How clever are Smart TV’s?

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These next-generation gadgets were widely flaunted at the technology exhibition CES in Las Vegas a few days ago by manufacturers such as Samsung, Panasonic, LG and Vizio. A Smart TV is, as the name implies, a hybrid between a smartphone and a flatscreen HDTV. It takes the huge screen of a modern TV and adds in the features that you’d expect from a pricy smartphone: apps, a wireless internet connection plus browser, and a plethora of minor tricks which are arguably more about showing off than genuine usefulness. Curiously, none of the models shown this year functioned as a traditional phone.

Oh, and you can watch TV on it as well.

Apps on your TV

Apps are undoubtedly the most exciting feature of this new 42-inch assault on our wallets. Since the technology is fairly new, the number of apps actually available was nowhere near what you might expect to see on, say, Android Market (google’s app store for smartphones running its Android software). But while there wasn’t quantity, there was certainly variety. Developers have targeted a wide range of popular app genres, and the result is a spread of apps alternating between cool, useful and downright daft. The lions share of the apps are for social networking, with facebook, twitter, skype and google chat (though not, it seems, google+) coming to a TV near you.

Not-so-smart TV’s

I’m finding it very easy to be cynical about Smart TV’s. Smartphones where (and continue to be) successful because they took the features of a laptop and shrunk it down into a phone-sized box, adding portability and the opportunity to include features like accelerometers and cameras. Smart TV’s, on the other hand, combine the features of two popular devices into one expensive device but don’t seem to add any value to the user by doing so.

In my opinion, the “smart” option is to save at least half a grand and buy yourself a laptop table instead. Once the newness wears off and the price slashing starts, look again.

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