Google TV boxes are yet to catch on in the UK – we get the impression many don’t know what they’d do with one, especially now that services like BBC iPlayer, LoveFilm and Netflix are available through games consoles and many TVs. Google TV boxes like the Asus Qube continue to appear, though. It may be confined to the US for now, but we thought we’d get up close and personal with one to find out if it really is better than using a Smart TV portal.
Looking a little like the puzzle box from the Hellraiser films, the Asus Qube is not your average black rectangle set–top box. It’s a cube of corrugated black plastic, 12.5cm high – 12.5cm in all directions in fact – and among the first Google TV boxes to launch with version 3.0 of the Google TV software. The key new feature implemented by this edition of the software is voice search. Nothing new to Android as a whole, then.
On the Asus Qube box itself you’ll find two USB ports, one on the rear and another on the side, two HDMI outputs and an Ethernet port. Powering the show is the Armada 1500 chipset by Marvell, and 1GB of RAM. The Armada 1500 SoC was designed with Google TVs in mind, and is a dual-core 1.2GHz chipset.
What’s far more important than the look and feel of the box is the look and feel of the Asus Qube’s remote control. It’s a two-sided affair.
The front side of the remote looks fairly commonplace. It has a trackpad area to function as a mouse-style controller and a selection of playback buttons. There’s also a dedicated Netflix button, coloured in the signature Netflix red. The underside of the Asus Qube’s remote features a full Qwerty keyboard, required to make any form of searching any quicker than molasses-slow (assuming you don't fancy talking to your TV).
Motion control is incorporated too. We didn’t get to try motion control in action, but it’s expected to be based around an accelerometer built into the controller. The recently-unveiled Archos TV Connect uses a TV-mounted camera to judge motion, but there’s thankfully no mention of such gimmicks here.
Consistent with the cuboid theme, the Google TV 3.0 software of the Asus Qube features a cube-based custom interface. The main menu is mapped across a rotating 3D cube. Underneath this animated area, though, you’ll find the rather simpler “flat” apps and content browser. We find that simpler, quicker interfaces are much more efficient to use in the long run, and we’re hoping there’s an option to turn the 3D-animated cube off.
We hope to one day dig further into the Asus Qube’s abilities, but it’s not at all certain we’ll get the chance to. For now at least, the Qube is only going to launch in the US, where it’ll sell for $150. We'll be keeping an eye out for word of a UK release of the Asus Qube.