How Smart are Smart TVs?

First, let me say that we’re pretty happy with our Samsung SmartTV in terms of its picture quality. It was a good replacement for our previous model that bit the dust (don’t ask). And it does stream Netflix relatively well, even if browsing titles is more than a little clumsy. But the promise of the SmartTV features seems to be more hype than reality.

First, most of the Samsung apps involve subscription services. Free internet TV is hard to come by, though Samsung does provide a web browser app. This is the biggest disappointment. Not only is it next to impossible to navigate with the supplied remote — calling it clumsy would be an incredible understatement — but it won’t play much and is constantly in need of updates.

The main problem seems to be with Flash. Videos on some sites tell us that we need to update our Flash player, which we can’t do except by updating the whole SmartHub or the browser or possibly the firmware. Other sites tell us we’re out of memory, but we can’t delete apps because Samsung doesn’t allow that for their recommended ones (the subscription apps). So we could buy movies and TV shows with the recommended apps. Or if we subscribe to cable, we could watch TV on demand if we had the premium channels.

But to watch the content we’d like to stream from network TV or other free sites, we might as well hook up a computer to the TV. Or an AppleTV or possibly Roku or other box might work. So where’s the value in the Smart features?

At least we got a good deal on this model, so we could not feel cheated that the hype of SmartTV was mostly hype. I’d rate the IQ of our TV at maybe 100. It does a few things relatively well, but there are serious limitations, and it has a long way to go before it will be a full replacement for a computer (even just for watching video.) It always felt like a waste to dedicate a computer to the TV, since there was so much processing power that we really didn’t use. The idea of a SmartTV makes a lot of sense. The reality is far from perfect, though.

We’ve read that Samsung will make major revisions to its apps on March 26, getting rid of all paid apps (not the subscription apps). There may be more changes in the works, which could make the experience better for awhile, but then it could all change again as Flash gets updated on websites, for instance. Oh, and there used to be an app called SwipeIt for streaming iPad or iPhone video, but I could never get it to work. Now it has disappeared from the Samsung apps store. The constant flux in what’s available and what the capabilities are may hold out some hope for the future, but it also makes the user experience more frustrating in the present.

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