This is Part 2 of our review of Samsung's 2013 Smart TV Platform. Click here to read Part 1 of this review.
The final homescreen of Samsung’s all-new 2013 Smart TV Platform is altogether more useful than the Social homescreen that we mentioned at the end of part one of this two-part review. The reason for this is that it provides you with a beautifully presented window of all the apps you have installed on the TV, as well as a simple link to all the further apps stored on Samsung’s servers that you can download if you wish. It's simple, neat and effective.
In fact, the Apps homescreen quickly became our most used menu, as we found it to offer more straightforward access to the likes of the BBC iPlayer, Love Film, Netflix, Facebook and Twitter – making it much more handy and direct a route to the specific content we wanted than the Social and Movies & TV Shows homescreens.
Especially of note here is the discovery of an interesting Social TV app that allows you to Tweet, Skype or Facebook while still watching TV – exactly the sort of thing we wanted the Social homescreen to do!
Considering Samsung’s new multiple homescreen system as a whole, our overall feeling is that while it’s unfeasibly clever, it’s also a bit inscrutable. The TV does so much automatically, behind the scenes, that it can actually leave you feeling lost at times.
Couple this with the fact that, unlike Panasonic’s My Home Screen system, there’s very little scope for customisation, and you’re ultimately left feeling like you’re battling with a system that makes perfect sense to Samsung engineers but has gone beyond something a normal end user can fully appreciate.
At this point we should mention Samsung’s unique Evolution Kit system. Introduced initially with last year’s ES8000 and ES7000 TVs, we weren’t entirely clear about what the Evolution Kits might deliver at the time. Now that the first ones have appeared for the ES models though, we can say that they’re actually rather brilliant, as they allow you to update your TV in full with the next generation of interface as Samsung makes it available. In a TV world that’s changing as fast as the current one, this sort of future-proofing is hugely attractive.
Our next port of call with Samsung’s new interface is the different systems Samsung has provided this year for finding your way through all of its complex menus and home pages. The ‘headline grabbers’ here are undoubtedly the second generation versions of the gesture and voice control systems Samsung introduced to much fanfare – but a relatively tepid critical reaction – last year.
Both systems have been much improved. Where the gesture system is concerned, the TV’s built-in camera recognises the little wave of your hand needed to activate the system more readily than last year, and the cursor responds to movements of your hands much more tightly. Being able to ‘air swipe’ through lists of icons and the five main Home Screens just by swishing your hand in front of you is a great touch, and you don’t need to move your hand and arm over that much distance to achieve significant moves of the cursor.
Finally, the new gesture system is mercifully much more forgiving when it comes to the degree of leeway it gives you when you’re trying to select an on-screen option.
As for the voice system, the biggest improvement concerns the engine’s ‘vocabulary’ level. While you had to bark rather stilted commands at last year’s equivalent TVs, this time round the system can parse much more complicated sentences, with the effect that you’re able to talk to your TV far more naturally than you could before.
Also important is the shift in the focus of the voice recognition system towards content searching rather than merely operating the TV. This makes total sense, as having a system that’s able to respond to a phrase like ‘Show me Angelina Jolie movies’ by generating lists of all the films it can find with Jolie in from a scan of all its various content bases is clearly much more useful and time-saving than simply being able to say ‘volume up’ or ‘channel up’.
Both systems have been much improved. Where the gesture system is concerned, the TV’s built-in camera recognises the little wave of your hand needed to activate the system more readily than last year, and the cursor responds to movements of your hands much more tightly. Being able to ‘air swipe’ through lists of icons and the five main Home Screens just by swishing your hand in front of you is a great touch, and you don’t need to move your hand and arm over nearly as far a distance to achieve significant moves of the cursor.