Here at T3 we rated the first edition of the Now TV box, and liked the follow-up Now TV Smart Box even more, even though it had its share of flaws.
Some of its content was capped to a 720p resolution only, which at a time when 4K TVs were beginning to be widely adopted, felt far less than ideal.
Also, as we highlighted in the review, the last box also came with no Netflix or Amazon Prime Video functionality, which we felt was disappointing considering the system's otherwise excellent content offering.
- Sky Q review: supreme viewing from a truly top-of the-range offering
- Now TV Smart Stick vs Amazon Fire TV Stick
Enter the Now TV Smart Box with 4K & Voice Search, Now TV's 2018 set-top box offering.
And, as you can likely guess from the product's name, this is a turbo-charged new version of the Now TV box that, in our eyes, has been built to address the flaws evident in the last incarnation.
Is it the best media streamer then on the market today for those who don't want a full set-top box subscription service as delivered by Sky and Virgin Media?
Read T3's official Now TV Smart Box review to find out.
Now TV Smart Box review: price, availability, and subscriptions
The new Now TV Smart Box with 4K and Voice Search is available now and starts at £45.99 for the hardware on its own.
For £49.99 you can pick up the Now TV Smart Box with 4K and Voice Search with a 1-month Entertainment, Sky Cinema and Kids TV Pass, as well as a Sky Sports Day Pass.
For more information on both of these purchasing options head on over to Now TV's official website.
You can also pick up the above bundle deal for the same price over at Currys.
Now TV's various content-delivering TV Passes are broken down and costed like this:
Entertainment Pass: £7.99 per month
Sky Cinema Pass: £9.99 per month
Sky Sports Pass: £33.99 per month / or £12.99 per week / or £7.99 per 24 hours
Sky Sports Mobile Pass: £5.99 per month
Kids Pass: £3.99 per month
Hayu Pass: £3.99 per month
Each of these TV Passes can be subscribed to and cancelled at any time.
Now TV Smart Box review: design and hardware
Out of the box the Now TV Smart Box is a very simple, straightforward device. Very flat and resembling a glossy external hard drive, the whole box is just a tad bigger than palm size, and has a very clean finish.
On the front you get a simple activity LED in the top right, while round the back you've got a power port, HDMI out, microSD card slot, and a CAT5 (or CAT6, if you're being cheeky) port for a physical network connection (wireless is also offered).
The controller is the same one that is bundled with the Now TV Smart Stick, and is refreshingly compact, with power, home and back buttons sitting above a natty pink navigation cross as well as dedicated playback buttons, shortcuts, and voice search.
Setting up the Now TV Smart Box with 4K and Voice Search is, unsurprisingly, very simple. Plug in the power cable, plug in a HDMI cable, and then simply create/login to you account and redeem any passes you've got in your bundle, or signed up for manually.
The box's new highlight 4K output capability is, providing you've got a 4K TV of course, also very easy to enable. The Now TV Smart Box allows for multiple resolution outputs and you can either allow an in-built wizard determine the optimal one for your system, or you can manually select from a list.
4K at 60Hz with HDCP 2.2? Yes please!
Now TV Smart Box review: user interface and content
Content has always been a strong point for Now TV systems and here it is without doubt business as usual. Even without any TV Passes actuated, thanks to the system's extensive app selection, which now includes Netflix, you've got snappy, direct access to the content on BBC iPlayer, All4, 5 on Demand, ITV Player, YouTube, Netflix and more.
Turn on one or more of those TV Passes, though, and you're simply buried in quality content, both on-demand and also live via the system's TV Guide. Obviously, the more passes you have turned on the better the selection, but the beauty with Now TV's approach to content is that it is parsed down, so if you aren't bothered about sport, for example, then you don't have to pay for it.
Accessing that content through the Now TV Smart Box is handled through its relatively slick user interface, which is broken down into a series of sub-menus that all hang off a home screen (see image below).
These content sub-menus are broken down into catch up, tv guide, apps and search, with additional menus taking you to the system's app store (which allows you to download more esoteric apps if that is your bag; see below for more information) and system settings.
On the whole I would say that the layout and structure of these menus is good, although it did take me a while to memorise the shortest way to access certain content, with the sheer myriad of apps, menus and options taking a while to feel natural with.
In general the Now TV Smart Box's user interface feels very much like a lighter, less clean version of that used on Sky Q. I feel it has come on leaps and bounds over the past couple of hardware iterations, though I would be lying if I felt it was ideal or the best going right now, which is an accolade that goes to Sky Q.
And, while we're talking about the user interface, in terms of speed I was generally impressed with how snappy everything was, although again despite me having a broadband connection that you could run a bank off, there were small delays here and there for content to load in and display properly in menus.
Now TV Smart Box review: apps and features
The headline new app for the Now TV Smart Box with 4K is Netflix app integration. This is long-overdue, if I am being honest, as basically every device under the sun now offers access to Netflix and, well, I know very few people who are not subscribed to the service, which is a content juggernaut.
Indeed, Sky's new partnership with Netflix for its Sky Q service, with Netflix on Sky Q allowing you to access the former's content directly through the Sky user interface is a seriously amazing, game-changing development in my mind.
What you get here is not as wizzy as that, though, with Netflix simply accessed through its own dedicated app from the Now TV Smart Box's My Apps menu. It is still nonetheless a very welcome addition. I can confirm the Netflix app loads quickly on the Now TV Smart Box and navigates smoothly.
Elsewhere in terms of apps, there are an impressive selection on offer, with a broad selection of general interest news, entertainment, and sport apps available, as well as - if you go get them from the App Store - more niche, specialist content deliverers, too.
For example, the App Store on the Now TV Smart Box with 4K is broken down into various different app categories, ranging from Special Interest, to Internet TV (see below image) and onto Religion & Spirituality.
Will all these apps appeal to everyone? No, absolutely, but you're not paying for them and can add and remove them from the My Apps menu on the system as you desire, so the bespoke package that begins with the TV Passes you select continues right through the system to the apps you list. This consistency in personalisation impressed me.
Lastly, I feel I should talk a little about the remaining highlight feature on the Now TV Smart Box with 4K, and that's it's voice search functionality.
First up, let's be clear here, this is not vocally-triggered voice search as you would, say, when asking Amazon's Alexa to do something, but rather a voice search that is triggered by a press of the voice search button on the Now TV remote (see above image).
Press and hold the button and you can then ask the box to find content or, if you wish, launch specific apps like Netflix.
The voice search will, naturally, find you movie or TV content, but you can also search more generally, too, with actors and directors' outputs searchable. Outside of these areas though the search functionality is limited, and it does not carry over into apps like Netflix and BBC iPlayer.
Is the voice search functionality well implemented? Yes. Did I find myself personally using it much to find content or open apps? No. It's a nice function to have in the locker though, admittedly, and does at least work consistently within its admittedly limited search term framework.
Now TV Smart Box review: verdict
Overall I feel the Now TV Smart Box with 4K and Voice Search is a quality refresh of what was already a very good media streamer and lightweight TV box.
The additions in 2018, namely the ability to output in 4K, access Netflix via app, and search for content via voice are all most welcome, and directly address the biggest flaws we criticised last time out.
The content selection on offer, which has always been a strong point for Now TV hardware thanks to its Sky connection, remains at this level best-in-class, with the backing of Sky opening up an excellent array of content which, as is the raison d'etre for the Now TV brand, can be accessed in a parsed, bespoke, and contract-free package that is determined by the user.
It's not the out-and-out best TV watching solution out there, which as we've said before is Sky Q (and especially so now that it is getting Netflix integrated directly into its UI) but at this entry price point for the hardware, and the flexibility it grants you in terms of content expenditure, it really is top draw.
I still feel some work could be done to make the Now TV Smart Box experience a little more visual and intuitive, and there is definitely scope for its voice search functionality to be expanded, but overall today in 2018 there are very few rival systems that come close to its features and functionality, making it easy to recommend.