One of the most off-putting aspects of the Kula TV's physical design is the 2.5-inch plastic antenna that folds out from its top. Putting aside our confusion over why a device like this needs an external antenna if it's not grabbing over-the-air broadcasts, we couldn't get past the antenna's flimsy plastic design. Constructed entirely of plastic, using a plastic hinge, the antenna is practically begging to be broken off. We advise keeping the antenna folded up, since it provided us with no discernable improvement in Wi-Fi reception when outstretched.
Kula TV's user interface isn't pretty, and the touch-screen navigation is sluggish and poorly conceived. Scrolling through lists of content requires a precise tap to grab the scrollbar, which dynamically shrinks down to an impossible sliver when lists get long. Upon arriving on a station you'd like to view, a single press of the station name is all it takes to tune it in, although buffering delays can make the experience seem unresponsive or sluggish.
Station organization could also use some work. In spite of the hundreds of streaming TV stations offered, it took us quite a while to find one worth watching. Sorting by genre, language, or location is helpful; however, a search function could really cut through the clutter.
Another seemingly simple feature we're surprised not to find on the Kula TV is the inclusion of free video podcast content. With so many Internet radios including podcast streaming, it seems like a logical fit to have video podcasts on a TV equivalent such as this.
We've already noted a few of our observations of how the Kula TV holds up under real use conditions, such as the fragile antenna design, lackluster screen brightness, and a half-baked onscreen interface. We wish we could use this section to tell you that the Kula TV is redeemed by phenomenal battery life, video performance, or sound quality, but it simply isn't true.
If there's one silver lining to the Kula TV's performance, it's that the TFT LCD offers impressive viewing angles. The 480x272-pixel screen resolution isn't shabby either, though the inherent grittiness of streaming video can't do it justice.
Because streaming video resolutions differ from station to station, the playback experience on the Kula TV varies dramatically. Some broadcasts play full screen, some are presented within a frame of black bars; some play smoothly, whereas an equal share seem to stutter and buffer every few seconds.
During our time with the Kula TV we found listening to broadcasts using the built-in speaker to be the most natural way to use it around the home. The integrated speaker offers plenty of volume, but does tend to distort when cranked up. Plugging in the included set of earbuds automatically mutes the built-in speaker, but the audio experience is dreadful. We found the lowest volume setting on the Kula TV is still too loud and grating for casual listening. Granted, streaming video content rarely excels in terms of audio quality, but we would have appreciated some finer control over the Kula TV's listening levels.
Sungale rates the Kula TV at 4 hours of battery life after a full charge from the provided (and necessary) power adapter. Our battery life experience was closer to 2-3 hours. By comparison, a $199delivers 6 hours of video playback, offers more features than the Kula TV, a better design, and arguably provides more free video content, via streams and podcasts.