There are dozens of ways to watch television content on-the-go these days, but few ways to tune into mobile broadcasts for free. Whether you're downloading shows a la carte on your iPod, streaming them on your cell phone's monthly data plan, or tuning them in over the air using a subscription, there's seemingly no way to escape being charged for a mobile TV experience.
The Kula TV ($199) from Sungale represents an ambitious attempt to deliver a pocket-sized mobile TV with no strings attached. Using an integrated Wi-Fi antenna, Kula is able to pull down the free streaming video feeds from over 400 broadcasters worldwide, including majors such as CNN, BBC, FOX, and dozens of local affiliate stations. The video streams range in quality, and are essentially repurposed from the same video feeds you could tune in for free on any Web browser, boiled down for a handheld device.
The main menu on the Kula TV includes four touch-screen icons: Kula TV; Storage; Clock; and Settings. After pressing the TV-shaped Kula TV menu icon, you find a submenu of broadcast categories, such as recently watched, comedy, drama, news, children, shopping, and sports. Users also have the option to sort broadcasts by language, country of origin, and even state.
Once a broadcast has been selected, it simply starts streaming. Tapping the screen of a currently playing broadcast returns you to the channel browser. There are no onscreen controls, and no options for pausing or caching content. Controlling the volume of your headphones (or the internal speaker) is done with two physical buttons on the top of the device, located next to the power button.
When you are not near an Internet connection, the Storage option on the main menu allows you to play back any locally stored photo, music, or video files. Internal memory is limited to 2GB, with the option to expand memory using a MicroSD card slot. It should also be mentioned that the video playback screen includes no controls for pausing, skipping, or rewinding playback. Instead, video plays from the beginning, or not at all, making it a poor choice for a portable video player.
The other main menu features, Clock and Settings, offer very little. Clock options include setting the time and date, along with some limited alarm modes. Under Settings, users can select their preferred wireless network, enter router passwords, set an interval for photo slideshows, and view information about the device. Settings for screen brightness are not offered, which is a pity, since the backlit 4.3-inch LCD is a bit dim.
Measuring 5 inches wide, 3 inches tall, and 0.5 inch thick, the Kula TV's chunky, yet pocketable, form feels more like a portable GPS unit than a sexy portable media player. Aside from the previously mentioned volume and power buttons, the device is controlled entirely using the touch screen. The left edge of the Kula TV includes a headphone jack, MicroSD slot, a Mini-USB port for loading media, and a socket for the included power adapter, which is required for recharging the internal battery.
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.