While this isn't the first time we've looked at one of those "plug this in your TV and make it better!" Android-powered gadgets, it is the first one that can add some interesting features to your existing set for such a small price. Also unlike other solutions, the SmartStick is – as its name suggests – merely a stick that plugs into the HDMI port of your television.
In short, it's a stick that puts Android (and a custom skin) on your TV. And it's surprisingly not awful.
- 1GHz Cortex-A9 processor
- 1GB RAM
- Wi-Fi b/g/n
- 4 or 8GB storage, microSD card slot
- One full-size USB 2.0 port
- Android 4.0.4
- Price: $50 for 4GB, $80 for 8GB
- Where to buy: Amazon
- It's small. I know I've already said it at least twice, but the SmartStick won't take up much space on your TV stand. In fact, it won't take up any space on your TV stand – just plug it in and forget about it. If you have a TV with HDMI ports on the back, you'll never even see it. That's definitely a plus.
- It has a custom interface. Have you ever tried using stock Android on a TV? Or can you imagine what it's like? I can tell you, the experience is less than spectacular. Fortunately, the Favi has a custom skin that works very well on a TV screen. Navigating through the primary interface and such is a breeze.
- Expandable storage. The SmartStick comes in both 4 and 8GB variants, but if that's not enough for your ever-growing movie collection, just throw a microSD card it in. Done and done.
- Root support. While there isn't much practical use in rooting a TV-connected device, the manufacturer fully supports rooting if you want to do it. It even provides all the necessary files on its forum to make it happen. That's awesome.
- It's pretty decent. That may seem like a weird thing to say about a device like this, but it's true. Honestly, most devices in this category are absolute garbage, but the SmartStick isn't all that bad. That said, it's still far from perfect. But it's usable... for the most part.
- The included remote is awful, awful, awful. If you want to make the most of your time with a Favi SmartStick, go ahead and spring for the full remote with trackpad. You'll be more than glad you did, even though at $34, it costs nearly as much as the SS itself.
- Streaming video is cumbersome and quirky. This could be the dealbreaker for some of you, but here it is: Netflix, YouTube, and the like are, of course, Android apps and therefore optimized for a touch interface, which makes for a pretty bad experience on a TV. Honestly, Netflix does a pretty good job of sucking on its own, but throwing a non-touch device into the mix and it's far more cumbersome and impractical. YouTube is a similar story – you'll find yourself using the trackpad to navigate through a UI that would be much, much easier to just reach out and touch.
- No Bluetooth. Playing games like Dead Trigger on the SmartStick would be killer... but only with a Bluetooth game controller (because how else are you going to play it?) Sadly, it doesn't have Bluetooth so that can't happen. Boo!
- It's still Android on a TV, and therefore kind of pointless. Let's face it – Android on a TV isn't inherently a fantastic idea. And while the SmartStick is definitely usable for some things, it's still very clunky in certain areas, like the Android menus for example. The aforementioned keyboard makes it less annoying because of the touchpad, but it still doesn't make Android on a TV a "great" experience.
The biggest problem with the SmartStick isn't the SmartStick itself. Its physical design is well thought-out, as it doesn't take up much space and it offers a lot of features in its tiny package. The problem really is Android. Not because Android is bad, but because Android is bad on a TV. It wasn't made for a large non-touch screen. That makes navigating much of it a very cumbersome and annoying process. Favi's custom interface does a lot to help, but the biggest part of the problem lies within the applications themselves. Netflix sucks without a touch screen. YouTube is all sorts of wacked out. Browsing the web is decent at best, and it'll work in a pinch, but it's still less than ideal.
Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get screenshots of the SmartStick's software, but this video shows the UI pretty well.
And that's also how I would sum this device up: it works in a pinch but is less than ideal. Then again, I'm not sure what kind of a pinch you're in to need a smartTV, so you really need to think long and hard before spending any money on not just this device, but any like it.
If, at the end of it all, you decide that Android on your TV is something that you actually want, I would recommend the Favi SmartStick to you. Not because I think it's a fantastic product, but because Favi really has tried to make the best out of a less-than-perfect situation, and it shows.
As always, if you have questions, feel free to drop 'em in the comments and I'll do my best to answer.