Sony's Internet TVs are here, and we are live at their debut with hands on. So how does it feel to use the world's first Google TV-powered HDTV?
The Keypad Is Comfortable and Difficult
Okay, I'll admit it, I thought this was a monstrosity. So allow me to put my foot at least partially in my mouth and say the thing feels pretty damn good. Sony's Internet TV remote is lightweight without feeling cheap, and comfortable in my normal-sized hands—and they weren't lying when they said they looked to the DualShock for inspiration (though non-PS3 users won't feel at all disadvantaged).
That being said, despite feeling far more comfortable than we would have ever guessed, pleasant feeling doesn't translate into ease of use. I found myself looking more at the mosaic of tiny buttons than I was at the TV's menus while trying to pinpoint an episode of No Reservations. The right side of the keypad includes a not-so-sensitive touchpad, while the right rests your thumb on a traditional d-pad. It was unclear when I was expected to use either of the two—and sometimes found myself doing the opposite of what I wanted because of it. Between these two control elements lies a full QWERTY keyboard, and a bevy of buttons I would have rather not had to have looked at all at once. Some were color coded. Some weren't.
The button-based navigation also contains some annoying redundancies, with multiple ways to, say, go to the home menu, or search for content. Hand your friend a Roku remote, and he'll know what to do. Hand this same friend Sony's Internet TV keypad, and, well—wish him luck. Sony is obviously expecting a learning curve from Internet TV users, but we would have liked a greater emphasis on intuitiveness, and less on the here's a button for everything approach that's gone out of fashion for many companies. It's possible that after a period of regular use, you'd fly with this remote in ways that would make Apple TV owners blush—but up front, that curve is a steep one.
The Menus Are Simple and A Little Laggy
The Internet TV's UI was about on par with what we saw Logitech offer up—a fairly standard Google TV experience, with minimal deviations. In fact, we would have liked to seen a little more in the way of deviation—a Sony rep confirmed that in terms of content and functionality, the only exclusive offerings will be the channels within Sony's "Recommended" video area. Not exactly robust.
The experience of floating around the menus themselves was more or less decent—Google has a simple platform to give manufacturers like Sony, and getting from, say, Search to Applications, was easy enough. But there was some appreciable lag when trying to jump menus, even at the snail's pace I was trudging at while staring at the puzzling remote. That being said, interface hitches weren't any worse than what Logitech's served up with their Revue, so it's still a level field in terms of smoothness.