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Most big-name competitors can’t match this new Onn box when it comes to value and what you’re getting for the money. But Dolby Vision might be missed by some.
That $20 bill burning a hole in your pocket can go further than ever before when it comes to streaming devices. And there’s no better embodiment of this than Walmart’s new Google TV box, which was released a few weeks ago under the company’s “Onn” brand. For $19.88, you’re coming away with a streaming player that’s largely similar to Google’s Chromecast with Google TV 4K in terms of performance and its day-to-day user experience. It provides the same content-forward homescreen flush with recommendations, built-in casting, and Google Assistant integration.
The main thing separating the $50 Chromecast and Onn’s more affordable gadget is Dolby Vision; Google’s streamer has it, and Walmart’s doesn’t. But you do get basic HDR10, and in a world where Samsung’s most premium TVs continue to omit Dolby Vision, it’s possible to live without it — especially for this price — and not have any major FOMO.
With a black matte plastic design, this streaming puck is designed to forever fade into the background once you’ve plugged in the power cord (Micro USB, unfortunately) and HDMI cable. And the remote sticks to Google’s guidance; much of the layout was identical to my Hisense Google TV. (Yes, I reviewed a Google TV streamer on a television that runs the same software, but what are you going to do? At least I had yet another comparison point for performance.) The remote operates over Bluetooth, so you’re free to tuck the box behind your TV if desired; there’s a little strip of adhesive in the box for doing just that, plus an HDMI cable. You’re really getting everything you need for that Andrew Jackson bill.
The white remote successfully avoids feeling cheap: its buttons are clicky, not mushy, and nothing is loose or creaky. Your four branded buttons on this clicker are for YouTube, Netflix, Disney Plus, and Paramount Plus. Early feedback indicates that you’re able to remap these with software, at least. So when one of these services inevitably goes under or rebrands, you won’t be completely left out to dry. The remote has a built-in mic and push-and-hold Assistant button for those times you want to search for content via voice, issue a smart home command, or just check the weather. I’ve got large hands, so it’s no surprise that I preferred Walmart’s remote over the cramped Chromecast version.
Setting up the Onn is the same as any other Google TV device; you can use the Google Home mobile app to breeze through the process without having to slowly type out email addresses and passwords with the remote. At one point, you’re asked to select which services you currently subscribe to, and I noticed that Max has already replaced HBO Max in that list. Speaking of Max, while its launch has been shaky on some platforms, it works decently on Google TV; I was able to resume Edge of Tomorrow from the homescreen’s Continue Watching row, and it jumped right into the 4K HDR stream. Like always with that movie, my intention was to just demo a few scenes… and then I watched the whole thing. Again.
Elsewhere throughout the Google TV experience, you’ll notice the recently streamlined navigation along with an avalanche of FAST (free ad-supported television) channels in the Live tab on my unit yet. Google TV also supports multiple user profiles, including kid accounts that only feature age-appropriate programming.
Unfortunately, the Onn streaming box is working with the same measly 2GB of RAM and 8GB of storage as the 4K Chromecast. But Google has gradually come up with ways to make the most of those constraints by optimizing how the platform uses storage. Walmart’s device performs smoothly and without any major hangups or slowdowns. It’s powered by a processor that’s largely on par with the 4K Chromecast, though this streamer supports native AV1 decoding, unlike Google’s. But I think most of the fluidity and responsiveness can be attributed to Google’s software improvements and whatever tweaks Walmart has made on top of that. For $20, I’ve got absolutely no room to complain about performance.
I still believe Google TV could use a speedy flagship device at some point — all of these devices are trounced by the Apple TV 4K’s horsepower — but no one’s advertising the Onn box to be that. As is, it handles the platform’s animations and menu transitions without any frustrating snags. The first-gen Onn Android TV box had some overheating issues, but I haven’t noticed any sluggishness or instability after extended 4K viewing. A larger case and redesigned heatsink seem to be keeping everything level (so far).
I won’t beat around the bush on one point: Onn’s Google TV 4K Streaming Box isn’t aimed at home theater power users. It’s not cut out to be your Plex server or cloud gaming gateway; I’d still point everyone toward Nvidia’s tubular Shield TV or the Shield Pro for those purposes. Early buyers have also reported that the Onn can’t play media stored on NTFS drives. But you still get room to tinker and explore; advanced users have the freedom to install different launchers, “debloat” the device for maximum performance, and more. This is still fundamentally an Android gadget, after all.
So far, it’s all been a very impressive story for 20 bucks, but the twice-as-expensive Chromecast can claim superiority on a couple fronts. Google’s streaming dongle supports both Dolby Vision HDR and Dolby Atmos. Walmart gives you neither of these with the Onn, topping out at HDR10 and Dolby Digital surround sound. If you’ve got a premium TV with beautiful picture quality, it might make sense to spend more money on something that can check off all the modern home theater formats and specifications. I didn’t feel like I was badly missing out while testing on my Hisense U8H; regular HDR still makes for plenty of kick in highlights and bright scenes. But I’m also someone who likes knowing that I’m getting all the things my TV is capable of, so I’m not sure that I could stick with the Onn for the long haul.
But… it’s $20. The Onn Google TV 4K Streaming Box is priced lower than the 1080p-maximum Fire TV Stick Lite. You’ll pay more for a Roku TV Express — and again, that’s limited to standard HD. It’s easy to find dirt cheap, no-name Android TV boxes on Amazon, but I’d strongly recommend against buying any of them; Linus Tech Tips recently made an informative video on why you’re better off spending slightly more on something from a trustworthy brand that won’t secretly load spyware onto its devices.
It’s fair to have reservations about Walmart being Walmart and aggressively undercutting its competition to such an extreme degree. That alone might steer some people towards other options. But there’s no denying that this is an impressive streaming gadget for its asking price. It lacks the Dolby Vision and Atmos offered by the Chromecast with Google TV 4K, but the Onn feels steadier and more performant for everyday entertainment. And you get the same content-rich software.
Until Google comes out with its next player, this is the one I’ll likely recommend to anyone seeking the easy option. Home theater enthusiasts will instinctively overlook the Onn player, and that makes sense, but it’s a very persuasive deal for everyone else. All for the same price — less by a few cents, even — as a single month of Netflix Premium.
Photography by Chris Welch / The Verge