- Review Price: £1295.00
In case you’re wondering, Loewe is pronounced ‘lerver’, not ‘lowy’ as most people seem to think. A fact which makes a lot more sense when you realise that the company hails from Germany. In fact, Loewe is currently the only German company with a truly substantial TV presence in the UK – an exclusive position it has achieved via an unusually consistent combination of innovation, hot design and good performance quality. So we understandably have high hopes for the brand’s latest 26in LCD offering.
The Xelos A26 certainly doesn’t disappoint on the design front. Every element of the design screams quality, from the ultra slender profile and sumptuous combination of black and gun-metal grey for the fascia, through to the boldly emphasised infrared receiver and the ‘waved’ shape of the speaker grilles. What’s more, if the ‘Platinum’ colour scheme shown here doesn’t suit you, the set can be had in an arguably even prettier Anthracite finish instead.
This colour flexibility is typical of Loewe, which nearly always goes much further out of its way than most manufacturers to give buyers genuine choice in how their TV looks.
Loewe also tends to offer more flexibility than most in the features department, using modular, upgradable chassis designs to give customers some degree of choice in exactly what tricks their particular Loewe TV has. For instance, Loewe TVs can commonly be retrofitted with Dolby Digital sound or home automation control modules.
However, having just whet your appetite for this flexibility, we’re disappointed to report that the Xelos A26 actually does not use one of Loewe’s upgradable chassis. We guess this is to some extent understandable given that the Xelos sets are effectively Loewe’s entry-level range, but it’s a pity nonetheless. The only truly useful feature flexibility with the Xelos range comes if you step up to the 32in or 37in versions, for which an optional 80GB ‘DR+’ built-in HDD PVR is available.
Connectivity is solid, delivering the HD Ready essentials of HDMI and component video inputs, together with SCARTs and a PC input. But given the A26’s actually quite high price tag by 26in LCD standards, it’s perhaps a shame that the HDMI and SCARTs only number one and two respectively.
We mentioned HD Ready connectivity back there, and can confirm that the Xelos A26 completes its HD Ready ‘checklist’ with a suitably high native resolution of 1,366 x 768 and compatibility with 720p and 1080i HD signals. The burgeoning new 1080p format is, however, not on the menu.
Perhaps because of its German heritage and innovative chassis designs, Loewe has taken rather longer than most to ‘go digital’ with its TVs. But we’re pleased to report that the Xelos A26 does indeed carry a built-in Freeview tuner, and supports the 7-day electronic programme guide.
A search for other features is hampered by a rather dismal operating system. Presumably in a bid to stop onscreen menus covering too much of the screen, Loewe has gone for a horribly tortuous system featuring far too many submenus for comfort. Then, to make matters worse, you’re forced to navigate these menus via a horrendously fiddly rocker-style button on the remote.
Professional journos that we are, however, we gritted our teeth and wrestled with the TV’s controls until we’d managed to compile a pretty exhaustive list of what the Xelos A26 offers. At which point we noticed that the features list really isn’t especially long. In fact, aside from some fairly common noise reduction and motion controlling bits and bobs, the only thing that really warrants a mention is an inspired ‘interactive’ onscreen instruction manual, where you can call up helpful explanations on any TV feature you’ve got selected at the press of a single button on the remote.
The slightly non-plussed feelings we’re experiencing towards the Xelos A26 so far sadly extend into its picture performance. The main problem is simply this: that black levels don’t get deep enough compared with some of the best competition out there. Watch a dark scene on the Xelos A26 and you can’t fail to notice that the blackest corners have a grey mist over them – a common revealer of contrast problems which additionally obscures background details, flattens the picture and sometimes causes you to have to strain your eyes to make out what’s going on.
It’s a relief after this bad start to find that in practically all other areas, Loewe’s customary picture prowess remains in evidence. Few LCD pictures look as sharp and detailed, for instance, especially – though not exclusively – when it comes to high definition. PC and Xbox 360 games look particularly fine in this regard, except for where the black level issue makes it hard to actually make out any detail at all…
The Xelos A26 enjoys strikingly vivid colours too – so much so, in fact, that for a decent percentage of your viewing time you’ll be so busy salivating over the picture’s vibrancy that you won’t even notice the black level problems.
It’s not just their vividness that impresses with colours either, as they also enjoy one of the more natural tones in the LCD world. Even better, unlike some LCD rivals the Loewe’s colour tone doesn’t deteriorate while watching lower quality sources like the analogue tuner or a low bit-rate digital broadcast.
Loewe has become renowned for its TVs’ sound quality – and that reputation sure isn’t about to be dented by the Xelos A26. In fact, it’s hard to believe that so much power and clarity could be possible from such a small, flat TV – especially given that the huge dynamics and soundstage are achieved without any trace of speaker distortion or cabinet rattle.
In some ways Loewe’s little Xelos A26 is desirable in the extreme. It looks divine, is built to last, and its audio rocks harder than some home cinema systems we’ve heard. But ultimately its contrast shortfall and lack of traditional Loewe flexibility make its price tag a little hard to swallow.
Score in detail
Image Quality 7
Sound Quality 10
Unlike other sites, we thoroughly test every product we review. We use industry standard tests in order to compare features properly. We’ll always tell you what we find. We never, ever accept money to review a product. Tell us what you think - send your emails to the Editor.