An Amazon-centric TV that's ripe for a Prime Day price drop.
The C350 series from Toshiba gives big-screen, physical form to Amazon's Fire TV streaming system. From the fonts to the colors, if you've interacted with any Fire TV stick or other Amazon TV device, you'll be fully familiar with this television. As you'd expect, it leans hard into Alexa and has full Amazon Prime Video integration, but it also has other streaming services like Netflix, Disney Plus, HBO Max and more.
Picture quality on the C350 was fine for a budget TV, if a little worse than the competition. In my side-by-side comparisons its color and contrast couldn't quite match the TCL 4-Series and Vizio V-Series, but at this price the image quality differences probably don't matter that much. Arguably more important is the smart TV, and while Alexa beats Roku and Vizio for voice control, we like Roku's simpler, more agnostic smart TV approach better. It's also annoying that some non-Amazon services, like Vudu, get short shrift, while others, namely Peacock, aren't available at all.
Right now the C350 also costs more than either of those competitors from TCL and Vizio, but with Prime Day fast approaching, we wouldn't be surprised to see a big price drop. Until that happens, however, we can only truly recommend it for someone who fully embraces the Bezos bonanza and wants their TV to be a part of that.
Read more: Early Prime Day TV deals: Save on models from Insignia, LG, TCL, Toshiba and Vizio
The Toshiba C350 series is available in 43-, 50- and 55-inch versions, with larger 65- and 75-inch sizes coming soon. I reviewed the 50-inch model.
Like other TVs at this price the C530 is a basic 4K HDR model -- no fancy extras like next-gen gaming perks, local dimming, wide color gamut or tons of light here. Its Fire TV functionality is the major feature here and the menus have what Amazon calls a content-forward design: lots of thumbnails for TV shows and movies as opposed to tiles like Roku. Many focus on Amazon's Prime Video library, but you can download apps for other major streaming services, which unpack rows of their thumbnails.
I liked the Toshiba's remote better than the TCL's because it features Alexa voice as well as Bluetooth, so you don't have to aim it at the TV. The button layout is simple and clean, if not quite as sparse as Roku, and includes prominent white shortcut keys to various services.
The C350 basically ties the Roku in most user-friendly setup screens. It has the added bonus that if you're an Amazon Prime member (and I assume you are if you're considering this TV), once you go through the initial setup you've already logged in and are ready to watch shows and movies.
One frustrating design decision is that the picture settings menu covers one-third of the screen, and shadows about half. This menu doesn't disappear or shrink when you make adjustments either. Now, you would think this would only be a problem if you're a TV reviewer like me using test patterns (don't get me wrong, it absolutely is), but it also makes it harder if you're trying to eyeball the correct setting at home. That's because the majority of the screen is not what the screen will look like once you exit the menus. Probably not a huge deal for most buyers, to be fair, but it's a bummer if you like to get a TV looking as good as possible.
Read more: Stop watching bad TV picture settings: 9 ways to optimize your big screen
Energy Star rating for the 50-inch model is $21 a year, which is mid-pack for this range of TVs.
Some TVs in this price range have three HDMI inputs, and it certainly isn't a bad thing that the C350 has four. It even has analog video and audio inputs. So if you have an old gaming console or any retro A/V gear, you're in luck.
If you decide you want to go your own streaming route and eschew Fire TV, you won't be able to power most streaming sticks from the TV's USB connections. Not a huge deal: It just means you'll need to run power separately to the stick.
The voice search works well. It directs you to Amazon in most cases, but it does give you some alternate options. For example, if you say "Thor Ragnarok" it will bring up a screen with that and some related content, and if you select the movie out of those choices you have the option to buy or rent on Amazon -- or watch it on Disney Plus. Another click brings up additional places to watch. However, it doesn't show all options like Roku or Vizio would. It doesn't show you Vudu, for example.
It's actually worth focusing on Vudu as an example of the limitations forced on this Toshiba, presumably by Amazon. There is, technically, a Vudu app. So at first glance in a store or on a checklist, it seems to have more options to buy or rent content than just Amazon. The truth, however, is that it's an ancient version of the Vudu app that has an archaic interface and only allows you to watch SD content. You read that correctly: not even HD, and forget about 4K.
And that's for content you already own. You can't buy anything in the Vudu app. You have to go to Vudu's website to buy it. With TCL/Roku, Vizio and Samsung, you can buy directly in the app. So you should absolutely consider this TV not just "primarily" an Amazon device, but an Amazon device that might lock you out of non-Amazon stuff.
It's also worth repeating that Fire TV, and by extension this TV, is the only major streaming platform to lack an app for Peacock. Subscribers can try side-loading if they're adventurous, but our advice is to get a different TV if Peacock is important to you.
The TCL 4-Series and Vizio V-series are direct competitors of the Toshiba C530, with similar features and prices, so they make ideal comparison models. I connected them via a Monoprice 1x4 distribution amplifier and viewed them side-by-side-by-side watching a mix of HD, 4K and 4K HDR content.
The Vizio and the TCL look very similar. The Toshiba is in one way better and most other ways slightly worse. It's significantly brighter than either, nearing the much more-expensive Samsung Q60A with non-HDR content (although with HDR content the Samsung is far brighter). None of these TVs are dim, of course, but if you have an extremely bright room and need all the light you can get from your TV, the Toshiba has an advantage.
That said, with test patterns it was readily apparent that the C350 only achieved its peak brightness for a few seconds, then immediately dimmed. With actual content, this wasn't readily noticeable. It did this regardless of settings, so it's possible it was still doing it with actual content, just not as much or as noticeably as with test patterns.
In other aspects of picture quality, the C350 isn't as good as the other two. Not significantly, but when viewing them all at the same time, enough that you could see it. The color is a little less accurate, a little less lifelike. The contrast is a little less punchy. It wasn't bad, but when I'd slide across the couch to view either the TCL or Vizio (all have mediocre off-axis picture quality), those two just looked a little better.
Anyone looking for a budget TV has some excellent options all for very little money. The TCL 4-Series is probably the best choice for most people, especially those who don't know their contrast from their composite. It's easy to use thanks to its Roku interface, and has access to all the major streaming services. The Vizio V-Series is nearly as good, with more picture setting options and a more lively interface.
Which leaves the C350. If you buy everything through Amazon, including renting movies and buying TV shows, then it's probably fine. But the limitations imposed by Fire TV might be frustrating in the long run. A more budget-agnostic TV, like the TCL/Roku or the Vizio, allow you to get content any way you want (mostly), without funneling or limiting you to Amazon's ecosystem. It's sort of like a car that only drives on certain roads. If you only drive on those roads, that's fine. But if you want to take a new shortcut to work, you're out of luck.
If someone's not very tech-savvy and has gotten used to Fire TV specifically, or Alexa generally, then this might be a good choice because it's very much an Amazon product, despite the name on the bottom. For everyone else, however, I'd recommend the TCL or Vizio first.