What is Android TV? It’s not the first time Google attempted to take over your living room with a smart TV platform. This time, they appear to have gotten it right.
The spiritual successor to the ill-fated Google TV, Android TV was launched in 2014 at the Google I/O conference. As you might guess, it was basically a redesign of their popular Android operating system, adapted for your television instead of your smartphone or tablet.
There’s been some confusion about the differences between the official Android TV interface and the more generic Android TV boxes that you’ll see throughout this site (and many others).
So what’s the difference?
I’m going to take you through some of the more important details about the official Google Android TV operating system and why you should consider it for your streaming devices.
Let’s get started.
What is Android TV?
So what is Android TV anyway?
Basically exactly what it sounds like.
Android…on your TV.
There are a couple of key areas where Google improves on the smartphone and tablet operating system, and I’m going to get into each of those areas in a bit.
But for now, if you’ve ever asked “What is Android TV?”, think of it this way: Imagine everything you love about your Android Smartphone – but on your 65″ TV instead.
Living room interface
First things first: Google designed Android TV with your living room couch in mind.
Everything is does is focused on making your living room streaming experience as good as possible.
Take the screen layout for example.
The icons are huge and easy to read from across the room. There aren’t any additional screens or tabs that you need to go to find your apps. They’re all right on this main screen. Unlike the generic Android boxes, you won’t have to go to the “all apps” tab to get to that app you just installed. It’s already there on the bottom app row.
This makes it super simple to find what you want, because you don’t have to go hopping around to different places.
What is Android TV? Think of it this way: Imagine everything you love about your Android Smartphone – but on your 65″ TV instead. Click to tweet
Recommendations: front and center
Android TV wants you to spend more time watching TV, not browsing for stuff to watch.
Your recommendations are front and center, or to be more accurate, top and center.
The top row of apps in the Android TV launcher is where you’ll find suggestions based on what you’ve watched in the past. What I like about Android TV’s recommendations is that it’s not limited to Google’s apps (cough….Amazon…cough). For example, in my recommendations row, I’ve got videos from YouTube, Disney Movies Anywhere, WatchESPN, HBO Now and The Food Network. No favoritism here.
Unlike the Amazon Fire TV, Google’s Android TV does a good job at giving you recommendations across most of the apps that you use on a regular basis. My one complaint is that it won’t go inside Kodi or Plex to see what I’ve watched recently, but that’s a minor issue.
Apps Optimized for your TV
One of my biggest complains about Android boxes is that many of the apps just don’t look right.
You’ve probably seen it too: Apps that are locked in vertical screen mode with black bars on either side, turning your beautiful television into a 65″ smartphone.
That may sound cool, but it’s really ugly to look at.
Come to think of it…it doesn’t ever sound cool.
At any rate, you won’t find that with the official Android TV. The Google Play Store for Android TV is filtered to include only those apps that have optimized for the Android TV OS.
That means the apps have to be able to use the Directional Pad (D-pad) on your remote control. They have to be in permanent landscape mode – since you won’t be rotating your television any time soon.
Also, they have to be content focused apps that enhance the user’s viewing experience.
Voice Control powered by Google Now
Speaking of enhancing the viewing experience…the voice control on Android TV is absolutely amazing. Period.
To put it in perspective, I was a huge fan of air mice and keyboards with trackpads. To me they was the best way to get around an Android interface that didn’t have a touchscreen.
The voice search on my NVIDIA Shield TV makes them obsolete.
Google has put a lot of effort into making Google Now the premiere way to search for what you want, both on your smartphone and now on your television. Every one of the Android TV devices has a voice search button to access this feature.
There’s just something incredibly satisfying in telling your TV what you’re looking for instead of typing what you’re looking for.
Google Home: From small screen to Big Screen
You’ve probably heard of Chromecast before. I mean, who hasn’t by now?
Google Home is the new name for Google Cast, which is the broader bucket that Chromecast fits in. Basically, it will let you send media from one device to another.
For example, think about your smartphone. You’ve probably got a lot of movies or pictures stored on there that maybe you’d like to send to your TV or stereo. Android TV’s Google Home app will let you do just that.
In fact, you can cast over 20,000 different apps of all types – TV shows, movies, music, games, sports and much, much more.
Chances are, your favorite app is one of them.
Android TV brings a couple of the biggest names in gaming to the table in NVIDIA and Razer.
NVIDIA is famous for making the graphic card powerhouses that run some of the world’s best gaming PC’s and laptops. If you’re serious about having the best performing gaming system, it better have NVIDIA inside.
If you’re a hardcore gamer, you’ve already heard of Razer. The American company was founded in 1998 to market one of the first high-end computer gamin mice and it hasn’t stopped innovating since.
With these two companies solidly supporting Android TV, you know that gaming has to be front and center.
Every Android TV has access to the Google Play Store, where you’ll find games specifically optimized for your Android TV and designed specifically to work with your TV remote using the D-pad, or one of the Bluetooth game controllers that you can connect.
That’s not all. Both NVIDIA and Razer have specific games that are optimized for their Android TV devices – the NVIDIA Shield TV and the Razer Forge TV.
You’ll find every genre of game from some of the latest graphic-intense blockbusters to the indie games destined to be the next big hit. These games are more intense and better looking than what you’ll find in the Google Play Store. Some of them you’ll only find on the Razer Cortex or NVIDIA’s GeForce Now.
What’s the difference?
Most of the ads for generic Android boxes, and even some of the most well known brands like MINIX, or Matricom will promise a lot of the same things that I just listed above.
And at first glance, many of the features sound identical. But there’s a lot that those ads leave out.
Sure, you can get all the movies you want from some illegal Kodi add-ons, but the quality is going to be mediocre at best. You can use voice control to perform some Google searches, but you’re going to miss the convenience of searching across different apps. You can cast your smartphone or tablet to your Android TV box, but you may have some challenges getting it to work with your particular device.
I don’t think it’s fair to compare generic Android boxes and official Android TV devices like the NVIDIA Shield TV or Sony’s XBR TV’s.
It’s like comparing a classic car to a modern sportscar. They’re two different cars aimed at two different audiences.
If I’m being completely honest, I think there’s a place for both.
I love tweaking my systems – cars or computers. I’ve always been the type of guy to try to get that extra bit of performance. That’s why I love benchmarks so much.
But I also love simple. That’s why I don’t use many of the Kodi addons that are so popular today. When I want to sit and watch TV, I want it to just work. No fuss. No muss.
Android boxes are built for people who love to tinker and tweak.
Android TV devices are simple.
Is Android TV right for you? It depends.
I love the platform. I have only good things to say about it, and I’ve been using my NVIDIA Shield on my main television for over a year now.
Android TV is simple to use and powerful.
The best part to me is that I can sit anyone in front of it and they can pick up the remote and quickly find their way around the system. I’m talking about anybody – my 80 year old mother, my non-technical girlfriend, or even (gasp) my friends who love Apple products.
Many of you love to tweak your devices to get the most out of them. In that case, you might want to look at one of the other Android boxes I recommend.
But if you’re looking for a simple streaming device that emphasizes what you’re watching, not what device you’re using, then you should check out one of the Android TV devices.
What do you think? Do you have questions on Android TV? Let me know in the comments below!