Review: Asus Cube and Netgear NeoTV Prime
We recently added a couple of the latest Google TV devices to the lab: The ASUS Cube, and the Netgear NeoTV Prime. The lab is now overrun with Google TV devices; we have an entire bench dedicated to them, and their remote controls take up half the windowsill.
In general, the newer Google TV devices aren’t much better than the 1st generation models – they have a few new features, such as voice control, but that doesn’t even work on all of the latest devices. Case in point: The NeoTV Prime, which has no microphone on the remote despite being released around the same time as the voice update.
NeoTV Prime: Not worth the space
I’m not doing a full review of the NeoTV Prime, because it’s basically just a repeat of the other Google TV devices. It does have a few added bonuses, i.e. persistent static on the display and a new, uniquely frustrating remote control. Sadly, due to its lack of a microphone, it came out of the gate obsolete, and with a $130 $99 price tag.
Asus Cube: Better than the average Google TV
The Asus Cube ($140) comes with 50GB of free cloud storage through the Asus WebStorage service. It also changed the spelling of its name, from Qube to Cube. I wonder why they did this – perhaps there was concern it might be confused with another TV device?
The Cube also includes a microphone on the remote, and the voice control actually works. Finally, as promised, we can ask our Google TV “Show me how to tie a bow tie!” and it will pull up a video.
In fact, it cued up a whole playlist of YouTube videos about tying bow ties. Including this gem, starring a guy who looks like a cross between Freddie Mercury and Michael Scott from The Office:
But I digress. Although the voice control isn’t perfect, it does make it easy to get to certain content, and I might actually use it once in a while – as long as there are no other people within earshot. You see, the Asus Cube gets very confused when someone in the next room thinks you’re talking to them and answers back.
The ASUS Cube differentiates itself from the other Google TV devices with a custom UI, displaying apps across a 2-D Cube that flips as you scroll down through different categories.
I have mixed feelings on this. There’s a lot of wasted space, but it does help bring some order to the chaos that is Google TV. And it lets you customize what appears in each category, so you can bring the apps you actually use to the forefront.
The Cube itself looks like a distant, stodgy cousin to the Boxee Box. It has a taller profile than the other Google TV boxes, so it’ll be harder to tuck away into an entertainment center.
The remote control is a few buttons lighter than previous versions, weighing in at 87 buttons. But two of those are dedicated to voice recognition, which seems a bit excessive.
The Cube’s remote also includes a button on the side to toggle between using the touchpad as a mouse, and as a 4-way directional button. I found this more of a hindrance than a help, as it’s easily hit by accident and takes several seconds to turn the cursor on/off, but other reviewers raved about it. So there you go.
Integration with Cable and other devices
Like all Google TV devices, the Cube can bring in a digital cable signal. Our Comcast signal in the lab came through fine, but we hit a dead end with the IR blaster setup (Sidebar: Anyone happen to have the Command Set for a Motorola DCT-3412 handy? Leave it in the comments!)
Like many of the newer Google TV devices, the Cube also has CEC (Consumer Electronics Capable) over HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface), which allows you to control the TV volume and power using the Cube remote – this is one super useful feature that isn’t found on many of our other streaming players.
Motion Control, Gaming, and Apps
Like the other Google TV devices 2nd generation and later, the Cube includes 3-axis motion control in the remote – and like the others, it doesn’t actually make use of that technology yet. It has a whole section for “Games,” yet that only links out to a bunch of websites – so at the moment, this is the experience on the ASUS Cube:
There is one preloaded gaming app that isn’t a web page. At least, there will be soon:
I eventually called ASUS to ask how they recommend testing out the motion control. The bewildered support rep finally got in touch with somebody who could tell me the title of a game that worked – sort of. It wasn’t optimized for the Cube and therefore not available through the Play Store. I had to side load it, meaning I downloaded the .apk file from the web and installed it manually (in order to do this, you need to poke around in the settings and check a box giving permission to install outside apps.) And because it was designed for a mobile phone, the graphics were terrible and quite a few things didn’t work – i.e. no multitouch, so I couldn’t select a level.
The Cube includes an app called Whiteboard, which allows you to view and write notes on the TV screen but apparently not much else. Personally, I’m a big fan of Evernote, so I was happy to see it come up when I searched the Play Store on the Cube. Until I installed it and…
This brings me back to a long standing pet peeve about Android, which is only getting worse: Depending on your device, you can’t see every app in the Play Store, even though some of those may actually work with your hardware. The tradeoff is that in theory, every app you can download through the Play Store should work – but we’re seeing a lot slipping through the cracks, and the net effect is that there are very few apps on Google TV, and not all of those work.
And this is the sad state of Google TV today. We’re now on the 3rd generation, and virtually all of the initial problems persist. The content is limited, the apps are limited, and too many of those preloaded “apps” are just websites that aren’t even optimized for TV.
That said, the hardware seems solid enough and the ASUS Cube is the best of the Google TV devices we’ve tried so far. But you’ll want to take that with a few grains of salt. Here, let me pass you the shaker.