Web connectivity in HDTVs is nothing new, whether it’s built-in or added with a streaming media box. But most of these options only offer simplistic functionality with a limited selection of apps. The Favi Entertainment HDTV Smartstick ($49.99 direct) can make the smartest of TVs even brighter, bringing a nearly complete Android experience to your big screen. It lets you browse the Web, watch Netflix, and play back a variety of media formats on your HDTV, but it’s held back by slow performance and a cumbersome navigation experience thanks to a clunky UI and barebones included remote. On top of that, the optional SmartStick FE02RF-BL wireless QWERTY keyboard is a must-have accessory; using the bundled remote makes navigation even tougher.
Design, Features, and Setup
A plain white plastic dongle, the Smartstick measures 3.6 by 1.3 by 0.6 inches (HWD). One end houses the HDMI connector, while a full-sized USB port and microSD card slot are on the other. Along the side are an IR input (an IR receiver is included) and a mini USB port for powering the device. Since the Smartstick has an external power source, it will work with any HDTV with an HDMI port. There are no buttons on the Smartstick—everything is controlled through the included remote, which is about the same size as the dongle, with 17 small rubber buttons. You get media playback controls, navigation arrows, and Android function buttons for Home, Back, and Menu.
Powering the Smartstick is a single-core 1GHz ARM Cortex-A9 processor with 1GB RAM. The $50 base model comes with 4GB of internal storage, or you can step up to 8GB for $79.99. I’d recommend the lower model, since the microSD card slot can handle cards up to 32GB. The Smartstick is Wi-Fi enabled and connects to 802.11b/g/n networks on the 2.4GHz band.
Setting up the Smartstick is relatively easy, though you will have to connect a few cables that can look a bit unsightly. Favi includes an HDMI extender cable, which is nice since the Smartstick was actually too thick to fit into the HDMI ports of some of the HDTVs in our testing lab. Next, you need to connect the included mini USB cable and power adapter, as well as the IR receiver. The Smartstick powers on automatically, and setup proceeds like any other Android device—you need to set the time and date, connect to a Wi-Fi network, and associate a Google account. Unlike other Android devices, however, you’ll need to do all of this with the very rudimentary remote, which can be frustrating. If you get the $40 wireless QWERTY keyboard, which I’d argue is necessary, the process is much quicker.
The Smartstick runs Android 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich,” but with a heavily customized skin. It resembles the interface you see on many smart TVs and connected Blu-ray players, with big icons and tabbed pages for various functions, separated into Apps, Browser, Video, Music, Photo, and Settings tabs. If you use the included remote, you’ll navigate around with the Up, Down, Left, or Right arrow buttons, which is very slow. If you have the optional wireless keyboard, you can use Android’s built in mouse and keyboard support, which isn’t perfect, but makes navigation far less frustrating. Still, there’s no multitouch or even single finger swipe support, so you’ll have to click and hold the mouse button while dragging your finger around the touchpad to get around. That makes most apps, especially games, unusable. Really though, you shouldn’t get the Smartstick for anything other than media playback and light Web browsing, and it performs those two tasks well.
You get all the same streaming services you would on any Android smartphone or tablet. These include things like Netflix, Hulu Plus, Crackle, and YouTube, to name a few. Streaming videos on Netflix or YouTube were generally smooth in my tests, though I did notice that Wi-Fi range seemed shorter than your typical smartphone or tablet. With a strong connection, I was able to stream HD video without much lag, but there were occasional stutters in my tests, both in the labs and on my home connection. It wasn’t a huge problem, but playback wasn’t as smooth as on a high-end Android smartphone.
The Smartstick also plays back a variety of media formats via microSD cards or USB-connected drives. For video, the Smartstick was able to handle Xvid, DivX, MPEG4, H.264, and AVI files at up to 1080p resolution. MP3, AAC, FLAC, OGG, WAV, and WMA audio files are also supported.
Web browsing is about on par with low- to mid-range Android smartphones, which is serviceable, but can be slow to load complex sites. Flash-heavy sites can trip the Smartstick up, and I had a few force closes during testing. If you just want to browse Facebook or load up your iGoogle landing page, the Smartstick is perfectly capable of that.
Smartstick vs. Competitors
You can get the same streaming features on a Roku 3 or Apple TV, which also have far more user friendly interfaces, but you lose out on the Web browsing and app capability. Google TV devices like the Vizio Co-Star or the Sony Internet Player With Google TV offer similar functionality with a more refined experience, but you also lose the ability to sideload your own content via microSD or USB. Those boxes are also a good deal larger and generally more expensive, but they do come with included QWERTY remotes for easier navigation.
At $50, the Favi Entertainment HDTV Smartstick undercuts competitors like the Apple TV or Roku 3, and its Android foundation makes it a bit more flexible than either. It’s also a decent choice for those who can’t afford high-end HDTVs with integrated Web connectivity. But unless you plan on sideloading your own media content, most would be better served by more polished Google TV devices like the Vizio Co-Star or Sony Internet Player.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc