If you subscribe to Sling TV—and plan to for a while—the AirTV Mini could be the best streaming device for you.

Unlike a Roku or Amazon Fire TV Stick, the $80 AirTV Mini is built around Sling’s live TV streaming service. The Sling TV app launches automatically when the device boots, and the remote has handy shortcut buttons for navigating Sling’s menus. While you can certainly access Sling through other devices, none of them make it quite as easy.

Still, anyone who has second thoughts about committing to Sling should look elsewhere. The AirTV Mini and Sling TV are so inextricable that using the streaming device for any other purpose can be a hassle, and your options for alternative live TV services are more limited than they are on other devices. For most Sling subscribers, a Roku player, Amazon Fire TV, or Apple TV will still be better fits.

A streamer for Slingers

Though it’s a bit hefty for a streaming dongle, the AirTV Mini still manages to hang from your television’s HDMI input via a short, rubberized cable. It has a quad-core processor and 2GB of RAM, which is adequate for scrolling smoothly through menus and launching apps without delay. It also supports 4K HDR video in apps like Netflix and YouTube, but it won’t display advanced HDR formats such as Dolby Vision and HDR10+. While the dongle only has a single micro-USB port for power, you can use a USB OTG cable to plug in an external USB hard drive or game controller.

slingairtnetflix Jared Newman / IDG

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

Whenever you boot up the AirTV Mini, it loads directly into Sling TV, whether you’re paying for the live TV service or not. (Read our full Sling TV review here.) The underlying software, however, is Android TV, so you can always hit the remote’s home button to see a menu of other apps, such as Netflix and YouTube. (The Sling TV menu also has its own integration with Netflix, so you can scroll through recommendations or jump into the app without visiting the main app launcher first.)

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The remote control is equally Sling-centric. Alongside the usual directional pad and playback control buttons, it has a big blue “Sling” launch button near the top. It also has dedicated buttons for viewing the Sling TV guide, the channel recall menu, and the info screen for whatever’s currently playing. None of these buttons serve any purpose outside the Sling app.

airtvminiremote Jared Newman / IDG

The AirTV Mini remote has dedicated buttons for Sling TV’s programming guide, channel recall function, and info pages.

Unlike the AirTV Player from a couple years ago, the AirTV Mini has no full-sized USB ports, so you can’t directly plug in a TV tuner to watch over-the-air channels from an antenna. Instead, you’re supposed to use AirTV’s networked tuner, a separate $80 box that can stream broadcast TV into the Sling app over Wi-Fi. The AirTV tuner supports USB hard drives for recording over-the-air channels as well, so you could potentially have multiple AirTV Mini streamers served by a single tuner and DVR. (I tried connecting the AirTV USB tuner adapter to the Mini through an OTG cable, but this only caused the Sling TV app to reboot without recognizing it. Hauppauge’s USB tuner didn’t work either.)

airtv box AirTV

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

Taken as a whole, the AirTV system is a convenient way to combine Sling TV, other streaming apps, and optional over-the-air channels. If you’re used to how a cable box launches directly into live TV, with remote shortcuts for most common TV functions, AirTV provides a similar experience. And combining Sling with an antenna remains a great way to save money over other live TV streaming packages. The Sling app on Roku and other devices might provide the same content, but it’ll make you thumb through more menus and click more buttons along the way.

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