Nowadays, finding a TV that isn't smart is very difficult. Only very cheap budget TVs, or old ones, will be without smart features. Generally, these won't have very good picture quality. Thankfully, they've grown to be a much better experience than they used to, so it's less problematic even if you dislike them. Not all smart TVs are built equal, though. Some platforms are much better than the others when it comes to speed, stability, features and supported apps. Here are our recommendations for the best smart TVs we've reviewed so far.
What is a smart TV?
In their most basic form, a smart TV is a television that is connected to the internet and provides web-related features. It can be a web browser, but their appeal usually comes from their ability to use online services such as Netflix, Youtube, and Spotify. If you've ever used something like an Apple TV, a Roku or a Chromecast, then you are already quite familiar with their capabilities as they are quite similar.
Unfortunately though, while they offer the same features, they tend to be a bit slower and less stable. This has become less of an issue in recent years, but most TVs still don't quite match the speed and reliability of something like a Roku set top box.
Best Smart TV
Coincidentally, the best TV we've reviewed also has the best Smart features.
The best smart TV available today is the LG OLED C7. This year again, LG's updated version of its WebOS platform is the best we've reviewed. Its interface is easily the prettiest of the bunch, and the comfortable motion-based remote enables swift and very accurate selections.
Its picture quality is unmatched. Thanks to OLED, individual pixels can be turned off completely, allowing it to display pure blacks. Contrasts are most impactful with picture quality, and C7 is perfect in that aspect. This smart TV also features one of LG's coolest features - by holding the remote pointing at the TV while in your viewing position, the TVs can play a track and adjust its audio to fit the room better. Unlike usual sound features, this one works quite well.
Unless you have some very specific needs that WebOS doesn't cover, it can't be beaten. It can be found across their entire range, but the LG C7 OLED is also one of the best TV's we've reviewed overall, so it fits quite well.
Best Mid-range Smart TV
If your budget can't quite fit the more expensive models, mid-range TVs can still offer great picture quality and smart features for a more accessible price.
For a more reasonably priced option, the Sony X900E 4k LED TV is a very good smart TV. Android hasn't seen many upgrades over the years, but it's still a fully-featured solution that offers all the popular apps and then some.
The X900E is a great LED overall. It's versatile, and the picture quality is amongst the best found in an LED TV. This smart TV is especially good for gaming and sports since it handles fast motion very well.
Its biggest downside is its narrow viewing angle, but if you're only going to be watching from the front, this isn't an issue.
Best Budget Smart TV
For a true budget option, go for the TCL FS3800 LED TV. It's a simple smart TV with decent picture quality, but it features one of the best smart platforms available. Roku is simple to use, fast, and it has most of the apps and feature needed. The only missing thing is a web browser, but that isn't a big loss.
It's a pretty basic TV, but it still has some good picture quality. Blacks are deep, and the picture is quite uniform. It lacks premium features such as HDR, but that's to be expected of a TV at this price. Overall though, it's a package that's very difficult to beat in this price range.
Best Smart TV Platforms
LG WEBOS 3.5
Ever since its introduction in 2014, LG's WebOS has been a dominant force compared to competing Smart TVs. Especially at the time, it was slick, fast and intuitive. It's progressively evolved and has become even faster over time. Most of the changes have been fairly incremental, but it's matured into something that's very tough to beat. Even today, competing smart TVs are playing catch-up, which shows how far ahead it was 3 years ago. The app marketplace offers a selection wide enough to please just about everyone, but it's biggest selling point is most definitely the overall performance and simplicity.
TCL ROKU TV
As services such as Netflix exploded in popularity over the past few years, so did the devices that rendered them accessible on the average person's TV. Roku boxes are one of the most popular options, and they've recently implemented their platforms within TVs themselves.
It is essentially the same as what you'd find on the boxes. Related apps, such as the remote found on Android and iOS are compatible with both. It's very simple to use and stable. The biggest downside compared to WebOS is its lack of a web browser, but that's a fairly minor loss.
Found on Sony and LeEco TVs, Android is a well-featured platform. It doesn't have quite the polish of some of its competition, but it still offers access to all the apps one would need, and more. Since Android is a pretty open platform, it allows for quite a lot of tinkering. Unfortunately, TVs featuring this smart platform have a tendency to be under-equipped. This isn't necessarily a fault of the system itself, but it usually leads to slow-downs and stability issues. One of its best features is casting; from apps on your phone or computer, you can send videos or movies to the TV directly. This essentially negates the need to use the remote to navigate through the menus, which is great.
sAMSUNG Smart Hub
Samsung's evolving platform has seen some polish over the years. In 2017, it received a facelift turning it shades of white. Its biggest advantage compared to other platforms is its voice control. It doesn't have quite the depth that you'd get with the google search that you find on Android, but it recognizes commands very accurately. It also allows you to change settings directly through voice commands, so changing inputs or brightness levels is as easy as holding the microphone button and saying "brightness 20".
Unfortunately, it's quite prone to framedrops and other forms of slowdowns. Some settings are quite buggy too. It's pretty well featured and should suit basic usage, but it isn't the best.
Vizio's Smartcast is the most barebones option on the market today. If you've used a Google Chromecast before, this will be exactly the same. It doesn't actually have apps on the TV itself, it's entirely dependent on external devices such as your phone or tablet. The content availability is then entirely dependent on the external device itself, which can be hit or miss.
The same feature is available on android, but it also allows to use it as a standalone device, making Vizio's solution seem quite limited in comparison.
Which apps are on a Smart TV?
Unless you have very specific needs, most apps will be found on smart platforms from the major manufacturers. Android, WebOS, Roku and Samsung's Smart Hub all feature an app store where you can download and purchase a wide variety of applications, or sometimes even rent or purchase content directly.
Here is a table comparing the main apps across all smart TV platforms, including Apple TV and Roku. It isn't the full list, but it should cover most people's needs.
Is a Smart TV better than a standalone box?
Game consoles like the Xbox one and PS4, if you consider them in the same realm, obviously offer the advantage of giving you access to a wide library of high-quality games in addition to smart features. Devices like Roku, Apple TV or Nvidia's Shield TV don't offer as big of an advantage. Their feature set is either very similar or exactly the same as modern TVs, but their main advantage tends to be stability and speed. It's less of a factor for the various Roku boxes, but Android on the Shield TV gets updates more frequently, is more stable and is, in general, more responsive and less prone to slowdowns.
This isn't too big of a deal though. If most of your usage is going to consist of starting the TV and launching apps such as Netflix and Youtube, then investing in a standalone device is unnecessary.
Not only does almost every TV include smart features today, most of them are pretty good. LG's WebOS and TCL's Roku definitely stand out for their quality, but most shoppers should be pleased by the features of any of them. If you're shopping for a TV, don't fret too much on their smart features since little of your time is going to be spent using them. Instead, focus on the picture quality or other features that complement your usage. You'll get much closer to finding your perfect TV that way.