Editors' Note (August 1, 2011): The price of the Logitech Revue reviewed here has dropped to $99. Logitech has also indicated that abuilt on Android 3.1 "will offer a simplified user experience and access to the Android Market" when it goes live later this summer.
When we first saw the Logitech Revue demos, we were sold on the idea of a single set-top box that could search all our content sources--online or offline--and control our home theater components. Now that we've had our hands on a unit for nearly a week, we still love the concept, and the Revue has an undeniable amount of potential, but it's hard to give it an unqualified recommendation with all of its current issues and caveats.
As of press time, major content providers such as Hulu, CBS, and ABC are all blocking Google TV devices from streaming-video content. Google TV's omnipresent search bar is an excellent way to find content across so many different online video sources, but it currently doesn't search titles available through Netflix, arguably the most important. There aren't many apps, and the existing Netflix app is about two generations behind those for competitors such as Roku and Sony's PS3. Google's vision for complete unfettered access to the Web in the living room is powerful, and Logitech's Revue impressively well-thought-out for a debut product, but ultimately the software needs more polish and more content deals to compete with increasingly mature competitors like Apple TV, Roku XDS, and even the PS3 Slim.
We hope the inevitable firmware updates will address many of these issues--Logitech is already pledging upgrades in November and December--and we anticipate revisiting this review frequently in the future. In the meantime, our initial impressions follow.
The Revue set-top box doesn't approach the impossibly small standards of the Apple TV, but it's still smaller than, say, a cable DVR or Blu-ray player. The box feels very light, weighing only 1.32 pounds, and has rounded corners with the case tapering down toward the bottom. Like many modern set-top boxes, the Logitech Revue doesn't have any buttons on the front, with only two buttons on the back for power and Bluetooth pairing.
Though the box itself is relatively slim, it does require a power brick, which is a little over half the size of a standard laptop AC adapter. Around the back are the inputs/outputs, including an HDMI output and input, two USB ports, an Ethernet jack, optical digital audio output, and a couple IR blast ports. The HDMI input is used for connecting your cable/satellite box, which the Revue can control via its built-in IR emitters. (Alas, anyone with an older, non-HD TV that lacks an HDMI input won't be able to use the Logitech Revue.) There's also built-in 802.11N Wi-Fi if you don't have Ethernet in your living room.
The box is nondescript, but the keyboard is the highlight of the package. It's thin and light, so it doesn't feel like a huge imposition in a living-room environment. Its wireless (RF-based) and runs on a pair of AA batteries. Along with the full-size keyboard, there's also a touch pad in the upper right, and below that is a directional pad with Android-based keys such as back and home, plus picture-in-picture and favorite buttons. It's annoying that by default there's no tap-to-click functionality on the keypad, although it can be enabled by a series of keystrokes. For such a basic feature, we can't imagine why it's not on by default or why it requires a series of complex key presses rather than making a change in the settings menus.
If the full-size keyboard is too big for your living-room tastes, Logitech offers two alternatives: the Mini Controller ($130, sold separately) and control via an iPhone or Android-based smartphone. We didn't have the Mini Controller on hand to test, but we're fans of the very similar Logitech diNovo Mini Keyboard. (The Revue should also work with any other PC input device that utilizes Logitech's proprietary Unifying technology.)
Though smartphone-based control is a great idea--and we've liked what we've seen during product demos--we couldn't get any Android phones to reliably connect to the Revue. (The iPhone app isn't available yet.) We're guessing the problem is related to network issues we had (more in this later), but it's worth mentioning that we had no problems in the same environment with the Apple TV and iPhone/iPad-based control and other similar products.
The setup process on the Logitech Revue is a good deal more involved than traditional streaming-video boxes. For the most part, it's unavoidable, as the Revue needs to communicate with your cable box and control other components, so it's really like setting up a streaming-video box and Harmony remote all at once. You'll need to have the model names of your TV, AV receiver, and DVR handy, as the Revue needs that info for its remote functionality.
We think the setup is straightforward enough for most users, but we did hit a couple snags, such as being told our ZIP code couldn't be found and server unavailable messages. In fact, as soon as we completed the setup, we were met with an error message that said "Process system is not responding." Those kind of hiccups give Google TV a distinctly first-gen feel.
The main home menu looks modern and feels responsive. Press the home button at any time and the menu will overlay whatever content you're watching. That means it takes just seconds to go from watching live TV to browsing YouTube, then jumping back again.
That being said, the interface certainly leans toward the tech-savvy in its layout. Whereas the Apple TV's main menus use simple phrases like "Movies" and "TV Shows," Google TV's interface has less-straightforward phrases like "Applications," "Bookmarks," and "Spotlight." Google TV is greatly customizable and you can make the "Bookmarks" section show all your favorite content, but it's not something that tech novices can jump right into.
Along the same lines, the Google TV software has some powerful options for the tech-savvy. For example, if you're watching live TV, you can hit the picture-in-picture button to minimize the TV to a small window, while you surf the Web in Chrome in the main window--it's really slick. Android users will also feel right at home with the home, back, and menu buttons, which make it easy to jump between functions from any screen. Once you get the hang of it, Google TV and Logitech's wireless keyboard make for powerful surfing experience, but there's no denying it caters to the power user.
The Google search bar
The vast functionality (more on this later) of the Revue may seem overwhelming, but Google TV has a secret weapon to make it all seem simple: the Google search bar. Press the dedicated search button on the keyboard and the search bar pops up at the top of the screen, regardless of whether you're using the Chrome browser, streaming Netflix, or watching live TV. The idea behind Google TV's search is that it combs through streaming video, the Web, and regular TV to find the programming you're looking for. It's really the perfect solution to the problem of finding content spread out among many sources. Except when it doesn't work.
To start off, the Google search bar doesn't search Netflix, which is a significant oversight considering it's probably the most important service on the box. Excluding the Netflix omission, we also found search results to be occasionally inaccurate. When we searched for "Colbert Report" on October 26, the Google TV series results page didn't show that the October 25 episode was available, even though it was available directly from Comedy Central's site. Instead, we tried loading the next most recent episode--October 14--and Google TV loaded the October 25 show that it had said wasn't available. So then we tried the October 13 episode, and the correct episode was loaded, but we noticed Google TV's programming data was wrong. (The guest was Austan Goolsbee, not Arturo Rodriguez.) And we had similar problems with "The Daily Show." And although it said free Web streams were available for "South Park," when we clicked through we encountered a message that said it couldn't that particular episode until mid-November.
Google TV is a new service--and we wouldn't be surprised if Google fixes many of these bugs over time--but in its initial incarnation, we didn't feel like Google's search bar functionality and cross-platform TV listings delivered the experience we were expecting.