Other things to consider
Panasonic joins most other big TV brands this year by supplying not one but two remotes with its relatively high-end TVs: one ‘standard’ remote of the sort you’re accustomed to seeing for decades now, and one designed to be a slicker, more intuitive partner to all the smart TV interfaces and web browsers that now dominate TV GUIs.
In Panasonic’s case, though, we have to say we’re not great fans of the ‘smart’ remote. Its stripped down button count is welcome, as is the presence of a touch pad at its heart, since these invariably prove more effective with cursor movement in a smart TV environment than a normal remote’s up/down/left/right buttons.
The problem is that the touchpad doesn’t feel very accurate with its response, and also seems inconsistent with the amount of pressure you need to apply when you tap it to select an option. We often found, too, that in tapping the touchpad, we accidentally moved the onscreen cursor off the option we were trying to select.
The circular shape of the touch pad feels counter-intuitive too, given that the screen you’re trying to navigate is rectangular!
If you want a more effective control alternative to the standard remote we suggest you download the latest Viera TV Remote app to your tablet or smartphone. As well as providing a much more helpful ‘touch and swipe’ navigation approach, this app also delivers some great extra features, as noted in the Features section.
The simple swipe forwards and backwards interface for content sharing via the smart device app works particularly well, and it’s worth adding, too, that the latest version of the app supports 4K content sharing with compatible TV models.
Panasonic doesn’t yet offer a ‘point and click’ system with its smart remote of the sort offered excellently by LG and less impressively by Samsung, so it might be nice to see that appearing in 2015.
Before this section descends into too much negativity, though, it’s important to reiterate again just what a fine job Panasonic makes of making its smart TV options feel truly personal – especially now there’s a voice recognition system to provide another instant way for the TV to adapt itself to a specific user’s presence.
There remains, it must be said, a little uncertainty in our minds as to whether personalisation and a main living room TV really go together. But we think it can work if it’s done seamlessly enough, and no smart TV service currently gets as close to such seamlessness as Panasonic’s.
Should I buy a Panasonic Smart Viera TV?
As with LG’s Smart TV webOS system, we’d say that the latest Panasonic smart TV offering is sufficiently feature-rich and compelling to justify becoming a key part of a TV purchasing decision. The addition of integrated Freetime in particular is a masterstroke that will be hugely appealing to mainstream audiences looking for an easy way into the modern delights of on-demand streamed TV.
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We need to add a couple of riders. First, 4K fans should bear in mind that the smart platform on Panasonic’s first 4K TV range for 2014, the AX802s, doesn’t support Netflix 4K playback. Second and most importantly, we still wouldn’t say that even the best smart service should come above picture quality on any ‘reasons to buy a TV’ list – though as the 50AX802 has already shown, Panasonic’s new TV range should have some fine performers to go with the smart smarts.
Panasonic has really put its Smart TV thinking cap on this year, adding a raft of genuinely helpful innovations to its already strong My Home Screen foundation. As a result, while the service could still do with a few more apps and while LG’s Smart webOS system may steal headlines with the stunning simplicity and slickness of its interface, Panasonic can now claim to have the most straight-out useful Smart TV platform in town.
Next, read our Sony Smart TV 2014 review