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LG Smart+ (webOS) System Review

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The game has changed

by Steve Withers Jun 28, 2014 at 7:01 AM

  • Home AV review

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    LG Smart+ (webOS) System Review

    Introduction

    When LG's Smart+ system, then called webOS, was a launched at CES 2014 it caused a sensation.

    Which is surprising because, up until then, the idea of Smart TV had never really been that popular. The addition of an internet-related platform was initially seen as nothing more than a side-show; an attempt by the consumer electronics industry to find ever more inventive ways to sell TVs into a saturated market. However, despite the emphasis place on smart features by the manufacturers themselves, consumers seemed far less interested in embracing the idea of a connected TV. The general increase in broadband capacity and the growing market for catch-up and streaming video services has completely changed this perception. People still aren't that interested in using their TV for browsing the Web or catching up with their friends. Frankly there are a multitude of devices that let people do that already and with greater speed and convenience.
    Although the idea of remote apps turning your smart device into a controller has definitely proved popular, what people really want is to use their TV for watching content. So the smart systems that have concentrated on delivering as much content to the viewer as possible have always been the most successful. The problem is that the way you interact with the smart features on your TV has always been rather clunky. It usually involves leaving the programme you're watching and opening a separate smart page from where you access the additional content. This makes these added features feel bolted on, rather than an integral part of the television's system architecture. Smart+ changes all that by providing an interface that feels like an organic part of the TV itself and not an add-on. So have LG changed the game and is Smart+ as good as it looks in demos? Let's find out.

    Smart+/webOS

    Smart+ is based on the webOS technology that LG bought from Hewlett Packard and the resulting system was worth every penny. From the moment you press the Home button on the Magic Remote you realise that Smart+ is different. Along the bottom the launcher menu appears, with the previous app you had accessed at the left and other apps appearing to the right as pop-up tags. If you scroll towards the left you essentially go backwards in time, with Smart+ showing you all the apps you opened previously in the order you were using them. This is a quick, easy and highly intuitive way of accessing the apps that you use on a regular basis.
    LG Smart+ Smart+/webOS
    LG Smart+ Smart+/webOS


    From the moment you hit the 'Home' button you realise Smart+ is different.

    Alternatively, if you scroll to the right you essentially move forwards in time and the launcher shows you all the apps that are available and you can then open any of these. To open an app you simply move the cursor over that app and press enter, the system then immediately opens that particular app. So for example, if you're watching Live TV and want to open Netflix, just click on the home button, put the cursor over the Netflix tag on the launcher menu and click enter. That's it, the system then takes you straight into Netflix without having to go via a separate home page first. If you want to then go to Amazon Prime, just open the launcher menu, select the appropriate app and Smart+ will take you straight into your Amazon Prime account.
    LG Smart+
    LG Smart+

    The entire interface is highly intuitive, combining simplicity and elegant graphic design with a slick and fast system architecture. Just how fast will depend on the model you buy but it's good to see that LG are rolling Smart+ out to the majority of their new TVs, so it won't just be available on the high-end sets. The use of quad-core processing means that for most, Smart+ will be very fast, switching between apps almost instantaneously. Obviously if the system needs to open your Netflix account for example, that might take a few seconds, but otherwise Smart+ is impressively quick.

    The ease of navigation is increased thanks to LG's Magic Remote, which the company has been developing and refining over the last few years. The latest version is the best yet and the remote sits comfortably in the hand and provides motion control with a high degree of accuracy. Smart+ is the system the Magic Remote was created for and the two work perfectly together, allowing the user to navigate the system with complete freedom. After only a few minutes the seamless combination of Smart+ and the Magic Remote make all other smart systems just seem antiquated.

    As you look at the launcher menu there is a window on the left that shows the previous app you opened and to the right of this is the LG Store. When you open this feature you get a single page that combines content from a host of different sources including live TV, catch-up and streaming services. The system will provide recommendations and provide an easy way to find something to watch, all from a single location.

    EPG & PVR Features

    The beauty of Smart+ is the way that it treats everything as a separate app, so if you're watching a live TV programme and want to go to the TV guide, you just open the launcher and select it. Smart+ will take you into the TV guide, which shares the same design and functionality of the the rest of the system. Again the TV Guide doesn't feel like a separate feature but part of a unified system. It shows the current channel in a window in the top left hand corner and includes channels and upcoming programming. Like the rest of Smart+, moving around the guide and finding additional information is quick and easy.
    LG Smart+ EPG & PVR Features
    LG Smart+ EPG & PVR Features

    If you decide there's nothing on and want to watch something you recorded instead, you just open the launcher, select Time Machine and Smart+ will take you straight there. Time Machine is the name LG have given their recording feature and just like most modern TVs, all you need to do is add a HDD. You can then use the TV as a fully functioning PVR and schedule and record programming whenever you like. Just like the TV Guide, the interface matches the rest of the Smart+ system and accessing recorded content or your schedule is quick and intuitive.

    Smart+ treats everything as an app, regardless of whether its live TV, a streaming service or an HDMI input.

    Devices

    The concept of treating everything as an app extends even to the devices connected to the TV itself. So one of the apps you can select from the launcher menu is Device Connector which allows you to easily setup any device you want to connect to the TV. These devices include a set-top box, Blu-ray player, sound bar, games console, smartphone, external HDD etc. and you can stet them up to appear on the launcher menu as individual pop-up tags. The setup process is, like everything else on Smart+, easy and intuitive.
    LG Smart+ Devices
    LG Smart+ Devices

    The same approach is true of all the inputs, which again can appear on the launcher menu as pop-up tags, allowing to go straight to HDMI1 for example, from content you are currently watching on Netflix. There is also an Inputs option available which shows all the individual inputs and from here you can customise the inputs and setup a universal remote. You can also select whether or not you want each input to appear as a pop-up tag on the launcher menu because you don't want unused inputs clogging up the launcher.

    Video-on-Demand

    The primary reason for owning a TV is to watch content on it, so it should come as no surprise to discover that catch-up and video streaming services are the part of Smart TV that has really caught on with consumers. Once again this is an area where Smart+ is particularly strong and the system makes no differentiation between live TV or BBC iPlayer for example. So switching from one service to the other is easy and fast, all you need to do is open the launcher and select the app you want to open. This is a fundamental difference from traditional smart system where all these video services would be collected onto another page accessed via a separate home page.
    LG Smart+ Video-on-Demand
    LG Smart+ Video-on-Demand

    Instead all your favourite catch-up and video-on-demand services are there at your fingertips, allowing you to easily switch from one to the other without having to come out of one service, back into a smart home page and then into another service. LG currently cover all the popular video streaming services wit Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube, BlinkBox and NOW TV (which is currently exclusive to LG TVs). They also have BBC iPlayer and Demand 5 but are currently missing 4OD, which hopefully will be added soon, and ITV Player, which is currently exclusively on Samsung TVs. The actual apps themselves all worked without any problems, the interface is as well designed as the rest of Smart+ and the system is fast and robust.

    Media Playback

    LG's TVs include a whole host of features that allow for quick and easy access to networks and devices. They obviously include built-in WiFi, although a wired connection is also an option, and DLNA as well of course. Many of their models also support WiFi Direct, NFC, MHL and USB of course, so there are a multitude of ways to access content. Unsurprisingly, Smart+ is highly effective in organising all these sources in way that is intuitive and easy to navigate.
    LG Smart+ Media Playback
    LG Smart+ Media Playback


    The remote app replicates the Smart+ Launcher, making it just as easy to control from your smart device.

    One of the apps available in the launcher is SmartShare where you can access any content on your network, be it photos, music or videos. You can drill down through these menus to access whatever content you want from your network connected devices. However with devices directly connected to the TV, you also have the option to chose these as apps that appear on the launcher menu. So for example, when we attached a USB drive to the TV, it appeared on the launcher as a pop-up rage and we could just directly to it. Although you also have the option to access the drive via the SmartShare app, the Input menu or the Device Manager app.
    LG Smart+
    LG Smart+

    The result is that playing content on your TV from either by a connected device or via a network is incredibly easy and very intuitive. The interface is as well designed as the rest of the Smart+ platform and the playback of photos, music and video was very good. LG TVs currently support a number of file types, including MPEG1/2/4, MP4, DivX HD, JPEG, JPS, MPO, AAC, AAC-HE and MP3, with more file types being added. The media player itself is also attractively designed and effective in use, making watching or listening to your content a pleasure.

    Remote App

    Whilst the proliferation of smart devices in people's homes has resulted in limited consumer interest in social networking or Web browsing, all of which can be done faster and easier on their smartphone or tablet, it has had another side effect. The remote app has become a key way of controlling your modern smart devices and many people now use their smartphone or tablet to control their TV in lieu of the normal remote control. LG is no exception, with an excellent new webOS-based remote app designed especially for Smart+, that is freely available for iOS and Android.
    LG Smart+ Remote App
    LG Smart+ Remote App

    This latest remote app replicates the look and style of the system on the TV itself and both are clearly based upon webOS. As a result the experience of using the remote app to control Smart+ is seamless, with a unified experience that is highly satisfying. The app itself has two main screens, the first is the launcher, which is the same as the one found on the TV. From this screen on your phone, you just tap the app you want to open and it immediately opens on the TV itself. The second screen is for controlling the TV itself and replicates the buttons found on the Magic Remote. We generally preferred using the Magic Remote, so effective was it for interfacing with Smart+ but the remote app makes a great alternative.

    Video Review


    Web Browsing

    Web browsing has never been that popular on TVs for two big reasons, firstly the early smart TVs were pretty slow and secondly typing into a browser with a remote control was a major pain. TVs have certainly got faster and modern models with quad-core processing are considerably more responsive but that still left typing into the browser. Some companies, like Philips, have added QWERTY keyboards to their remote controls and that's certainly one solution but most just rely on the remote app to provide a keyboard. The problem is, if you're using your smartphone or tablet, you might just as use that to browse the web.
    LG Smart+ Web Browsing
    LG Smart+ Web Browsing

    There is a web browser included in Smart+ and, like everything else in the new system, the interface is well designed and very responsive. However, as great as the Magic Remote is, typing into the browser is still time consuming and somewhat frustrating. So whilst the Web Browser in Smart+ looks great and is fast, we still wouldn't find ourselves using it to browse the internet. The same is true for most social networking which LG have wisely avoided, except for Skype of course, which once works really well with televisions. To take full advantage of Skype you'll need a TV with a built-in camera or buy an add-on camera but it's a useful feature to have.

    With its fast, attractive and intuitive interface, Smart+ leaves the competition back in the Stone Age!

    Conclusion

    10
    AVForumsSCORE
    OUT OF
    10

    Pros

    • Integrated into the TV itself
    • Very intuitive
    • Easy to use
    • Extremely responsive
    • Excellent app support
    • Comprehensive system architecture

    Cons

    • Missing a couple of catch-up services
    You own this Total 1
    You want this Total 3
    You had this Total 0

    LG Smart+ (webOS) System Review

    It's a phrase that gets used far too often but in the case of LG's new system it's appropriate, Smart+ is a game changer. Thanks to the use of webOS, Smart+ is attractively designed, intuitive to use and very responsive. But more than that, it feels like an integral part of the television and not just an added on feature. All the apps are accessed from the launcher menu along the bottom, you can scroll back through apps you've already opened or forwards to find what you want. To open one you just click on it, there's no need to go to another page or come out of one app to select another, you just click home and select the app you want. The system will take you straight into your chosen app, it's that quick and easy.

    In addition everything is treated as an app, so whatever you want, you can find it on the launcher menu. Whether its live TV, the TV Guide, Netflix, HDMI1 or an attached USB drive, they all appear as apps on the launcher menu and if you click on the pop-up tab, Smart+ takes you straight to them. Not only are all the features easy to access but Smart+ includes everything you will need from the TV Guide to the Time Machine PVR feature; from the SmartShare to the Media Player; from the Remote App to the WebBrowser; and not forgetting the all-important catch-up and streaming video services. The Magic Remote is the icing on the cake, making navigation and interaction a dream.

    The Smart TV has finally come of age and Smart+ is genuinely revolutionary, leaving the competition in the Stone Age. As a result, Smart+ is the reference point to which all other systems will be compared, and thus deserving of a Reference Status badge.


    The Rundown

    Ease of Use

    10

    Media Playback Quality

    9

    Applications - Software

    9

    Applications - Hardware

    9

    VOD Features

    9

    Web Browsing

    9

    EPG/PVR Features

    10

    Verdict

    10

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