If Smart TVs are so smart, why aren't we using their built-in apps?

More than half of us are using consoles, set-top boxes and streaming sticks instead

Apple TV 4K 2022
(Image credit: Apple)

Whenever we test the best TVs, we pay a lot of attention to their Smart TV operating system and features – so for example Samsung TVs have their Tizen OS, LG TVs have WebOS, Sony TVs run Google TV and so on. But it seems that for more than half of you, that doesn't matter: you're using dongles, streaming sticks and other devices instead.

A new survey of 16 to 74-year-old streaming TV users found that over half were using separate media streamers instead of built-in apps. And I think I know why, because I do that too.

Why aren't people just using the streaming apps in their TVs?

One reason is that they're not always there. Last year's Sony TVs launched without a lot of key UK streaming apps, so if you wanted to watch those services you needed a separate device. And another reason is that sometimes the built-in apps aren't brilliant, or the interface isn't, or you can't quite customise it the way you'd like to.

I think the main reason, though, is that a streaming stick or set-top box – I currently use an Apple TV 4K, although I've previously used and liked Fire TV sticks too - tends to be ad-free, expandable and consistent across services, and it tends to be updated regularly too: so while I've had apps such as iPlayer just give up on previous TVs after the manufacture decided not to keep updating them, that's never happened to me with my streaming devices. My Apple TV just got a pretty big software update, and I don't expect them to dry up in the foreseeable future.

There are other reasons too. For me, a big part of it is privacy: I trust Apple with my viewing data much more than I trust the manufacturer of my TV; for others, it's the ability to play games, use Google Cast or AirPlay, use a specific personal digital assistant, support multiple family members or take advantage of features such as Apple Fitness+.

Last but not least, you can afford to upgrade to the latest best streaming devices far more frequently than you can afford to upgrade your TV. The new Apple TV 4K starts at £149 and Amazon's best Fire TV stick, the Fire TV Stick 4K Max, is currently £54.99 and no doubt much cheaper come Black Friday

I think using a TV without an external streamer is a bit like using one without a soundbar or AV receiver: the experience is fine, but it could be so much better. And it looks like an awful lot of Smart TV owners feel the same.

Carrie Marshall

Writer, musician and broadcaster Carrie Marshall has been covering technology since 1998 and is particularly interested in how tech can help us live our best lives. Her CV is a who’s who of magazines, newspapers, websites and radio programmes ranging from T3, Techradar and MacFormat to the BBC, Sunday Post and People’s Friend. Carrie has written more than a dozen books, ghost-wrote two more and co-wrote seven more books and a Radio 2 documentary series. When she’s not scribbling, she’s the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR (havrmusic.com).