Buying Guide: 4 best Smart TVs in the world 2015

Buying Guide: 4 best Smart TVs in the world 2015

1. Sony Android TV

Smart TV is changing. Where once it was about how many apps you had, the Internet connected television is now just as much about what OS is being used.

All smart TVs give access to Netflix and Amazon Instant, with various digital TV catch up services available, too. Separate apps are one thing, but increasingly the services formally offered by apps are being integrated into the user interface.

There is no industry standard. Smart TV platforms tend to change every year or two among the big TV brands. 2015 sees a new focus on operating systems, with the likes of LG, Samsung, Panasonic and Sony all opting for webOS, Tizen, Firefox and Android, respectively.

Is this a brave new world for smart TV, or just the rehashing of old apps and services?

So, what’s the best smart TV platform? We’ve ranked the UK’s major connected TV platforms in descending order, putting just as much emphasis on ease of use as app selection, to help you as you buy into a whole new generation of online television.

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Sony Android TV

1. Sony: Android TV

It’s official; Sony has the best smart TV platform for 2015. The mere mention of the word Android in relation to a TV will automatically alienate half of all smartphone owners, but Sony is not alone in hoping that the other half will want to go Google in the living room.

Only Sharp and Philips have joined Sony in embracing the Android TV OS from Google, so we’re hardly talking about an industry standard yet, but Android TV is polished enough to put it in the running to become just that.

It’s not just in TVs though, you’ll find connected boxes, like the Nvidia SHIELD sporting Google’s TV OS too.

Unlike other new smart TV platforms, Android TV services are not built around icons along the bottom of the screen. Press the Home button on the remote and up pops a full-screen page that’s dominated by a carousel of videos from YouTube and from Google Video.

Scan down and there’s a row of Sony Select services (a mix of the main apps, such as Netflix and Amazon Instant), links to the Google Play Store, Google Play Music, Google Play Movies and TV, YouTube, Netflix and many more besides.

Further down is a list of the TV’s inputs and settings; it’s all fairly conservatively done.

Sony Android TVs are also unique in having some serious storage; 16GB is the default for 2015, which is far more than most smart TVs.

Owners of Android phones/tablets can use their device to control Sony TVs via the TV SideView app, which comes complete with a plug-in for voice search, while Google Cast allows video and photos to be natively streamed to the TV (iOS users can download the AirBuddy app to Google Cast). Controllers from Logitech and Razer also promise console-less gaming.

For now, Android TV is a relatively high-end feature; only TVs in Sony’s W, S and X Series of Bravia TVs will include Android TV.

However, aside from Android TV’s interface exhaustive content that TVs from Sharp and Philips will match, there will soon be a Sony-only add-on. All Sony Android TVs will get a firmware update in July 2015 to create built-in YouView services.

With Android TV and YouView, Sony has at last got smart TV right – thanks to Google.

Best for: content-grabbers

Three Sony TVs with Android TV:

Sony KD-55X8507C

Sony KDL-50W805C

Sony KD-49X8305C

2. Panasonic Firefox OS.

Panasonic Firefox OS

2. Panasonic: Firefox OS

Firefox is the best-looking and most easily customisable smart TV platform around.

A complete refresh of Panasonic’s smart TV interface for 2015, the new interface is actually called my Home Screen 2.0, though it bears no resemblance to version 1.0 from 2014.

Make no mistake, this is all about Firefox.

Much like Samsung and LG, Panasonic has abandoned the concept of having a separate smart TV homepage in favour of pop-up icons. However, these colourful, circular and very large icons 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, with apps or services can be ‘pinned’ to the carousel in seconds.

There is also a Home page, but it’s a lot less cluttered than in previous years, containing just 14 apps, though the range is still limited.

Up front is a link to Panasonic’s apps market, alongside pre-loaded apps like Netflix, Amazon Instant, YouTube, AccuWeather, and links to the TV’s internal features and services including a calendar, inputs, TV channels and a web browser provided by – you guessed it – Firefox.

However, it is a fairly basic browser.

Panasonic also has a UK-centric digital TV; the ageing ace up its sleeve.

Just as Sony is about to unleash YouView to its Bravia TVs, the Viera line-up is about to get Freeview Play, which will integrate catch-up TV services the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 into the core user interface.

Without Google Play, the Firefox OS doesn’t compare to Android TV on content, but Panasonic’s Firefox OS is less prescriptive and much easier to customise. It’s the best-looking, simplest smart TV interface yet.

Best for: your parents

Two Panasonic TVs with Firefox OS:

Panasonic TX-50CX700

Panasonic TX-40CX680B

3. Samsung: Smart Hub and Tizen OS.

Samsung Smart Hub and Tizen OS

3. Samsung: Smart Hub and Tizen OS

It may still be called Smart Hub, but Samsung’s smart TV platform for 2015 is completely new.

It’s based around the Korean manufacturer’s Tizen OS now being rolled-put on all of its gadgets. That may be so, but the layout of smart TV services bear more than a small than a passing resemblance to LG’s webOS interface.

That’s largely because icons, apps and shortcuts are all accessible via dynamic icons on a horizontal strip across the bottom of the screen.

Replacing the separate, rather boring grids of app icons from 2014, the Tizen interface monitors what you watch/use, suggests new sources, and allows some customisation. A dynamically changing Recent box in the far-left corner cycles between recently used apps, TV channels etc.

A Featured section in the centre promotes apps you haven’t used lately, which can feel like irrelevant adverts, and they keep returning (Twitter on a TV?). This isn’t based on your activity or habits, which is a shame.

However, the chance to customise the on-screen icons is the highlight; a sense of permanence is welcome when it comes to some AV inputs and key apps you use everyday.

This is all an effort to dodge clutter, and it mostly works well, though there are plenty of occasions when it’s necessary to go hunting for a specific app. Thankfully that’s made easier by a Smart Hub multimedia page that divvies-up content from apps and from your own USB sticks/home network.

In may no longer be front and centre, but there remains a Samsung Apps panel that lists all downloaded apps, too.

It may not have Freetime or Freeview Play, but what Samsung does boast is access to all UK catch-up TV apps; BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, 4OD, Demand 5 are all here, as is Netflix, Amazon Instant and YouTube.

In fact, the only significant app that’s missing from Smart Hub is Sky’s NOW TV.

There are a few nice extras in the Tizen version of Smart Hub, too, such as a split-screen option for watching live TV while browsing an app, but Samsung’s effort can’t quote match Android TV or the Firefox OS.

Best for: Samsung phone owners

Three Samsung TVs with Smart Hub 2015:

Samsung UE65JS9000

Check out our definitive review here.

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Samsung UE55JU6400

Check out our definitive review here.

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Samsung UE48JU7000T

Check out our definitive review here.

4. LG: WebOS.

LG webOS

4. LG: WebOS

With the arrival of webOS in 2014 , LG’s smart TV offering was completely refreshed. It’s recently been updated once again, with all LG smart TVs from 2014 and 2015 now being furnished with webOS 2.0 via a firmware update.

Much like Samsung’s Smart Hub, WebOS 2.0 is built around a taskbar that pops-up from the bottom of the screen.

Apps, whether a content hub like Netflix or simply a HDMI input on the TV, are treated the same, with a dynamically changing roster across the bottom of the screen. The app icons pop-up, they jig about, they drop-down, and they change order.

It’s fast – really fast – but locating something not on this Launcher Bar is actually very difficult. Nor is customising WebOS as easy as it could be.

Content-wise, it’s pretty good, with only ITV Player and 4OD missing from a line-up that includes Netflix, Amazon Instant, the 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 one-flick access to scrolling cover art for live TV programmes and movies (though only those available on Wuaki.tv).

Integration with Freeview HD programmes is adequate, but WebOS lacks UK-centric content as well as a few key apps.

Dynamic, colourful, but often rather dizzying to use, WebOS is inconsistent in design and dynamics, and takes a while to get to know; all but the tech-savvy can find themselves baffled.

Best for: the tech-savvy

Three LG TVs with WebOS:

LG 65EC970V

Check out our definitive review here.

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LG 55EC930V

Check out our definitive review here.

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LG 55UB950V

Check out our definitive review here.