When it comes to reviewing Android devices, TV's are not often at the top of the agenda. However, that all changed last year when Google announced the introduction of Android TV. A platform built especially for TV content, to run on your TV, but with the underlying principles of the Android operating system. However, since then, most of the offerings that have came though have come in the shape of aftermarket standalone boxes that you can connect to your TV device. Much more recently though. a number of the more traditional TV manufacturers have started to bring their options to the market. The difference being, Android TV comes built-in to the TV and as a result, no need for a separate box. Of these manufacturers, so far it has been Sharp and Sony leading the way with their major Android TV offerings and over the last couple of weeks, we have been taking a closer look at the Sharp 70--inch LC-70UE30U TV.
While the specs might not be comparative to other Android users, it is always good to know what you are getting. When it comes to the Sharp LC-70UE30U TV, this comes equipped with 70-inch display with a Ultra HD 3840 — 2160 (4K) resolution. The refresh rate on offer comes in at 120 Hz (Native) with AquoMotion 480. Inputs on offer include 3 USB ports, four HDMI ports, ethernet, Component, Composite, Digital Optical Audio Out, Audio out and RF In. The Sharp LC-70UE30U also comes equipped with 16GB internal storage and powered by a quad-core processor.
Again, this is unlikely to be a factor in which you can compare to other Android devices, but regardless is worth commenting on. First off, this is not the thinnest of TVs that is currently available. While the form factor on mobiles continues to look towards "slimmer is better", this seems to be a trend which has been ongoing in the TV world for quite some time. On this point, this is not the thinnest. Although, it is not exact a wide unit either. In fact, if you are more concerned about picking up a TV that has some stability to it, then this will be a good option to go for as the general width of the display results in a much sturdier looking unit. Especially when used in the standing position and especially with a TV of this size.
As to be expected, on the rear is where you will find most of your connector points including a side positioned USB port, Audio Out and the four HDMI ports for easier connecting.
Another element which adds to the stability of the TV is the actual stand. Here, Sharp have opted to use two feet which have to be manually installed before use. One of the nice features of these, is that the are quite centrally positioned and face inwards (towards each other). The benefit of this is that the TV can be positioned on even the smallest of surface areas while still being able to maintain a very good and solid degree of stability.
In terms of the display, there is little arguing with what is on offer here. This is a 70-inch display which comes with a UHD resolution. Excusing the pun, this is a very sharp display with no issues at all in terms of resolution, saturation or otherwise. When you then factor in the price and what is available with the same sort of display specs in this size range, not only is this a good buy, but it is an affordable one. If one can be 'affordable' in the $1000s price bracket.
Now, this is where we can really get to grips with the LC-70UE30U. While the system comes running on its own 'smart' software, it also comes equipped with Android TV built-in. This is Android 5.1.1 (Lollipop) running in the background. First off and in terms of the level of Android on offer, this is a very close to stock skin. Sharp has not made many changes to the operating system and as such, this is best thought of as the version of Android TV which comes running on the Nexus Player. Albeit, with some minor tweaks.
This means that most of the experience is unfortunately a slightly more basic one. For instance, you are not going to find any of the type of additional features or content that you might find on the likes of the NVIDIA SHIELD or the Razer Forge TV. Content is at the stock level, apps (for the most part) are stock Android apps and it is generally an extremely lightweight version.
That said, there are these minor tweaks in play. The first and most obvious is the use of inputs, which might need a little explaining. Android TV as we currently know it, in standalone form offers little in the way of connecting third party devices. For instance, the Nexus Player comes with no real way to attach any additional hardware while in contrast, the SHIELD does. As a result the SHIELD does come with a HDMI icon deep within the settings so that you can configure the settings for the HDMI.
In terms of the LC-70UE30U, this is a primarily a TV and a device which is by design, one intended to be able to connect a whole host of inputs too. If Sharp were to bundle these into the settings, this would not only leave for a tiresome process, but also a frustrating and time-consuming one. As such, what Sharp had done is included a row of icons directly integrated on the leanback launcher, which essentially offers direct access to these inputs. This was a smart move in the design of the TV and certainly makes it easier to maneuver between connected devices without having to dig deep into the settings or revert back to the native Sharp system. A nice way to interact with any of your connected devices, without leaving the Android OS ecosystem.
However, the downside of how the software is integrated into the system means that it is integrated in the background. Most of the controls for the TV, the settings and so on all require you to leave the actual Android operating system. In short, Android TV is not truly integrated into the TV but it is more like an add-on. One which you have to activate every time you switch on the TV by pressing the 'Android TV' button, as the TV always boots into its native Sharp system first. For the purists, this also means that you don't really get to encounter the Android boot animation or process and starts to highlight one of the major contradictions of the built-in option. While this TV does come with Android TV inside, it feels much more as though you are using a standalone device.
In fairness though, when it comes to the settings, Sharp has looked to make the transition as easier as possible by including a 'Jump' shortcut in the settings menu.
With this, you can can effectively jump to the TV settings and then return back when you are finished. This is an element which is consistently encountered with the software with a sort or jumping from Android TV to the Sharp Native TV controls. Although, this is probably a minor issue as you are using one universal remote control, it still does highlight the lack of integration between Android TV and the overall system. Which is not something you will find on a standalone Android TV device. In reality, this is far more likely to do with the limits imposed on Android TV by Google than any decision made by Sharp. As such, Sharp does seem to have done the best they can with what they have been provided with. Although either way, from the end-user experience, the overall interaction with the TV, feels as though you are using a third party device. There is unfortunately, a clear separation of function and it currently just not natural enough in its current form.
One of the other notable add-ons from Sharp's perspective is the use of the Sharp AQUOS hep function. This is another leanback launcher shortcut which essentially allows for Sharp's technical team to diagnose your TV remotely. Handy feature when you need it. Although, not much use when you do not. In addition, the leanback launcher also includes another shortcut which will take you straight to the TV manual. Again, handy, but depending on your view or manuals, not the most alluring of features.
Gaming is quickly becoming an interesting element of Android TV and as devices like the SHIELD continue to expand in this area specifically, the platform is beginning to highlight its capabilities beyond what Google offers in the stock format. Unfortunately, as this is essentially stock Android, there are no additional gaming facilities beyond what you would find on the Nexus Player. In fact, due to the hardware limitations (compared to some of the standalone options) gaming on the LC-70UE30U is sometimes problematic. This is not a device which is built to handle significant processing and as such, gaming is more refined to the more basic games that are on offer through Android and most notably the remote control oriented games. The more sophisticated and technically demanding a game you choose to play, the more you will start to see the limitations of the LC-70UE30U. Although, again, these are not limitations of the Sharp LC-70UE30U, but more so, limitations of TVs running Android compared to standalone options which come with greater and more relevant gaming emphasis and hardware. This was further emphasized by what seemed to be an inability to connect a gaming pad to the TV. Although, we did not have any third party gaming pads to hand, we were not able to connect either the Nexus or SHIELD pads to the TV.
In truth, the performance is quite interchangeable with Gaming as this seems to be the most performance-demanding aspect. As the TV does not come equipped with the type of varied features you would find on a phone or a tablet, the level of multitasking is literally non-existent. This is a one at a time feature device and therefore, there is little to comment on in terms of the performance. There were no major issues with playback, no force crashes and generally quite a stable performing experience. This was the same when it came to just general navigation. Although, the system does feel a little slower than you might see on a standalone Android TV device with commands containing a slight delay, the TV performed reliably.
This is an aspect which continually is only discussed in brief on Android TV devices and for good reason. Having 4K included on the Sharp LC-70UE30U is an instant positive and from the TV perspective, a big thumbs up. However, from the Android TV perspective, this is not the first Android TV device to offer 4K playback as the NVIDIA SHIELD already does. Although, removing teh competition from the equation, there is still the continued issue of there just not being enough 4K content available yet. If anything, the best aspect of the 4K ability is for when you connect an additional device, gaming unit or console. But on that point, the idea of Android TV built-in, is supposed to reflect the idea of slimming down the number of units that you have connected. The more growth that the 4K content sees, the better this feature will become.
The remote control is very symbolic of a typical remote control and as a result is not that representative of the type of controls we are seeing coming through with Android TV devices. The remote control is very large and to be honest, a little too lightweight. As a result, it feels much less solid then you would like. Especially as this is essentially the means to play games with. There is a direct Netflix button on the remote which will send you through to the Android TV version of the app, which is convenient. Although, if you live in the Sharp TV's Android TV ecosystem, then this is not really any quicker than hitting the Netflix icon which is always dominantly positioned on all versions of the leanback launcher.
The experience encountered with the Sharp LC-70UE30U has left more food for thought than anything. From the Android TV perspective, there are a lot of minor issues with the use of Android TV in this capacity. However, firstly, they are minor issues. Secondly, they are not really issues that are relevant to the Sharp LC-70UE30U specifically. They are issues with having Android TV built-in. In the case of the Sharp LC-70UE30U, you are getting a close to stock experience, you are getting the benefit of convenience and the ease of only having to deal with one remote and one device. Sharp has done extremely well in trying to try to bridge the gap between the OS and the native system, but the reality (from the Android TV perspective) is that it is not bridged enough yet. Then there are the more pressing issues like a lack of additional features, limited ability to game and just a very basic version of the platform. Not to mention, the hardware aspects do nothing to help the situation. But again, these are not Sharp's issues. Not to mention, that due to the lack of alternatives on the market, there is very little to benchmark the Sharp LC-70UE30U against. As more options come to market, it will be easier to see clearer where the Sharp LC-70UE30U excels and where it does not.
Should you buy the Sharp LC-70UE30U?
In short, yes. If you are looking for a new TV and one with Android TV built-in, then this is a good unit. The 4K native ability, the size of the device, the stability from the design, the minor added Android TV touches. They are all good. The longer answer however, is not whether you should buy the Sharp LC-70UE30U, but, should you be buying built-in Android TV at this early stage in its development? Right now, that seems a question which is a lot harder to answer.