How can something be both the best and the worst at what it does? Well, leave it to Sony to amaze us.
The computer industry is becoming more and more pervasive. Of course, this means more exciting cars, such as the ground-pounding Tesla Roadster, powered entirely by laptop batteries. It means medical procedures that are far less invasive, and it means a more efficient office (in cases where non-Microsoft products are used).
Unfortunately this also means “smart” devices. You can send an image of your piping hot Indian dinner to your brother on the other side of the world in a matter of seconds, using your smartphone. This means “smart” HD televisions that can display, with lifelike clarity, a television show whenever you want to watch it.
What nobody in my industry seems to realize is, newer is not always better. In my industry, newer means a mixed bag. In tandem with a few new perks, “smart” devices signify unreliability, feature overload and menu clutter, constant popups and useless notifications, and an unresponsive user interface.
The Winner: Sony KDL-40EX720
This television my favorite example of this dichotomy. I upgraded from a bargain-basement HDTV and it was worth every penny. The picture quality is STUNNING, actually better than your average HDTV. It processes and displays an image that’s as smooth as silk. Even up close, it’s not grainly like the cheaper models.
It’s also superior when watching old standard definition content. There’s something called an upconverter that takes older, standard-definition shows (such as Power Rangers or Sanford & Son) and makes them look a bit nicer all blown up on your big screen. Cheapie TVs have little or no upconversion, so watching an older show on one of those looks like you wrote your name on a rubber band and stretched it out.
IF “YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR” WERE STILL TRUE, IT WOULDN’T BE A BIG DEAL. Unfortunately, though, this television represents one of the highest-end TV sets Sony offers. And it’s a complete embarrassment to the company.
It seems as though Sony has ZERO usability experts on staff. Apparently someone invented a fantastic LCD screen, poured features all over it, and NEVER BOTHERED TO TEST IT. Sometimes, after powering up, or even after watching TV for a bit, you’ll go to change to another input, and it’ll say “Please wait- Powering up.” Sometimes the TV will get overwhelmed with the commands you give it, so pressing the VOL or CH buttons a few times results in a delay, so you press again, and eventually, the volume or channel goes higher than you intended. This morning as I fired it up to take a picture of it, it rebooted itself out of the blue during a broadcast television show!
Not so smart
In an attempt to differentiate itself (and to charge much more), Sony squished Internet connectivity into it and called it a Sony Smart TV. This is a new class of television that not only displays standard cable channels and DVD players, but also connects to the Internet directly and displays content from Internet content providers such as Netflix, Hulu, and Crackle. That’s all well and good, but you can’t control which content providers are available, as you could with, say, an AppleTV or a computer.
On top of that, while many televisions and devices allow you to connect directly to Netflix, this particular television REQUIRES A SONY ACCOUNT before you’re ALLOWED to talk to Netflix. This means, if you purchased the television used, as I did, you have to call Sony and beg them to de-register the television and re-register it in your name. Luckily the guy I spoke with was actually competent, and informed me that Sony ditched that account requirement on future televisions. He brought back Sony’s reputation in my eyes.
Finally, think about the implications of Smart TVs: Yes, updates. So, imagine coming home from a long day of dealing with infuriating Norton popups at work, only to see update banners on your TELEVISION while you’re trying to relax. This model lets you disable the naggers, but I’ve worked with Toshiba models that won’t let you.
(Speaking of Toshiba, note that many of their new TVs include an enviro-nazi feature that makes your screen too dim to see unless you break into one of the menus to liberate it. Hint: It’s nowhere near the screen brightness menu! Dear Toshiba: LCD televisions use BARELY ANY ELECTRICITY. All the energy saving anti-features do is upset your customers.)
The Runner-Up: HTC G2
Unfortunately my television is just one example of feature-obsessed technology.
This little turd is the HTC G2 from T-Mobile. Sure, it has great build quality and just the right amount of features. It offers tight integration with Google services, such as Google Calendar, Google Contacts, and the obligatory Google Play Store, and caught my eye mainly because of its decent REAL keyboard. No touch-keyboard flubbing for me!
It also offers tight integration with Google Voice. GV is a free service that provides you with a secondary phone number that’s highly customizable. For example, you can give your business contacts your GV phone number instead of your real one, and send their calls straight to voicemail after 5 PM! Brilliant.
Basically Still a Prototype
If this phone were a car, it would be a concept car. It’s gorgeous, and on paper gets it all right. However, it basically doesn’t function:
- It crashes MORE OFTEN THAN NOT whenever I try to listen to a voicemail. (UNINSTALLING a recent Google Voice update actually remedied that. Go figure.)
- Half the time, when I launch my daily agenda, it displays a monthly calendar instead. I set it back to daily, and a little while later it goes back to showing my month instead. Nobody knows why, and there are no remedies.
- They’ve basically made a phone here just to meet a release date. No testing went into it, and apparently anyone who’s purchased the phone just went out and bought another one a week later instead of complaining.
Notes on Phones
Chances are, I’m going to buy myself a Samsung Galaxy Relay phone in the near future. It appears to be much more stable and refined, and features that essential REAL keyboard. (I cannot and will not use a touchscreen keyboard.)
My hesitation is this: I’ve helped customers with the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 before. (Images galore here.) Sure it felt more reliable and responsive than my HTC phone, but one of its anti-features is a hyperactive dock on the left side of the screen that pops up, INTERCEPTING YOUR TOUCH AND SENDING YOU TO APPS YOU DIDN’T WANT. Dear Samsung: There’s ALREADY A DOCK on the bottom. Stop acting like a PC.
Ah well. At least I wasn’t one of the 60 people in the world who bought a Windows Phone. Those poor souls!
The answer to this entire discussion is this: Nerds love pouring as many cool features as possible into a device. They have never heard of the concept of marginal utility.
My advice moving forward is this: Continue to purchase NON-Smart-TVs, and then buy your own set-top boxes, such as AppleTV, Roku, or Phoenix. This should send the industry a message to do what they do well and leave the digital entertainment to the specialists.
Finally, no matter what smartphone you’re going to buy, make sure it’s with T-Mobile. They’re very lasseiz-faire about what phone you use, and they offer the best feature of all: WiFi Calling. This means if you’re out in the boonies with no cell signal, OR if you’re OVERSEAS, your smartphone treats any nearby WiFi signals AS CELL TOWERS. So you can make calls from St. Kitts or Copenhagen for NO EXTRA CHARGE. ISN’T THAT AMAZING???