Review: Sony's Google TV player may harm your marriage

After six long, disappointing days with an Android-powered Google TV player (that I was really excited for), I brought it back to the store.

Over the last year, Android has become a staple in my house. My phone runs Android. My tablet (and constant companion) runs Android. And, more recently, my gaming console of choice runs Android.

The only place left in Android's quest of “Total Domination of Bryan's Home” is my TV. So I decided to take the plunge with what is supposed to be the premier Google TV device – Sony's “Internet Player with Google TV” (aka “NSZ-GS7”). And, because I'm hardcore, I've decided to stop using any other set-top box during this period. That's right. I went whole-hog, Google TV as my only method for TV-based entertainment. Here's how it worked out...

Day 1

I picked up the Sony NSZ-GS7 for $150. I felt pretty good about that price. It’s about 50 bucks more than a Roku 3 – but it runs Android! It seems worth an extra 50 smackers to be able to install a boatload of apps to use on my TV.

The unit itself is pretty plain-jane looking... but nice. Small, light, black and fit nicely in a little nook under my TV. I hooked it up to my TV over HDMI. It also has HDMI-in for those who want to watch live TV via another set-top box. But not me! I'll be getting all of my TV from the Internet, thank you very much!

The remote is awesome. Full QWERTY keyboard on one side, D-Pad, standard video controls and a full mouse touchpad on the other. Pretty slick.

I opted to connect to the internet (and my home network) via Wi-Fi, because otherwise I'd need to string another Ethernet cable across the room. And I am far too lazy for that. After powering the unit on, the setup process (connecting, updating, adding in my Google account info, updating again) took about 10 minutes.

After getting up and rolling, I immediately went to the Play Store to start installing apps. Amazon Instant Streaming, Netflix, Google Play Music... check. But Hulu was mysteriously absent. So I settle in and watch some Mystery Science Theater on Netflix. The video quality is good. I am happy.

After a while, I turned off and un-plugged my Xbox 360 and PS3 (which I had been using to watch TV previously). Who needs them? I've got Android-powered-TV, baby!

Day 2

I tried playing some videos off my local home server (using DLNA) today, with no luck. I powered up one of my older servers (also DLNA). Still no luck. I installed every app on the Play Store that had the word “DLNA” in it. No luck. Both had worked great with both PS3 and 360 previously (connected over the same Wi-Fi connection), so I know the issue lies with the GoogleTV unit.

I installed a few DLNA Media servers on my desktop PC. That managed to get a few to work (such as MediaTomb) but not most. Luckily, one is all I need. It'll do for now. On the plus side: I connected the IR Blaster to the GoogleTV, which allows me to use the GoogleTV remote to control the volume/inputs/power of my TV. Which is pleasant.

Still no sign of Hulu. I have Hulu on all of my other Android-powered devices. I can hear my Nexus 7 mocking and laughing at my Sony Google TV.

Day 3

I made the mistake of pushing the “Picture in Picture” button on the remote today. It made a black square appear on my screen with no video in it (because I am not using the HDMI input).

I pressed the back button. The black box is still there, covering a quarter of my TV. I hit the Picture in Picture button again. Now the complete blackness takes up my entire screen.

After much button mashing (and several examinations of the manual), I stumbled upon the seemingly only way to see all of my TV again: Reboot.

Hulu remains elusive. The natives (aka “Wife and child”) are growing restless for shows that are only on Hulu.

Day 4

I rebooted the GoogleTV at least a dozen times today. It kept slowing down to the point of "so annoyingly slow it is barely usable."

Every app I use seems to work completely differently. Some allow you to exit them using the menu button. Others allow you to exit them by clicking the back button a few times. Others cannot be quit. Ever. They stay there, taunting you, while slowing the system down further and further.

Occasionally, while watching a show on Netflix, Google Play Music would spontaneously (with nobody touching the remote) start playing music. And, of course, the only way to stop the music is to follow these steps:

  1. Stop the video you are watching.
  2. Press “Home” to go back to the Home screen (which is really just a big empty screen with small app dock at the button).
  3. Launch Play Music.
  4. Pause the song.
  5. Return to the Home screen. 
  6. Re-launch Netflix. 
  7. Resume your show. 
  8. Hope the Phantom of the GoogleTV doesn't start playing music again. (Spoiler alert: It did.)

But it's cool. At least I don't need to worry about Hulu spontaneously playing videos.

Day 5

I went out to run some errands today. Upon returning home I found the GoogleTV had been unplugged and placed on my desk. The PS3 had been reconnected.

I also learned that my wife's vocabulary is much larger, and more colorful, than I ever knew. I am very happy that those newly discovered words were directed at the GoogleTV and not at me. Apparently, the system had hard-locked several times and would now refuse to launch Amazon Instant Streaming (which worked the day before).

I reconnected the system and verified that she was, indeed, correct. Some previously working apps now refused to launch, system was slow.

Also...still no Hulu.

Day 6

I gave Google TV one final chance today. I decided to use the installed version of the Chrome web browser to look up some solutions to the issues we'd been facing the day before.

Roughly an hour later I began swearing like a sailor at the slow speed and high crash-ability of the web browser that works so wonderfully well on every other Android device we own.

I put the device back in the box and returned it to the store, bummed and confused. A cheap Android tablet connected to my TV over HDMI would have been a substantially better TV-watching experience than GoogleTV was. How that is possible, with GoogleTV being built on Android, is confusing to me.

I think I'll just get a Roku.

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