This June, Google announced an Android based platform for the TV ecosystem called the Android TV. They also released a reference device called the ADT-1 and provided it free of cost for Google IO attendees and developers. I requested for a device promising a honest review and here it is.
I received this device last August and thought I should immediately write a review, however the platform was barely ready at that stage. There were barely 5 apps (3 of them from Google) and less than 10 games. It was only for developers at that stage. Android Lollipop is now ready for the masses and Google even released a consumer centric Android TV device, the Nexus Player. Along with this, Google released an update to the ADT-1 device last week and started adding more apps and games to the bundled Google Play Store.
Google has designed this platform to be NOT a general computing platform. They wanted this to be an entertainment platform. The Chromecast platform is bundled with Android TV bringing with it hundreds of streaming apps. Rumor has it that Google may rename this platform as Google Cast and merge this into Android TV. So OEM TV manufacturers who opt to make their smart TVs with Android TV would have Chromecast functionality built in.
ADT-1 came with a gamepad, which makes Android TV a gaming platform. Many of the games on your phone/tablet can now be launched on your TV. Google will soon be competing with Microsoft Xbox and Sony Playstation. There were couple of good games at launch (Leo’s Fortune, Badland). I was able to install around 10-15 games from the play store after the latest update. I was able to play Super Mario World perfectly using a super nintendo emulator. Leo’s fortune is one of the most beautiful games I have played. Hungry shark evolution game is very addicting.
Google specs specify that you would be able to connect 4 gamepads to an Android TV making multiplayer possible during a party.
Some cons of Gaming on Android TV is that the games cannot take advantage of special sensors (accelerometers, orientation sensors etc) that are available on almost every phone shipped today. One suggestion is that Google should build support for these sensors in the Gamepad.
Typing using the Gamepad (or the remote) on the virtual keyboard on TV was really cumbersome. Though you would not require text entry on Android TV often, I had to type my 30 digit Google password when setting up my device ! I was able to connect my USB keyboard and mouse to the Android TV, though it is something against the design principles of Android TV. The Android TV remote app available for phones and tablets will be able to send text input for those handy situations. Voice search helped me with most of the searches I do on Youtube.
I have not found an easier way to play my local media on the Android TV. There are apps such as Plex available for doing that, I have not tried using it.
Not all apps may be available for Android TV right away, but with 1 million+ apps available for Android, it should not be long for developers to add support to this platform. I predict that there will be at least thousand games and apps available for Android TV by mid of 2015.
As of hardware, there is already the Nexus Player from Google. We should see a lot of set top boxes in different configurations next year. Per Google all the Sony TVs from 2015 are going to be equipped with Android TV.
There is a BIG void in the market for a unified smart TV platform and Google hopes to fill it. OEM TV manufacturers have created their own independent platforms where only the top tier apps were available. Other platforms like Roku were not able to make a big impact though they were successful to some extent. Apple may release products in this segment next year, they won't miss to monetize this segment with their Apps and Games platform. Microsoft is planning to unify XBox platform to Windows with their release of Windows 10. We’ll have to wait and see how Android TV succeeds to be in every home’s living room. At this point it is very promising.
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