Smart TVs are all the rage at the moment, but what if you want to push the TV even further, with apps and games and web browsing? Sony thinks it has the answer, and is bringing Google TV to Australians keen to see its solution.
Originally launched at the end of 2010, Google TV was a product aimed at introducing the Android platform to TVs everywhere, in much the same way that Apple was doing with its own Apple TV product. The concept made sense, what with Android on lots of different mobile handsets, and, at the time, being introduced on tablet computers, especially when the platform supports applications and an app store.
Fast forward to now and Android is everywhere. Almost a million Android devices are activated daily, including smartphones, media players, car stereos, tablets, eBook readers, laptops, and even a wristwatch or two.
With Google’s Android penetrating more than just the mobile space, Sony has deemed the time right to release its Google TV offering in the local market, giving the product away with select Bravia TVs, and later charging $349 per unit for everyone else.
The first official Google TV product to land in Australia is the Sony NSZ-GS7, and it’s a wee bit different from what we expected.
The box is about the size of a trade paper novel, with as much weight inside. It is nowhere near as small as Apple’s tiny hockey puck TV unit and while we’ve been told you can fit it into a jacket, it would still have to be a pretty big jacket to do so.
Sony’s Google TV looks like a fairly nondescript glossy black box until you check out the back, which features HDMI in, HDMI out, digital audio (optical) out, an IR blaster port, Ethernet (100Mbit), two USB ports, and a figure-eight power plug port.
Connecting it up is fairly simple, and it’s made even easier thanks to the cool yet complicated remote Sony has concocted for the GS7.
The dual-sided remote features an unorthodox design, with a full QWERTY keypad on one side, and a series of buttons, a directional pad, and touchpad on the other side. Inside, there’s a 3-axis motion sensor, making it possible to play games designed for motion controls.
Sony’s remote is easily one of the cooler parts of the Google TV package, and it’s only powered by two AA batteries, which makes the remote seem even more impressive.
Plugging the Google TV box in and switching it on, the interface you’ll find isn’t all that familiar, even if you’re quite experienced with Android.
The layout isn’t hard to get used to, though, especially with a touchpad mouse on your remote. A menu on the bottom of a black screen will greet you, with a small selection of shortcuts: the time, system notifications, all apps, YouTube, Google Play Store, Chrome, Sony Entertainment Network, and search.
We can get around the minimalist layout, even if it feels like it’s incomplete, but it’s when we start using Sony’s Google TV, we start to wonder why the company even thought a release would be intelligent.
Scrolling through webpages is slow and segmented, bringing back memories of old phones and their horribly under-performing website loading. Browsing apps on the Android app store is more drawn out process than one would like, as the box struggles to keep up with the basic action of searching through the limited selection, constantly throwing up the “loading” sign.
Selecting apps, too, can take some time, as the touchpad on the remote fails to register clicks, and the loading times feel truly delayed.
A lack of speed isn’t all Sony’s Google TV is burdened by, with many of the apps crashing shortly after loading. While our preview model was not an Australian unit, it was a production model for overseas, so it’s safe to assume that the problems associated with the performance will be reflected in the local unit.
Strangely, the long wait times lead us to believe that the hardware hasn’t been spec’d to match the version of Android used here, resulting in less than impressive performance.
The app selection equally doesn’t have much available, with well under a hundred apps listed for download. Some of these include American specific services – such as HBO and Amazon’s video on demand – as well as the service you expect from Google – YouTube – and support for Sony’s two entertainment channels, the Music and Video Unlimited Networks.
In Australia, don’t expect to get either HBO or Amazon working, though Sony’s services do offer the same content we see on the PlayStation, smartphones and tablets on Google TV.
YouTube runs fine, however, although the interface is a bit all over the place, and can leave a lot to be desired. It’s a good thing that the remote features a keyboard and a touchpad, because we’d hate to brown YouTube videos on a generic remote.
Interestingly, while the Google TV box does feature two USB ports for plugging in flash drives or hard drives, the video player wasn’t actually functional, greeting us with a “Coming Soon” message and stopping us from testing local video content that we had downloaded.
Things aren’t much better in the gaming department, with virtually no games available to purchase or download, and those that are there feeling like poorly made demos that a kid would run from in a second.
Overall, we haven’t come away feeling like Google TV is the top notch Apple TV competitor you might expect it to be, with the faults resting on some poor design and sluggish performance.
At the moment, the Google TV box comes free with selected models of Sony Bravia TVs, and that’s probably an acceptable price.
Later in the year, Sony plans to make it available for $349, a price point that we’re not sure we’d agree with.