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Sony Android TV smart TV review – first look

Sony's switch from its own UI to Google's Android OS means its 2015 TV line-up is truly smart

Sony focused on ultra-thin design when it revealed the 2015 Bravia TV line-up at its CES press conference, but arguably the bigger news is the fact that the company has ditched its own Smart TV interface in favour of Google’s Android TV. This isn’t a one-off move, either, as the entire range will be making the switch, showing how much faith the company has in the platform. Based on our short time with the incredibly slim X90C, it’s clear to see why; Android TV is possibly the best thing to happen to smart TVs since the concept first arrived.

Android TV esentially a big screen version of the base smartphone and tablet OS, with a simple card-based interface that puts a list of recommended titles and recently placed programmes at the top of the screen and your installed apps underneath. Google apps including YouTube, Google Play Movies and Google Play Music are pre-loaded, plus you have access to the Google Play Store for downloading more. Every 2015 Sony TV will have 16GB of storage for adding apps and games (more on those below), although it’s unclear if you can add extra storage with a USB flash drive. Sony’s own Android apps have been updated for Android TV too, meaning you get photo albums, music and video players, and of course live TV.

The OS based on the latest 5.0 Lollipop build of Android, meaning everything has a sleek Material Design look with flat icons, bright colours and smooth animations whenever you interact with an onscreen object. Sony hasn’t skinned Android TV with its own custom user interface, meaning you get an identical experience to Google’s own Nexus Player. Until we get to spend some more time with the new TV range it’s not clear if the picture quality settings are controlled through Android TV, or if there are still remnants from Sony’s old TV interface hiding in the background.

A microphone prompt in the top left corner is omnipresent, constantly reminding you that you can chat to your TV rather than rely on an onscreen keyboard. The remote control has an integrated microphone, which lets you use Google Now voice search to find content across any installed apps and services, live TV and the web. Currently search only returns results from Google’s Movies app, although that may change in the future. The remote, which Sony calls One-Flick, also has a large touchpad for navigation and interacting with apps that were originally designed for a touch interface.

In general use, Android TV is much slicker, easier to navigate and more respsonsive than Sony’s old SEN interface. It boots up very quickly and reacts almost instantly to your inputs. Multitasking is an absolute revelation, letting you pause a Netflix stream to check Facebook or check the football scores, then jump back into Netflix and pick up exactly where you left off. Sony had a reasonable amount of apps on its own Smart TV system, but there are absolutely no excuses for not having streaming services now that Android is running the show. That means every catch-up TV channel or on-demand video service can be downloaded as soon as you switch on the TV.

Android TV also turns Sony’s TVs into games consoles, with tha ability to pair s PS4 DualShock 4 controller via Bluetooth and access to the Google Play Store for downloading a huge selection of titles. Because the software is practically identical to your smartphone underneath the big screen UI, developers won’t need to port their games specifically to the platform, so there will be far more content here than on competing platforms.

You’ll be able to stream content from a smartphone or tablet too, as all Android TVs include support for Google Cast. Essentially, any apps which haven’t been ported from vanilla Android to Android TV, you’ll be able to play them on the big screen via your handheld.

Some of Android TV’s best features have yet to arrive. Because your TV is now running the same underlying software as your smartphone or tablet, it can interact with smart home gadgets and IoT-enabled kit in exactly the same way, effectively turning it into a hub for communicating with all the other electronics in the house.

Based on what we’ve seen so far, Sony’s Android TV line-up could be the most comprehensive smart TV on sale in 2015. With the full might of Google and the thousands of third party developers that make apps for Android, it has massive potential, but right out of the box it’s already fast, fully-featured and beautiful. We can’t wait to put one to the test when the range launches later this year.

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