variety of nameless Android boxes. But we’re convinced we’ve found the best Android TV box on the market locally: the Ematic 4K Ultra HD Android TV Box.

The Ematic 4K Ultra-HD ​Android TV Box is one of the few Android boxes available in South Africa right now that is both Google- and Netflix-certified. That’s worth mentioning because it ensures better quality, as well as Google updates. The media box has also got Google Assistant and Chromecast built-in, which allows you to transform your TV into a Smart TV.

Setup for greatness

This is one of the most basic setups we’ve ever experienced with a streaming box/smart device. You know those people who ask on Facebook groups for help setting up their tech? Even those folks will be able to set up this one. For reals.

The Ematic box has an intuitive interface that can match (or overtake) most smart TV interfaces. To be honest, we preferred the Android TV interface on the Ematic to our smart TV’s interface (we’re not gonna tell you which brand, soz). Ematic’s menus flows seamlessly from one category to the next, have great keyboard setups for typing with a controller and are an overall joy to use.

It’ll automatically detect WiFi and begin setup — if you choose to do the setup through an Android phone, it’s even more seamless. Just sign in to your Google account, and it retrieves your home network password and all your favourite apps. It’ll continue by downloading a bunch of apps you want. Just like that, setup’s complete.

The included controller is also one of the better ones we’ve held. It’s simple, easy to navigate and can be used by a toddler. Just don’t give it to your toddler, though.

The content king?

Everyone’s got a streaming service these days (yeah, even DStv). Which makes us spoilt for choice. But it also means streaming boxes need to stay up to date with all available streaming apps.

This is where the Ematic box stood out most: content availability. It features all the basics – Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime and Google Play Movies/Music. But unlike some other Android boxes (like Kwese), it features South African-favourites Showmax and DStv Now.

It’s also got 8GB of onboard storage, along with a micro-SD slot that supports up to 32GB. Because of Android, this streamer has a host of apps available for download, including Steam Link (for the PC gamers), Google Drive, to save and download files to, Twitch and VLC. Yes, this does mean you can store other music and video files on your box. No, this does not mean you should pirate them.

Our other favourite is, of course, Spotify. For those times you just don’t have the capacity to handle another episode of Breaking Bad and really need to do the dishes. You can even save downloaded playlists to the box in case of a mass internet-outage. Nifty. And Eskom-ready.

Let me help you with that 

Probably the best feature of this little box is the built-in Google Assistant. You can ask the bugger anything you’d ask a Google Hub or Google Home. Only this time, it’ll display results on your TV.

The controller has a built-in microphone to help you with that. Just hold the Assistant button and speak into the controller. It does make you feel a bit like an idiot at first. “What’s this dude doing talking to his remote?” you’ll think. One does get used to it over time though. We’re living in a world where speaking to tech has become the new norm. Might as well get some practise in now.

Because the Ematic box is certified by the man himself, Google, you’ll receive regular updates to the Assistant feature. The box should stay up to date with the latest AI and machine learning that you’d find in any other Google-based smart hub.

Just output

The Ematic box runs Android TV OS 8.1 and up — in other words, you’ll get regular updates from Google. That’s important to folks these days. Another feature that sets the Ematic apart from the rest of the boxes is its 4K capability.

Which means you’ll need a 4K-capable TV. Don’t come running to us if you don’t get 4K output working on a normal HD display. The other problem is that 4K isn’t super-widely available. You can find some 4K content on Netflix, but it’ll chow your bandwidth, so you’d better be on an uncapped line.

It’s great to have the 4K (Ultra HD is another moniker) option, though. And of course, with Chromecast built-in you can project just about any content from another device (a laptop or phone perhaps) to the TV without sideloading dodgy apps or pulling out another HDMI cable. Want to show your friends your latest skydiving experience? Go ahead and cast it to the TV. As easy as falling on your face, something we hope you only attempt while not wearing a parachute.

Ematic 4K Ultra HD Android TV Box Verdict

Is the Emtaic 4K Ultra UD Android TV Box worth your time and money? Basically. We reckon anyone without a smart TV (yet) should look into getting an Ematic box. For just R1,200, you can turn just about any display into a smart TV hub. It’s kind of a no-brainer really. Add another R400 and you can get the 32GB internal storage upgrade. And if you’re like us, and prefer smoother interfaces, the Ematic box may just be a nice-to-have replacement for the sub-par smart TV interfaces out there. There are a few sets like that on the market — clunky, hard to navigate and slow. None of those descriptors apply to this Android TV OS 8.1-powered hardware.