The remote is, as noted before, two sided, with a touchpad and a relatively small selection of buttons on one side, and a full backlit QWERTY keyboard on the other. This keyboard is reasonably responsive, and features robust, tactile rubberised buttons.
The remote also carries volume and channel up/down rocker switches on one of its edges, plus a mute button. Surprisingly, one thing it doesn’t have is a mic so that you could issue the system with voice commands. This feature is being saved for the upcoming NSZ-GP9 step-up Google TV box, which also features a Blu-ray player.
The touchpad side of the remote is nicely balanced and easy to hold, with the touchpad being sensibly sized and positioned for easy thumb use, so you don’t need to use both hands at once. However, the touchpad doesn’t feel like it responds particularly accurately to your finger movements, and so can become quite frustrating if you’re trying to get the cursor over a very small onscreen selection.
The keyboard side is quite intimidating, at least initially, thanks to the sheer number of buttons it carries and the way that many of the buttons have more than one use. Even after a couple of days of solid use we still often found ourselves staring blankly at the keyboard trying to remember what key(s) we needed to press to achieve a desired effect.
Overall Sony/Google probably deserves praise for the effort they’ve put into designing a radical remote to go with the Google TV box. But it nonetheless often feels like a ‘blockage’ between you and the Google TV service.
The onscreen interface is more effective. Pressing the Home button on the remote darkens the TV picture (a bit too much for our liking), and calls up a row of icons along the bottom of the screen providing shortcuts to the full set of Android Apps installed on the box; a TV option then simply removes the overlaid menu; YouTube; the Google Play Store; the Google Chrome browser; and Sony’s own ‘Entertainment world’, comprising the brand’s Video and Music unlimited subscription services.
One immediate aggravation we had with this menu was that you can’t change which icons appear on it. So you can’t for instance, replace the Sony Entertainment World icon for Netflix if that’s your video streaming service of choice.
We also uncovered a major bug, whereby simply pressing ‘back’ from one of the online content menus to return to the home page caused the TV to stop showing the TV picture, eventually resulting in an error message. This – and another bug that regularly prevented the box shutting down properly – is exactly the sort of thing that Google TV simply cannot allow to happen if it wants to convince people that it’s a no-hassle addition to a normal TV experience.
Heading into the All Apps section to see what’s pre-loaded onto the box, there’s surprisingly little of any real substance there. The only things worth mentioning are Netflix, Twitter, and Sony’s TrackID system for identifying songs playing on the TV. Just as well, then, that the box has 8GB of built in memory for accommodating extra apps obtained through the Google Play Store.
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What no catch-up services?
Having got used to Smart TVs offering ‘apps’ for catch-up TV services like Demand 5 and, of course, the BBC iPlayer, as well as access to LoveFilm, it’s very disappointing to find such services not immediately available on Sony’s Google TV box. Instead you have to access them on the open internet using the Google Chrome browser – a situation which quickly proves to be far from ideal.
For starters, you frequently come across text on web pages that’s painfully small. There is a magnify button on the remote, and you can swipe your fingers out on the touchpad to magnify pages too. But the touchpad’s sensitivity doesn’t give you anywhere near enough precision over this function, and basically if you’re anything like us you’ll quickly and regularly feel like throwing the remote across the room in frustration whenever you’re trying to use it to access web-based content.
As noted before, the touchpad remote also makes it difficult to move the cursor around the screen with enough precision to select the frequently quite small text links or selection boxes that are rife on the Web.
Compared with the simplicity of using the iPlayer apps on Smart TVs it was all a bit of a nuisanse frankly, and is about as far from delivering a friendly TV experience as you could possibly get.
In short, we very quickly reached the conclusion that however much you might crave the freedom of open Internet access that’s essentially, for now at least, Google TV’s main mode of operation, the practical reality is that having dedicated TV apps designed with TV-friendly interfaces – the sort of thing you get on Smart TVs, in other words – is far preferable.