Internet TVs sound like a great idea but nobody's nailed it yet. So instead of using the stilted Internet features on a smart TV, here's Google TV: a one size fits all Internet TV package. Contained in this box from Sony, Google TV software opens your television to the vast wealth of Android apps that already exist.
The Sony NSZ-GS7 Internet Media Player with Google TV is a small box that sits under your television and acts as a portal to the web and to Android apps. It's available to pre-order now and on sale on 16 July. The Internet Media Player costs around £200.
It will be followed -- eventually -- by the NSZ-GS7 3D Blu-ray Player with Google TV in October, for around £300. Sony has no plans to build Google TV into a telly at this stage, so it's one more box under your screen.
The views below and the score above are based on our US sister site. As soon as we get hold of a Sony NSZ-GS7 with a reassuringly British three-pin plug, we'll update this page accordingly.
Design and build
Inside is a dual-core processor, powerful enough to surf the web, play videos and watch live TV -- all at the same time. If all this sounds complicated, just think of it as making your TV like a phone -- a really big phone. The controls are modelled on the buttons on an Android mobile, and the apps work just the same as on your smart phone.
It's a slick-looking piece of kit -- a glossy black box sans buttons, with a pleasant textured top. The back-mounted ports include an HDMI input and output, two USB slots and an IR
blaster post. There's also an Ethernet jack alongside built-in Wi-Fi. Thankfully, there's no bulky power brick, just a slim cable.
The NSZ-GS7 is all about the remote control, because Google TV's complex approach to controlling video content demands more than the three buttons seen on theremote. This one's barely bigger than a normal one, but it packs in a trackpad and Qwerty keyboard. It's mercifully much smaller and simpler than the enormo-remote that comes with the original . But it's still a polar opposite to the minimalist Apple TV.
On the front, there's the usual number keys and the traditional red, green, yellow and blue buttons that you haven't used since they got rid of Bamboozle on Teletext. The remote sports a D-pad to click up and down, left and right, and a small trackpad for finer movements. One clever touch is that the trackpad lets you pinch finger and thumb together to zoom in and out, like on a smart phone touchscreen. It's a significant improvement over the NSZ-GT1.
Flip the remote over and you discover the Qwerty keyboard. It's a decent size, and the remote is chunky enough at each end to grip comfortably. The remote contains an accelerometer, so it knows which way up it's being held, so it won't register any accidental button presses on whichever side is face down at the time. And when it detects you've flipped it over, the keyboard lights up softly to help you type without disturbing the cosy ambiance of a darkened living room.
If you own an Android phone, you'll recognise the home, menu and back buttons. The home button calls up the home bar of app shortcuts, the menu button brings up a menu for whichever app you're using, and the back button takes you back a step. Also on there is a picture-in-picture button, which puts live TV in a window on top of the app you're using.
You can set the remote to become a universal remote, controlling your TV's volume and other settings. The Sony 3D Blu-ray Player with Google TV also has a voice-control button and mic to talk to your telly.
As well as the dedicated remote, there's the Sony Media Remote app available for iOS and Android that lets you control your TV with your smart phone or tablet.
If you want to benefit from a bigger screen, you can throw whatever you're looking at on your phone or tablet to the TV. You can do the reverse too if someone wants to watch telly, taking the app on the TV and carrying on what you were doing on your tablet instead.
The double-sided approach works pretty well. But while it may be the simplest Google TV remote yet, it's still more complicated than any other home theatre remote. Non-techy types are likely to be overwhelmed, which could be an issue if everyone in the household will be using it to watch telly.
Even if you are clued up on tech, the remote is not the best for simply watching TV. The most often-used buttons for this -- play, pause, volume,
channel -- are relegated to small
buttons on the bottom or rockers on the side, rather than being granted central positioning.
So to start, press the home button on the remote control, and a home bar pops up at the bottom of the screen, covering only a thin strip of the screen and barely distracting from the show you're watching. The home bar contains shortcuts to your favourite apps, which you can move around or swap in different apps.
The default includes YouTube, web browser Chrome, app store Google Play, your Photos, and the Sony Entertainment Network multimedia store.
These core apps are among the 150 Android apps that have been optimised to make the most of your telly's big screen. More apps will follow, so you'll be able to use an app on your phone and on your telly too. Opening each app makes them take over the screen, just like when you open an app on your phone. If you want to see all the apps you've downloaded, there's a full-screen list of all your apps too. Scroll down and select the one you want, just like on your phone.
To browse the web, fire up Chrome. Use the trackpad on the remote control to move the cursor around the screen and click on links, or use the up and down buttons on the D-pad to scroll up or down. Move the mouse to the top of the screen and the URL bar appears, where you can type in the address. When you start typing, suggestions appear beneath, including bookmarks and previously visited sites.
One disappointment is that at first, Chrome on Google TV doesn't sync with your Google account, so it doesn't sync your bookmarks and browsing with your computer and your phone.