Hands-on with Sony’s NSZ-GS7 Google TV box

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.

Sony's Google TV on the left, Apple TV on the right. There's a sizeable difference.

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.