The Nexus Player was the first Android TV experience many of us had but unfortunately that was released a long time ago and Google has since dropped support for it. There have been several attempts by other companies to produce an Android TV box but none matched the easy of use, size and price of the Nexus Player.
Google are trying to bring Android TV to the masses with a renewed push this year at Google IO and a developer Android TV dongle on the way. Vodafone are joining the Android TV party early with their Vodafone TV box and given the excitement we have seen around this device we think it will be a successful party for Vodafone.
In a bid to get our heads around why you would want to purchase this Vodafone TV box we got hold of one and ran it through it’s paces. Given that I have used a Nexus Player since it was first released, a Mi Box for a few months and currently a Sony Android TV circa 2017 I have some experience with Android TV and its shortcomings.
What is it?
Remember the Telstra TV box that Telstra decided to release that was based on Roku but with only access to a small subset of Roku apps? Well, the Vodafone TV box is a very similar size to the Telstra TV but that’s as far as the similarities go. Vodafone have taken a minimalist hands off approach to Vodafone TV and they should be congratulated for it.
The box is a small black box with a simple single Vodafone logo on top and a single power button. The size of the box makes it easy to hide in a TV cabinet or even mount behind a TV.
- Quad-core 1.5 GHz Amlogic S905D
- 2GB RAM
- 8GB on-board storage
- Dual band Wi-Fi, Ethernet, Bluetooth
- Android TV 7.1.1
None of this is any surprise to be honest and it shows Vodafone’s attempt to keep it simple for the masses but it’s not much good if it doesn’t work as desired — no one is going to use it in place of the usual clunky smart TV interfaces.
What does it do?
Vodafone TV does what every other Android TV device does, just as well. As noted above I have used various Android TV devices in the past, most recently my Sony Android TV. One of the big gripes about the Sony TV is the sluggishness of the remote control and how long the TV takes to respond. I have used the Sony TV exclusively for the better part of a year and the interface had me planning my TV purchase for my house about to be built surrounding a Sony TV. Now I’m not so sure.
The Vodafone TV box is a simple $120 box that adds onto any TV and works seamlessly with all Android TV apps. I use Kodi, Plex, Netflix, YouTube, NBA and NFL GamePass (unfortunately no AFL because they don’t care about their fans) regularly and everyone one of these worked the same as it does on the Sony Android TV — as you would expect. The difference was that it was faster. There was no lag between using the remote control and the TV doing what you wanted it to do — just as it should be. Unfortunately the Sony Android TV suffers from that issue and because of that issue being absent on the Vodafone TV box/remote I can now broaden my horizons when searching for a new TV next year (lookout Samsung, LG et al).
Setting the device up was a piece of cake, just how Google tries to make it these days. You can set it up using your Android phone or tablet remotely or directly on the TV itself. Pairing with everything is super easy, including Bluetooth controllers, headphones and phones. As with all Google products these days Vodafone TV fully supports Chromecast which helps out for those apps and services that do not have an Android TV app.
What about games I hear you say? I had my games consultant (Adam, my 9yo son) check out the games on the Vodafone TV and he had no issue playing Riptide GP, Minion Rush nor any other game we tested on it. We played using the Vodafone TV remote as well as the Asus Android TV controllers from way back when I first purchased the Nexus Player. All games did not lag at all and seemed to play better than they did on the Nexus Player and the Sony TV.
But how about Free-to-air TV? The Vodafone TV has you covered there. There is an RF antenna input on the box that allows you to tune free-to-air stations to your device. The interface to set it up is difficult to find and in the end I had to go through settings and apps to open the setup app but a search on the Vodafone TV page tells you how to do it the “easier” way. It will find all digital stations and then you can decide which you want to show up in your list as well as select favourites for easy navigation to. There is PIP mode that allows you to watch live TV while inside another app.
Don’t forget though that the device supports Chromecast so all your standard Android apps that support Chromecast can easily be projected onto your TV.
Unfortunately there is no ability to record any of the programs but FreeView works just as it would on any other Android device. Vodafone have stated that they will not be adding the capability to record free-to-air programs like their NZ counterparts did (different box) but there are ways around this if you are set on this capacity.
On the homepage Vodafone have their “Vodafone recommends” line of apps with YouTube and Netflix on it — this is a bit redundant though as the remote has dedicated buttons for each of these.
The remote control isn’t too complicated is it?
The remote control for Vodafone TV has more functionality than the Nexus Player and Mi Box remotes but is still very easy and self explanatory to use. As you can see below it has all the usual Android TV buttons as well as channel number buttons. During setup there is the option to sync the remote with your TV so that you can control both using the Vodafone TV remote.
There is a TV channel button to navigate directly to free-to-air TV, Netflix and YouTube buttons. Google Assistant is also onboard and has a dedicated coloured button to access it. Alongside all this is a back button and home button as well as a few others.
Sounds great but are there any negatives?
The free to air setup wasn’t super easy but I got there eventually. The inability to record is a downer but certainly not a deal breaker for me — at $120 it is hard to expect it to do everything you may ever need.
One of my gripes about the box is that occasionally if I turned the TV off but left the Vodafone TV box on when I would come back to it the Vodafone TV would be “asleep” and would not wakeup no matter what I did. Pulling the power plug was the only way to wake it back up — turning the Vodafone TV box as well as the TV solved this issue for me so if this was a permanent thing the syncing of the remotes would allow this to easily be performed each time.
Another gripe was the localisation and use of Google Assistant struggled at times. Even though I had it set to Australian everything it still kept giving me the incorrect units, or not registering/answering my questions correctly.
At this stage it is unknown who will be delivering security and system updates to the Vodafone TV box but we have reached out to Vodafone regarding this and will let you know as soon as we know. In saying that they do not have much to compete against. My Sony TV is still running Android 7.0.
Conclusion: would I — or why would I — buy one?
I would buy one of these boxes every day of the week and would recommend it to anyone and everyone. The Android TV interface is far superior to any other TV interface out there in my opinion and has a very decent ecosystem already with a heap of games and apps available — Don’t forget about the Google Play Movies catalogue that is constantly improving. It will only improve as Google begin to push it more.
There are still quite a few hold outs to Android TV app creation (yes, I’m looking at you SBS and all other Australian TV channels) but the more general apps work seamlessly. In the meantime there is the FreeView app and Chromecast.
The ease of use and vast functionality with a quick interface/remote control make this a must buy for those who don’t have Android TV and want Android TV. At only $120 from Vodafone, with no lock-in contract required, it is a no brainer for my mind. I will be buying two of these for my house next year.