GOOGLE’S software runs most of the world’s smartphones but its next move is even bigger: it’s coming to the television screen.
Sony is one of several major television makers installing Google Android on televisions this year, with other manufacturers including Philips and Sharp.
And the Japanese company is serious about its newest addition, with 14 out of the 18 Sony screens coming to Australia this year to feature Google’s Lollipop operating system.
But what does the latest Google software deliver to the biggest screen in the home? We tested Sony’s freshly arrived, top-of-the-line Bravia X Series 4K LED-backlit LCD screen to find out.
Sony’s smart TV facelift is obvious.
The home screen looks like a giant Google phone, with clean, minimalist graphics in the background, and large images for each app. It’s as if Sony created the world’s largest tablet.
The smart TV home screen is filled with rows of apps, starting with the most recently opened programs, and followed by the big-name apps Sony brings to the table.
Naturally, users can expect familiar TV apps in these menus, with Netflix added recently, ABC iView, Plus7, Quickflix, and SBS On Demand, but Google adds its own too.
Android TV-friendly apps include Vevo for music videos, Plex for your own media, and Bloomberg TV, and the downloads do not stop there.
Film rentals from Google’s Play Movies are available to Australian watchers, with new-release features available to rent for $5.99, while TV episodes and movies can also be purchased outright.
The additions, when combined with the TV’s built-in wi-fi, make it easy to fuel hours of entertainment without actually getting up to so much as change a DVD.
Google only offers another trick on this TV — gaming apps for the big screen — and you can connect a PlayStation 4 or generic Bluetooth gamepad to play them.
Those games range from the advanced Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars to the more family-friendly Crossy Road and the downright strange Goat Simulator: Goatz.
It’s unlikely to be a reason to buy one TV over another but it’s bound to be an entertaining diversion for Android TV buyers.
Google is best known for its search technology so it makes sense that a voice search icon sits atop the Android TV home screen.
The Touchpad Remote Control that comes with this X Series TV lets you access it with a dedicated button, and it works just as you’d expect.
Google will deliver answers to questions about the weather, mathematical problems, results from top sporting teams, and some information from its databases.
It will tell you the square root of pi, for example, or whether you need to carry an umbrella tomorrow.
Even better, Android TV voice search will answer questions about the movies on its service. Ask for films starring Keanu Reeves, for example, and it will throw up the options in Play Movies (The Replacements and Man of Tai Chi).
Sadly, Android TV voice search has plenty of room for improvement.
It won’t search the wider web yet, and often answers questions with results from YouTube
It cannot scour the TV’s electronic program guide like other smart TV software either, which would have made it much more useful.
Like Chromecast, this TV will let users beam content from a smartphone or tablet to the big screen.
Compatible apps include Netflix, Rdio, YouTube and Pandora, as well as the new Australian TV streaming services Presto and Stan which don’t have Android TV apps yet.
Users can also mirror whatever is on the screen of their phone on the big screen, showing off photos, videos or messages.
This feature works with Apple iOS devices as well as Macs, Windows PCs, Chromebooks and Google Android smartphones, and Sony is quick to point out that Android TV buyers will not miss out if their other computing devices use Apple’s software.
Apps and software side, Sony has thrown a lot of features into its 75-inch, $11,999 television.
Unusually, it sports magnetic fluid speakers down either side of the screen, complemented by a subwoofer. The setup is compatible with hi-resolution audio and ensures those who invest heavily in visual technology cannot overlook the audio side of the experience.
Visually, Sony delivers bright colours and high contrast using its Triluminos technology and, while they don’t match that of OLED, this TV delivers darker black shades than you might expect.
Upscaling from standard to 4K definition receives assistance from a new X1 processor and while it cannot come close to pure 4K content, free-to-air TV is easier on the eye under its delivery.
On the downside, those looking for a curved screen will have to look elsewhere, its advanced remote control is not motion sensitive, and its motion compensation and sharpness controls are aggressive and should be dialled back.
This Sony TV delivers sharp pictures, better sound than its rivals, and the first taste of Android TV apps, however, making it quite literally one to watch.