For all their improvements, we actually didn't actually use either the voice or gesture controls very often. For starters, despite the improvements the gesture control system is still extremely tiring to use, with soreness setting in after just a few seconds of using the system. We also still regularly suffered moments where the gesture control system failed to recognise one of our ‘close hands to select’ gestures, even with light levels in our test room set high enough that the camera should easily be able to see what we were doing.
As for the voice control, the system still fairly regularly failed to accurately understand something we were saying, and we’d also argue that the way some aspects of the menus have to be structured to accommodate voice command access can make them feel ultimately more long-winded than just using a remote control.
Samsung is keen to point out that the voice and gesture controls uniquely enable you to use its Smart TVs without needing a physical remote control. This could be handy if the dog’s run off with your handset or, like us, you’re prone to wandering around the house remote in hand, and then leaving it somewhere obscure.
There are also times – usually involving inputting text into search fields – where the voice control can have its uses, provided you don’t mind wrestling with its frequent misunderstandings.
However, overall, despite the improvements, we still feel that the gesture and voice controls remain not only pretty niche in their usefulness, but also arguably an extra complication rather than a way to make life easier. Highlighting the frustrations of the gesture and voice control systems is the groovy new touchpad remote Samsung is shipping with its upper-tier TVs this year.
This improves in every way over the touchpad remote Samsung introduced last year. The touchpad section is much more tactile and much more sensibly calibrated in terms of its responsiveness. The application of ‘slider’ bars around the touchpad’s edges so you can shift instantly between pages is a great touch too, and the button layout is excellent. The way the sparsely-buttoned remote interfaces with a new on-screen menu system accessed via the ‘More’ key also works a treat.
Add to all this the glorious weight, balance and finish of the touchpad remote and it’s little wonder that it almost immediately became our default 55F8000 controller. Last year, by comparison, we found ourselves falling back for the most part on the standard remote design that was included alongside the touchpad model. Samsung has included a normal remote with the F8000 models too, although we hardly ever felt compelled to use it.
The last key element of Samsung’s latest Smart interface we need to check out is the way it liaises with second screen devices via Samsung’s Smart View app. And here again things are a bit hit and miss.
For starters, there isn’t currently the level of feature parity across Samsung’s Android and iOS apps that we’d really expect to find in this day and age. Samsung assures us that the currently lagging iOS app will be raised to something at least similar in abilities to the Android one, but we can’t help but think that all apps should be equal from day one.
Focusing on the Android platform, given that this is the most fully developed system at the time of writing, the most impressive feature without doubt is the way you can stream not only what’s showing on the TV screen to your mobile device (even it’s coming in from an AV input rather than the tuners), but also a different broadcast channel to the one being watching on the TV. Just press the video screen in Samsung’s Smart View app and the image is overlaid with two separate volume and programme controls: one for the TV and one for the app. Switching to a different channel on the second device really couldn’t be easier.
This is the main feature you don’t currently get with the iOS app. You can only watch the same programme on your Apple device that you’re watching on the TV screen.