A Week With: Android Mini 4.0
A smart-TV device you'd have to be an android to love
Memory: 1GB, DDR3 SDRAM, 4GB Flash
Output: HDMI dongle, 1080p ("full") HD
You can connect to the internet on your television screen via the Xbox, Wii U, built-in internet, or hooking it up to your internet phone or tablet. Which begs the question: why do you need yet another device to do the same job?
The answer, after trying out an Android Mini 4.0, still eludes me. Smart-TV products offer a wide choice of games and television shows by giving you access to app stores on your television. The Android television boxes and dongles operate with a familiar Android interface, so your television looks and works a bit like a smartphone – you can even make Skype calls through the television – but it all feels a bit overwhelming and unnecessary. Surely all that people really want to do is watch television on their television?
What is it?
It's a little box that turns your television into an internet television. It's got a kitsch and friendly user interface that resembles a physical desktop – with a computer, a desk tidy and a little android who periodically waves at you.
Does it work?
A recent study showed that most people use smart-TVs mainly to watch television, so I focused in on television and film services, but you can also connect to social-networking sites, do some reading, shopping or gaming – which all work in a similar way to a smartphone. I added a mouse to make navigation easier, and you could also connect it to a wireless keyboard if you need to type smoothly.
Film streaming is tricky. The box I played with couldn't download directly from the Netflix website and the Google Play store wasn't pre-installed either. It's not easy to add it, which made for a limited experience of watching only iPlayer or YouTube. This model doesn't have Bluetooth and you need to be quite close to the Wi-Fi access point for it to stream clearly. It's not really intended for heavy-duty use, as it's got a 1.2GHz processor, with just 1GB of RAM, so movies and games with sophisticated graphics may appear jerky. You can get an Android dongle with Netflix pre-installed for around £65. It's worth getting if you're going to use it for watching films.
Is it worth the money?
It's cheap at between £30 and £40. But it doesn't do much that you couldn't do by hooking your television up to an Android phone. It has its limitations. There are more capable products out there with wired connections and more storage but they cost at least £80 – and for that price you could get a second-hand games console that could do the same job, and more.
It might be better to wait and see what the new Apple TV box has to offer. The latest prediction is it will be released in March, but Apple has had several false starts due to failed negotiations with cable companies. When it does arrive, the Apple TV should have enough horsepower to hook up all your tech products, offer a ton of storage and let you watch "over the top" services such as LoveFilm and Netflix in HD format (1080p HD).
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