Before purchasing a new Smart TV, make sure that its operating system suits your everyday needs. To help you choose wisely, here’s our handy guide to what each one looks like, and what features it packs.
Android TV - best for apps
With televisions getting ever smarter, it makes sense that the world’s most popular operating system for phones – Google’s Android – should make its way onto our goggleboxes. One of the biggest strengths of Android TV is that you get access to the Google Play Store – which means you have thousands of apps at your command, so popular media- streaming services such as Netflix and BBC iPlayer will be present and correct.
What’s more, a recent update has ensured that any service hosting 4K content will be able to display Ultra HD films and programmes on compatible TVs. Voice search is also heavily integrated into Android TV, making it extremely easy to find what you want to watch; and if you’re looking for inspiration, you could just ask for “award-winning dramas” to get some suggestions. With the might of Google behind Android TV, we can see this platform becoming the most popular choice for smart TV manufacturers in the future; and with a healthy influx of apps thanks to the Play Store, this could be the most future-proof option.
Firefox TV - simple and stunning
Panasonic has joined forces with Mozilla – the company behind the Firefox Web browser – to offer Firefox TV. A complete refresh of Panasonic’s smart TV interface for 2015, the new interface is called My Home Screen 2.0, though it bears no resemblance to version 1.0 from 2014. The interface is filled with pop-up icons, and these colourful, circular and very large items appear stretched across the middle of the screen in a dynamically responsive carousel. It’s simple stuff, with icons for ‘My TV’, apps, devices, inputs and specific TV channels all presented. It’s also by far the easiest smart TV interface to customise, as apps or services can be ‘pinned’ to the carousel in seconds.
You get pre-loaded apps such as Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube and AccuWeather, as well as links to the TV’s internal features and services including a calendar and a Web browser provided by – you guessed it – Firefox. You can download further apps from the Panasonic apps market, though this doesn’t have quite as much to choose from as the Google Play Store on Android TV. Firefox TV is a great choice for UK users in particular, thanks to its support of Freeview Play, which integrates catch-up TV services from the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 into the core user interface.
Samsung Tizen - the bright new kid
Samsung has confirmed that every smart TV it makes from now on will have Tizen TV as its operating system. As with Android TV, Tizen has its roots in smartphones, and it is increasingly being used in Samsung handsets as the South Korean company tries to move away from its reliance on Google’s platform.
Looks-wise, it’s actually quite reminiscent of webOS, with big, bright icons and shortcuts making it look great and enabling you to find your way around easily. Cleverly, the Tizen interface monitors what you watch and the apps you use, and suggests new sources, as well as enabling some customisation. A dynamically changing ‘Recent’ box in the far-left corner of the screen cycles between recently used apps, TV channels and more.
The chance to customise the on-screen icons is the highlight here; a sense of permanence is welcome when it comes to some AV inputs and key apps you use every day. The ‘Samsung Apps’ panel enables you to download new stuff, and while it lacks the breadth of apps that the Google Play Store has, it still features the big beasts like iPlayer, ITV Player, Netflix, YouTube and Amazon Instant Video. However, there are still some services that are noticeable by their absence – so if Samsung really wants Tizen TV to compete with Android TV, it’ll have to make sure it signs those up in the near future.
LG WebOS - fast and dynamic
With the arrival of webOS in 2014, LG’s smart TV offerings were completely refreshed. And it’s recently been updated, with all LG smart TVs from 2014 and 2015 now being furnished with webOS 2.0 via a firmware update. webOS 2.0 is built around a task bar that runs along the bottom of the screen.
All apps, whether a content hub such as Netflix or simply an HDMI input on the TV, are treated the same on the dynamic display, which sees icons pop up, jig about, drop down and change order. It’s fast – really fast – which is a great improvement over older smart TVs, which often felt rather laggy and slow. However, webOS 2.0 is not as easy to customise as it could be – especially when compared to Firefox TV and Tizen.
Content-wise, it’s pretty good, with only ITV Player and 4OD missing from a line-up that includes Netï¬ ix, Amazon Instant Video, BBC iPlayer, YouTube, the underrated Blinkbox, Wuaki.tv and – exclusively – Sky’s NOW TV. There’s a nice flicker panel for scrolling through ‘live’ sources and apps, and a ‘Today’ panel across the middle of the screen that gives you one-flick access to scrolling cover art for live TV programmes and movies (though, at the moment, only those available on Wuaki.tv).
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