Archos TV Connect
Archos is taking over your TV with its new Android-powered, set top box with a game controller, the Archos TV Connect. Inside, it’s got smartphone guts powering something that looks eerily like Xbox Kinect - but it plays video and games and doubles up as a Skype camera for all your video chat needs too. Is this what you need to get Android on your telly?
The main TV sensor which houses the Android brains looks a bit like Xbox Kinect and is happily slimline and plonks right on top of your TV. It hooks up to your TV through a supplied mini HDMI cable, and is easy to set up. Getting live on the internet is easy as plugging in an ethernet cable or plugging in your Wi-Fi credentials, which is a piece of cake thanks to the jam-packed QWERTY keyboard on the bundled remote.
The controller remote also comes with analogue nub controls and gamepad-style buttons that let you take the controls in all your favourite Android games. Much like the Archos Gamepad, the TV Connect lets you map touchscreen controls to the physical buttons and the analogue nubs on the controller, letting you kick back and relax with supported games.
The Wii-remote pointer controls meanwhile goes a small way to making up for a lack of a touchscreen, and lets you aim your cursor around the screen. You can also set the two analogue nubs to navigate through Android if the pointer isn’t up to your expectations.
As it's built on Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, you can download all your usual apps and games and see them come to life on the big screen - it’s certainly easier surfing the web with this than trying to use the Sony PS3’s clunky browser.
The Archos TV Connect falls flat due to the controller itself, which is unfortunately, the main way of navigating through the OS. The attempts to recreate a Wii-style pointer with the controller works well at times, but this is effectively an Android for tablet user interface that you have to control from the other side of the room, and that just doesn’t work.
Think about it this way - there’s a reason the Apple TV doesn’t have the same menu system as your iPhone. It’s the same here: it’s difficult to be accurate, or as fast as you need to be, when you’re trying to recreate finger swipes with a controller. Take Angry Birds: a game that’s easy to play with a flick is a maddening experience when you have to line up the cursor first, then pull back enough, all the while simulating gestures through a joystick.
And multitouch pinch to zoom - the easiest and most intuitive thing to do on a touchscreen with two fingers - is a joke here: you literally move the two sticks apart in an achingly slow process. Archos would have done well to work on the Android big screen experience, making a homescreen packed with just a few core essentials - and removed the option for twin joystick zooming altogether. Instead, a relatively pure, stock Android experience as Google intended it is for once a curse, rather than a blessing.
The controller itself is also lacklustre, uncomfortable and often feels cramped. It's not easy to wield, the buttons are soft and lack any kind of the hard, tactile feedback you would expect from a controller. While the built-in keyboard is fine for typing in the odd website name or for searching in Google Play, it's just not cut out for longer spells of messaging comfortably - forget about chatting to friends on Facebook while watching a film.