Sony’s new Android TV smart features got off to a rocky start, and limited app selection (particularly for 4k models) was initially a big problem. Now, new apps are being released regularly, and the platform is becoming more functional every week.
Picture quality of Sony smart TVs
|Smart TV||OS||Remote||Our Reviews|
|X800D||Android TV||Basic||See review|
|X900E||Android TV||Basic||See review|
Sony smart TVs are a bit of a mixed bag this year. Many have great picture quality, with strong contrast and good uniformity. Others sacrifice contrast for a wide viewing angle, but are still relatively good.
To get a better idea of the differences between Sony’s Android TVs, take a look at our list of this year’s Sony lineup.
The rest of this article reviews the smart features found in Sony smart TVs. We used the Sony XBRX850C for this review, but will point out differences between models where applicable.
The default remote included with Android TVs is just a basic one.
Some TVs, like the X850C, come with a Touchpad remote control, and it’s also possible to purchase one separately. We don’t recommend it.
Unlike the fancier remotes you get with the higher-end Samsung and LG TVs, the Sony Touchpad doesn’t allow for motion controls. Instead, you can swipe on the touchpad to navigate the menus. It’s tricky to use at first, and while it does get a bit simpler, it’s still not worth using over the traditional remote, and definitely not worth purchasing.
A better option is to download Sony’s TV Sideview App for iOS or Android. It allows you to connect your phone to your TV and use it as a remote. You can use the onscreen arrows to navigate, but you can also track your finger across the screen to control a cursor. It also enables voice search, and can even turn it on when the TV is in standby mode. It’s the best solution for controlling your TV, though it’s still not as good as Samsung and LG’s smart remotes. It’s a free download for iOS and Android.
The interface is clean, and pretty simply to navigate. The top row is video and game content from YouTube, Crackle, and the Play Store.
One area where the Android TV excels is with voice search. Press the voice search button on the remote (either the Touchpad or in the TV Sideview app) and say what you’re looking for, and Android TV will deliver suggestions from the Play Store, Google Play Movies & TV, and YouTube, as well as relevant results from downloaded apps. It’s a convenient way to navigate to content quickly, and much better than the swipe controls.
USB playback is interesting on Android TV. The video player is decent, and was able to play our video files just fine. The TV couldn't see any of our image files though (.jpg and .png), which wasn't great.
Android TV comes with a couple of options for browsing the web. The first is Opera, which is the default browser for Sony’s Android TV lineup.
While the browser did very well for speed on the Peacekeeper test (its score of 938 is quite a bit more than what our LG and Samsung TVs scored), it only got a 5/7 for HTML 5 capability.
Worse, though, is that interacting with the browser is difficult. It was designed for use with the basic remote control that is included with the TV, and even when using the superior TV Sideview app, the menus behave as though a regular remote is being used.
To enter text, for example, you can use your phone as a trackpad and click in the necessary box. This brings up your phone’s keyboard. Enter the text as normal, press enter, and the text appears in the box, but requires that you confirm the selection using the TV’s onscreen keyboard.
You can’t do so without either switching the app over to the setting that mimics the remote (swaps the trackpad for arrows) or using the regular remote. That slows everything down quite a bit, and is a nuisance.
The other browser you can use is Google Chrome. It fared worse in the Peacekeeper test. It was within the same range for overall speed, but its HTML 5 performance was a pretty weak 2/7.
To use Chrome on your Android TV, you need to log in to play.google.com with the same Google account that you have set up with your Android TV. Next, download the ‘Sideload Launcher’ app to your TV, and then download Google Chrome.
Open Sideload Launcher and then open Google Chrome. Note that the default remote included with the TV does not appear to work. You’ll need to use the TV Sideview app on your phone to use Chrome.
In addition to the web browsing options you get with Android TV, it’s also possible to use the cast function to display individual tabs from Google Chrome.
There are major limitations to doing this. For one, you can only cast in a resolution of up to 720p. For another, the tab is only mirrored, and not controllable from the TV itself. If you want to scroll down, you need to do so on the computer.
Casting works much better for “Google Cast Ready” websites like YouTube, Netflix, HBO Go, and Plex.
|H.264||(AVI, MP4, MKV)||Yes|
|H.265||(AVI, MP4, MKV)||Yes|
The platform is still young, and it has some limitations, but Android TV does a lot well. The TV Sidescreen app works great, and the Google cast feature is pretty handy (though not suitable for prolonged browsing).
So far, our favourite Sony smart TV is the Sony XBRX850C. We also really like the Sony XBRX930C, which offers better quality for those who can afford it. We also have reviews for the rest of the Sony lineup.