If you liked the look of Samsung'srange-topping LED TV, but balked at its bank balance-draining price tag, you've probably been looking down through the company's LED range puzzling over which model strikes a better balance between price and features.
Samsung's UE55F7000 has many of the same features, including voice and motion control, micro dimming and a touchpad controller. It saves you some cash compared to its range-topping sibling, however, as at around £2,100, it's roughly £300 cheaper than the F8000. I reviewed the 55-inch version, but it's also available in 40-, 46- and 60-inch models.
Like the F8000 LED and F8500 plasma I've already reviewed, the F7000 can be controlled in lots of different ways. You can use the traditional TV remote control or the touchpad remote that's also included in the box with the TV. Alternatively you can opt for the two more futuristic control methods of voice and motion gestures.
The voice-control option has undergone the biggest change from last year's models. Instead of being limited to just a few command phrases, the TV now tries to understand natural speech.
You can either just speak directly to the TV, in which case you first need to say a trigger phrase, such as 'Hi TV' to get it to start listening to you, or alternatively you can press the Mic button on the touchpad remote and speak into the remote. The latter is more reliable, but rather futile. If you've got the remote on your hand, why not just use the buttons for control instead?
As the TV now can have a stab at understanding natural speech you can ask it to search for a film by name on Samsung's on-demand service, as well as using commands such as "power on" and "volume up".
Unfortunately the search only works with Samsung's own video service. The other problem is that the voice recognition is still very hit and miss. Generally it does a good job of recognising the words (it shows them onscreen once it's deciphered what you've said), but it then struggles to understand how it should respond. As a result, it often just offers to do a general Web search for you, which is next to useless.
Ultimately the voice recognition system isn't good enough to use on a regular basis. It's just too slow and too inaccurate to rely on. As a result you find yourself soon forgetting that the TV even has the feature.
As well as updating the voice features, Samsung has also tried to improve its motion-control system. This set uses a new, higher resolution 5-megapixel camera in an attempt to improve the tracking and low-light performance.
The camera is mounted at the top of the TV and can be pushed down into the chassis to hide it away when it's not in use, or if you just don't like the idea of having a camera pointing at you all the time while you watch TV. Unlike the camera on Panasonic's VT65 this one doesn't have an automatic release system to pop it back up when you want to use the motion features or do a video call on Skype, which is annoying.
To start up the motion feature you need to raise your hand with your palm open and wave it back and forth, which makes you feel a little like the Queen when she's waving to us plebs from the comfort of her golden chariot. A cursor then pops up onscreen that you control by just moving your open palm in the air. To select an option you close your palm into a fist. The TV now also supports two-handed tracking, so you can do stuff like zooming in and out of pictures by bring your two hands together or pulling them part.
On the whole the motion controls are still rather iffy. In low light the TV usually completely fails to recognise the waving motion to start up the whole motion-control system. Also, the fact remains that it's just much faster and more convenient to use the touchpad remote to control the TV than trying to use the motion system.
User interface and TV guide
Samsung's core menu system for controlling stuff like the set's picture and audio settings is little changed from what appeared on last year's models. I've got no problems with this, as the menus are still excellent. They're sensibly laid out, so it's quite easy to find the settings you want to get at, they give you plenty of control over the picture and audio settings (they include a full colour-management system) and they're easy on the eye.
For the most part the guide also looks very similar to the one used on last year's models. Its colourful, clean layout makes it easy to use and I like the fact it has an integrated video thumbnail to show the channel you're currently tuned to. Samsung has also added some integration between the guide and the smart TV system, so you're now given some suggestions on programmes you might want to watch.
Design and connections
In some ways the F7000 looks more traditional than the F8000 and as a result I think some people will actually prefer its overall design. It comes with a normal pedestal stand rather than the very wide arc stand used on the F8000, so your AV unit doesn't have to stretch to the whole width of the TV to comfortably accommodate it, unlike the high-end model.
It's very slim for a 55-inch model and the bezel around the screen is amazingly narrow too. The combination of the brushed metal and chrome used on the bezel and stand also help it look the business.
Samsung seems to have learned from last year's faux pas when it reduced the number of HDMI ports on its TVs. This year it's gone back to providing four HDMI ports. These are all mounted on a panel that faces out the right-hand side of the F7000. Above these sit three USB ports, while pointing down from the bottom of the panel you'll find a set of component inputs as well as the RF socket for the dual Freeview HD tuners and a pair of satellite inputs for the Freesat HD Tuners.
Wi-Fi is built-in, but there's also an Ethernet port if you'd prefer to use the wired connection, something that's often more reliable for media streaming. In fact, there really isn't much more you could ask for on the connectivity front.
Smart TV system
I'm not sold on Samsung's motion and voice controls, but there's no denying its new smart TV system is sheer class. It leads the TV pack by come considerable distance at the moment.