I have been a Google TV user for quite some time, and have come to enjoy the perks of the platform. I recently decided to retire my Logitech Revue and upgrade to the smaller and more  powerful Sony Internet Player. Now in the sea of set top boxes there are a ton of challengers that all have their pros and cons and frankly, this device is not without flaws but it definitely has it's place in the connected home. If Google continues to make improvements I can see it being embraced by more people.

 

Hardware

This set-top box is small yet powerful and looks perfect at home against your existing home theater components. Weighing less than two pounds, it disappears above your cable box or home theater receiver and has no buttons or controls that you’ll be tempted to touch. While some have mentioned using this hardware without cable, I honestly can’t say I’ve tried it. The use of Google TV as a whole shines when used with your existing cable or satellite provider so that is my recommended way to use it. This tiny box is full of inputs all located in the rear of the box and neatly out of sight. You get HDMI in and out, an IR blaster, optical out, ethernet and two USB ports which will allow you to connect external hard drives if you choose to access your media that way.

The major selling point in making me upgrade was the small yet versatile five-row QWERTY keyboard and remote control, which is a welcome change from the full keyboard and mouse included with the Revue. Besides all the usual control options found on all remotes you get clickable trackpad functionality as well with all the recognizable Android commands: menu, back and home.  The volume, channel  and mute commands are on the side which may be awkward at first, but become second nature in no time. I did get a bit annoyed flipping the remote to use the trackpad, but again, it's something that becomes second nature and coming off the larger keyboard is just a personal gripe. One thing that’s new is the motion control feature included in the remote, which besides automatically disabling the keyboard when flipped also adds some gameplay use to the remote. While it is not perfect it does demonstrate Google TV’s potential as a game console, albeit a simplistic one.

 

 

 

 

 

Here is an unboxing as well so you can see the hardware up close.

 

Ease Of Use/ Setup

Setting up the Google TV is quite easy as it is a matter connecting the HDMI, IR Blaster and Ethernet and following the onscreen setup. While I went with the wired connection due to my switch, the unit does allow wireless connectivity as well. Setting up the remote to control your TV and cable box involves entering the code that corresponds to the hardware. I wish it used the setup like the Harmony remotes but alas, the onscreen setup moves along quick enough to where it is not a detriment.  Maybe adding functionality where it recognizes the hardware it's connected to would speed up the process.

 

Software

Google TV’s software has come along quite a bit since the release of the first GTV units. My Revue box always felt outdated compared to Google’s mobile and tablet offerings until it received some substantial updates that not only added increased functionality but also opened up the Play Store. Sony’s box comes fully loaded with the most up to date Google TV interface and has some solid power under the hood to run the numerous apps as well. One of the most used features in my house is the universal search which looks for programming not only in your guide but also on Netflix, which is great for shows that appear on Netflix shortly after airing. This feature saw a lot of use during seasons of Spartacus on Starz. Search also displays shows available on Amazon Instant Video and also HBO Go. Sadly Hulu and most major networks block or do not support Google TV, which is a shame because Google’s interface would work perfectly not only with Hulu but the websites of major networks. Another constantly used feature is the rating feature which allows viewers to rate movies and shows to streamline recommendations of shows and movies to watch. I rated a few films over the course of the week and got some good recommendations. I rated Equilibrium four stars and was recommended The Matrix films, which I had also rated four stars. As I mentioned before, the recent Google software update enabled apps to be used and that breathed a new life into the platform with features such as Google Music now native to the platform. Pandora was the first app I installed followed by my most frequently used app, Plex. Plex costs $0.99 and allows you to stream any local content straight to your Google TV, which is great for those times when you don’t want to watch videos at your work station.  Besides all the available apps and enhanced TV features, you also get the Chrome browser which will give you a full internet experience right at your couch. I usually go to Chrome and pull up the NY Daily News or the stats for our site when I can’t be bothered to go to my PC. Text can be pain to read if it's on a white background, but luckily our site stats have colors.

I wish Google added voice and Google+ Hangouts to the software. It would be cool to watch a sporting event and do a Google Hangout with your friends especially for those of us who do a lot of fantasy sports. I hopes it is something we see in a future update.

 

My Take

Google TV has had a lot of stumbles along the way, and I have been a user during the majority of those stumbles. Their poor relationship with Logitech coupled with the countless delays associated with the Google TV software sullied my hopes for the platform, but once the update occurred I saw the platform's full potential. Since the update and the announcement that Logitech was no longer making Revue units I was hoping another company would support the platform more aggressively. Sony was that company and since the start they have done a better job at delivering the Google TV experience to the masses. Sadly, in order for it gain traction it needs to be priced better and needs more developers on board to create more native applications. Apple TV and Roku are delivering a more diverse experience coupled with a more competitive price which makes them more attractive to customers. Google has search and a full app store at their disposal that if used correctly would put competitors on notice and make Internet TV a necessity.

 

Recommendation

Sony has succeeded in making the NSZ-GS7 a welcome addition to any connected home and a welcome update for users looking past the Logitech Revue. I can honestly say that Roku, Apple TV and Boxee have more diverse offerings, but their interface’s strength lies separate from cable and satellite viewing. Google TV succeeds in bringing cable, internet and streaming media together in seamless and easy to use way. Unfortunately, the price (MSRP: $199) will turn many people away which is a shame. I can only recommend this to individuals that want to fully utilize the Aandroid experience and Revue adopters looking to upgrade to something more powerful.