Android tv reviews: Android TV explained: what you need to know about Google’s TV OS

Android TV explained: what you need to know about Google’s TV OS

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(Image credit: Android)

What is Android TV? While many of you may be used to scrolling through the Android operating system on non-Apple smartphones, there’s also a version developed especially by Google for TVs, set-top boxes and soundbars.

Other TV platforms include Amazon’s Fire TV, Roku TV and Samsung’s Tizen OS, all running inside respective smart TVs and allowing you to access smart services, apps, movies, music and TV shows.

Android TV is currently built into a number of TVs from brands including Philips TVs, Sony TVs and Sharp TVs. You can also find it in streaming video players, like the Nvidia Shield TV Pro. 

In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at what Android TV offers, the new features to expect from the smart TV platform, the products running Android TV, as well as what sets it apart from other TV platforms on the market.

  • Best Android boxes in 2021: for TV, gaming, and everything else

What’s new with Android TV?

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Android TV has been around since 2014, but it’s regularly updated and new features are often added to bring it up to speed with the smart TV platform competition. 

Here are a few of the most recent announcements and updates coming to the Android TV platform and smart TVs with it already built-in:

Android TVs are getting TikTok: Android smart TVs across UK and Europe now support the TikTok app – the US might not be too far behind. The app launched on new Samsung TVs in late 2020, but it looks like TikTok’s plans for world domination are well underway as TVs with Google TV and Android TV operating systems now have the app too. 

Android TV gets a slick makeover for 2021: Google has been rolling out a new user interface for Android TVs since January 2021. What’s the difference? The home screen will now have more content recommendations from the services you use the most, the Apps tab will collect all of your installed apps and the Discover tab will be easier to use too. 

The Xiaomi Mi TV Q1 is a gorgeous, affordable 75-inch 4K TV: Xiaomi has lifted the lid on its new 75-inch Mi TV Q1. Its flagship TV supports 4K HDR and incorporates both Dolby Vision and HDR10+. It also packs Android 10. It’s Xiaomi’s most premium TV to date and, the company told TechRadar in an interview that it could rival the Samsung Q80T in both specs and usability. 

(Image credit: Humax)

Android TV apps

There’s a huge range of apps available on Android TV via the Google Play Store. 

These include most of the streaming favourites, like Netflix, Disney Channel, Spotify, HBO Now and YouTube. Depending on your country, there are also a lot of live TV channels, including NFL, Bloomberg TV and ABC. There are plenty of gaming apps, too, such as Crossy Road, Final Fantasy IX and Minecraft.

What’s important here is the Google Play Store on Android TV only displays apps that are supported by the TV platform – not all of the apps available on other devices, including smartphones.

Android TV key features

Curated content: Android TV analyzes the kinds of TV shows and movies that you usually watch, play and listen to, and serves up similar things you’re likely to be interested in.

Universal search: You can use the search bar at the top of the Android TV interface or the voice search button on your remote to find what you’re looking for. Android TV crawls a number of services, including Netflix, Hulu, YouTube and Google Play Movies and TV to find what you need, and usually lists the lowest price first.

Native Google Cast support: All Android TV players and TVs have Google Cast built-in. That means you can stream content from your device to your TV whenever you see the Google Cast icon. This is sometimes referred to as Chromecast built-in.

Voice search via the remote: Instead of scrolling all the way up to the top of the interface and typing out the name of the show, movie or actor you’re looking for, you can simply speak the name into the Android TV remote – this is a great time-saver.

Google Assistant integration: Near the end of 2017, Google’s smart assistant made its way into Android TV. Google Assistant on Android TV is the same one that’s built into the Google Home and some higher-end Android phones. Just say “OK Google” to begin.

For the most part, it’s a lot like Siri or Cortana – Google Assistant can make calendar appointments, check your to-do list and answer inquiries about popular topics. What makes it unique is that it also can control your smart home products like thermometers, light bulbs and smart locks, too. 

Games via the Google Play Store: Fancy playing a game of Pong between seasons of Breaking Bad? Android TV currently has more games on its store than any other TV operating system. Like Android on phones, some games are free and others cost money.

Actor bios and filmographies: Let’s say you’ve just watched Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and now you want to see what other films Zoe Saldana has been in. Search Zoe Saldana on Android TV and you’ll find every title she’s starred in. Click a TV show and you’ll find a synopsis, where you can watch the show and the rest of the show’s cast.

Google Chromecast devices feature Android TV apps as well (Image credit: Google )

Android TVs: what screens run the Android OS?

A number of different TV brands have Android TV built-in. Right now these mostly include Sony and Philips. A number of Hisense TVs also have Android TV, as do some Cello and Sharp models.

Some TV brands run their own OS, like Samsung and its Tizen platform. Whilst others have deals with third-party companies, like TCL and its partnership with Roku.

What’s important to note is that Android TV doesn’t run in exactly the same way on every device. Why? Well, each hardware manufacturer has the ability to modify the base Android TV code to tailor it for their system. 

For example, for a short period of time, Nvidia Shield was the only device that had access to Amazon. One device might have PlayStation Now, while others might use a spot on the Android TV interface for a first-party app. (LeEco, for example, has a space for its LeTV on the Android TV homepage, for example.) 

But these are generally minor differences and not ones to lose sleep about.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at just a few of the Android TVs we’ve reviewed here on TechRadar:

(Image credit: Sony)

Sony A8H OLED: In our smart TV guide we crowned the Sony A8H OLED the best smart TV with Android TV. That’s because, out of all the brands with smart TVs, Sony has the most comprehensive Google solution.

For UK viewers, it has rather cleverly layered a YouView program guide platform on top, deftly addressing one of Android TV’s big weaknesses – catch-up TV provision.

The latest Android version 9.0 (Pie) also features a few Sony-specific improvements. Highlighting an option in the Settings menus, for instance, now brings up a cool ‘exploded’ explanation of what that feature does. There are also new voice control onscreen ‘tips’, and enhanced external device detection and information. 

Read our full review: Sony A8H OLED review

Today’s best Sony Bravia A8 OLED TV deals

Sony Bravia A8 OLED TV (65-inch)




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(Image credit: Hisense)

Hisense H8G Quantum Series (65H8G): The Hisense H8G Quantum Series does so much at a price that will make you wonder why you’d even consider “premium” televisions. Overall this is an affordable, high-quality television and we highly recommend it for those of you in the US.

This is a feature-packed television, thanks to Google. Android TV is powerful, flexible, and useful all at the same time. We had no problems with the initial setup, which took about 15 minutes total including several app installs.

Google handles the interface for the television, and even during the few weeks of testing, there were several updates and tweaks. So Hisense doesn’t have to create its own interface and the viewer doesn’t have to learn something new. It’s a real win-win.

Read our full review: Hisense H8G Quantum Series (65H8G) review

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Hisense H8G (50-inch)



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(Image credit: Philips)

Philips OLED+935 TV: The addition of AI to Philips’ already highly-evolved video processing feels like the discovery of some sort of missing link, enabling the brand to skip a few generations ahead with its always ambitious picture quality dreams. The glorious pictures are accompanied, too, by arguably the finest sound system ever found on a mainstream TV.

However, the Android smart system Philips uses for its UI isn’t the most user-friendly around, but it does run relatively stable on the OLED+935, and comes loaded up with Freeview Play to provide all the UK’s key catch up TV services.

Read our full review: Philips OLED+935 TV review

(Image credit: Cello)

Cello Smart Android TV: This budget TV from Cello boasts all-round picture quality and smart TV features galore courtesy of the latest Android TV system and Freeview Play. It is exclusive to the UK.

But while the Android operating system is rich in content, it’s not the most intuitive platform to use on this TV. It runs sluggishly on the C2420G, especially when trying to use Google Assistant voice control.

Read our full review: Cello Smart Android TV review

Other Android TV devices

One of the easiest ways to get Android up and running quickly on almost any TV is with a set-top box that runs the smart TV platform.

The Nvidia Shield TV Pro is one of the best streaming boxes on the market. It’s an Android-powered set-top-box / games console, it’s about as powerful as streaming devices come, and is jam-packed with features that will tempt movie and video game fans alike.  

The Xiaomi Mi Box S doesn’t compare to the likes of the Nvidia Shield TV, but if you’re looking for Android TV on a budget, it’s an option to consider.

The simplest and cheapest solution is probably a Google Chromecast streaming stick, though, which can plug into an HDMI port and supply thousands of apps as well as the Android TV platform.

(Image credit: Google)

What’s all this about Google TV?

Some of you may be aware of a new ‘Google TV’ platform featuring on the kinds of devices that would traditionally feature Android TV instead.

Google TV is essentially a successor with a simplified interface that tried to tackle some of the perceived issues of the Android platform, but much of the layout and app support is carried over direct.

There’s even a new Chromecast with Google TV model showcasing the benefits of the new platform, with better organization and a personalized recommendation tab, a watchlist and a Live TV menu for folks who subscribe to YouTube TV.

We expect to see it rolled out further in the future, possibly on some smart TVs as well as streaming sticks, though it’s unclear whether Android TV is going to be shuttered for good – especially given different TV makers use their own spins on the base Android platform.

It’s worth noting that Google TV didn’t support the Stadia streaming platform at launch, though.

  • Sony vs Samsung TV: choosing the right TV brand for you

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Nick Pino is Managing Editor, TV and AV for TechRadar’s sister site, Tom’s Guide. Previously, he was the Senior Editor of Home Entertainment at TechRadar, covering TVs, headphones, speakers, video games, VR and streaming devices. He’s also written for GamesRadar+, Official Xbox Magazine, PC Gamer and other outlets over the last decade, and he has a degree in computer science he’s not using if anyone wants it.

Android TV: What is it, and should you buy a TV or a box with it?

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(Image credit: Android Central)

We might have some bias by saying this on a website called “Android Central,” but when you think about it, Android really is one of the most versatile operating systems in existence. We most commonly think of it as what powers smartphones and tablets, but it also extends to smartwatches, car infotainment systems, and even televisions.

That last point is what we’re talking about today — Android TV. This version of Android powers smart televisions and streaming boxes, and it’s been doing that since 2014.

Other platforms like Roku and Amazon’s Fire TV have overshadowed Android TV’s popularity, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth considering. In fact, Android TV has quite a lot to offer if you’re a fan of Google services and are looking for a way to bring more smarts into your living room.

Here’s what you need to know about it, including the inevitable Android TV vs. Google TV question, as well as what Google has in the cards for Android TVs in 2023 — including possible syncing with Wear OS and Nest cameras.

Leading the pack

Chromecast with Google TV

Google TV at its finest
This small and compact gadget brings Android TV 2.0 to your living room with full support for 4K HDR streaming, Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos, and (of course) casting content from your phone, tablet, or other devices.

What is Android TV?

(Image credit: Joe Maring / Android Central)

As mentioned above, Android TV is a version of Android that’s designed specifically for televisions. It first debuted in June 2014, with the latest version (Android 13) launching in December 2022. Like other TV operating systems, you can use Android TV to watch Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and countless other streaming apps. Android TV even supports some games, giving you a nice change of pace when you feel like having more interaction with your entertainment.

The newest Android TV interface incorporates elements introduced as part of the new Google TV interface, which has replaced the previous user interface (UI) on most Android TV devices released in 2021 and beyond. Among the improvements rolled out as part of the Android 12 beta were a refresh to the operating system’s home screen that included larger buttons, increased animation, a new style of widgets, and the addition of a bright green microphone icon.

Android 12 also introduced native support for taking scrolling screenshots and a feature that generates a color theme for system menus based on your chosen wallpaper. Android 12 also includes native support for 4K UI rendering, which improves the overall screen interface and makes visuals even sharper. Previous versions of Android TV set UI rendering at 1080p, with the ability to upscale to 4K.

WIth the latest Android 13 for TV update, the changes aren’t quite as drastic on the surface, but are still quite significant. For instance, you can change the default resolution and refresh rates for supported HDMI sources like the Chromecast with Google TV. Plus, the update lets these connected devices detect state changes, indicating when the device can enter power-saver mode so it doesn’t constantly drain energy.

Plus, this version gives you much-improved accessibility features such as a new system-wide audio description preference setting and support for more keyboard layouts.

Google Assistant on Android TV

If you’re a frequent user of the Google Assistant on your phone and smart speakers, Android TV will feel right at home to you.

As with other Google gadgets, the Google Assistant is built right into Android TV. Click the Assistant button at the top of the screen or press the Assistant button on your remote, and you can talk to the Google Assistant just like you would anywhere else.

It’s helpful in a few different ways. For commands specific to your TV, you can have the Assistant pause what you’re watching, adjust the volume, open specific apps, etc. However, it extends far beyond voice command playback controls. Ask the Assistant about the weather, who Kylie Jenner is dating, or to turn off the living room lights. It’s the same Google Assistant you know and love, just on your TV.

How Android TV works with Chromecast

(Image credit: Joe Maring / Android Central)

Browsing for shows to watch using apps on the big screen is a great experience, but for those times when you’re already on your phone, Android TV has you covered with support for Chromecast.

Find a YouTube video or Netflix show on your phone you want to check out? Just tap the Chromecast icon on your phone, select your TV, and you can send that video to your TV just like that.

It’s a feature that works with any app that supports Chromecast, including something like Google Photos. So instead of hunching over your phone to look at family pictures, you can display them on your television with just a couple of taps.

Right now, you have two main options for a Chromecast: the Chromecast with Google TV and Chromecast with Google TV HD, which is more affordable but obviously can’t hit 4K resolution or Dolby Vision. It does offer HDR10+ and Dolby Atmos, at least.

Streaming boxes and dongles with Android TV

(Image credit: Phil Nickinson / Cordcutters)

When it comes to getting your hands on Android TV, there are a couple of ways to go about this. The most affordable of which is to buy a streaming box or dongle with Android TV built-in.

These are relatively compact gadgets that plug into your TV, like a mini-game console, and allow you to access Android TV and all of the perks that come with it. So whether you have a “dumb” TV with no smart interface or a Roku TV you want to upgrade, an Android TV box is perfect for adding a ton of new features while spending as little money as possible.

Among the best Android TV boxes, the most robust options are the NVIDIA Shield and Shield Pro. The baseline NVIDIA Shield supports 4K HDR content, Dolby Vision, and Dolby Atmos, plus AI upscaling for HD-to-4K content. It has an ethernet port for consistent streaming speeds and support for GeForce Now cloud gaming. But if you’re willing to upgrade, the Shield TV Pro doubles the offered storage to 16GB and increases the RAM to 3GB.

But you can’t go wrong with the Chromecast with Google TV, our top pick. It has similar upsides as the Shield like 4K HDR and Dolby, though now that Stadia has been cancelled, it doesn’t have the same perk of cloud gaming. It doesn’t upscale content, and 8GB of storage won’t be enough for everyone, but it’s so much more affordable than the Shield, making it the same price as most premium streaming dongles.

The Android 12 update also enables users to use their phone as a TV remote with Android TV OS streaming devices, making navigating the interface even easier.

Some TVs also ship with Android TV built-in

(Image credit: Joe Maring / Android Central)

If you have more cash to spend and are looking to upgrade your entire TV, you could also buy a television that comes with Android TV built-in right out of the box.

This is a much more costly purchase, but if you need a new TV anyway, you might as well buy one that doesn’t require extra hardware to use Android TV. That way, you save your HDMI ports for other devices like gaming consoles.

We’ve selected the best Android TVs available, with the Hisense U8G Quantum as our current favorite. This 4K TV has four HDMI ports, supports 120Hz refresh rates, tiny bezels, hands-free Google Assistant, and an affordable price. If that set doesn’t grab you, TCL and Sony also make excellent Android TV sets.

You may want something a bit more high-end. In that case, our list of the best 4K Android TVs targets more spendy shoppers who only want the best. And the Sony A80J Bravia XR OLED truly is one of the best TVs available, Android or otherwise. The picture display and sound quality are top-notch, and you get HDMI 2.1 ports for next-gen gaming.

What’s the deal with Google TV?

(Image credit: Joe Maring / Android Central)

In line with the launch of Chromecast with Google TV in 2020, it was announced that Google TV would be the new UI for Android TV.

Powered by Google’s machine learning, Google Assistant, and the Google Knowledge Graph, the new Google TV interface sits on top of the Android TV software. It’s an easy way for users to find content from various streaming services on their TV or monitor. More specifically, the new interface places Google’s content recommendations front and center and features a new Live tab for TV-like integrations such as YouTube TV.

The Google TV interface is divided into several tabs that allow you to browse content by movies, shows, and apps. You can even access your library of purchased content from Google via Play Movies & TV now that the Google TV app is stored. Content is also recommended to you based on your viewing habits when signed into your profile.

The new interface also introduces the option to create profiles specifically targeted at younger viewers, which feature rows of recommended videos from kid-friendly apps. The kid-specific Google TV interface also features bright colors and fun illustrations, the option to pick background themes such as “under the sea” and “space travel,” and profile avatars aimed at younger viewers.

Our list of Android TV devices that support Google TV will tell you which have switched over and which remain on the old OS. If you are stuck with Android TV, rest assured that you can now manually fine-tune your Android TV recommendations, similar to what you’d get automatically with Google TV.

The future of Android TV

(Image credit: Joe Maring / Android Central)

At this point, most old Android TV devices have updated to the Google TV OS, and most new Android TV boxes and television sets use Google TV. And we should see even more of them in 2023. While the Android TV brand won’t die anytime soon, Google has shifted its focus to its namesake interface. So it’s up to you whether or not you can stick with your old Android TV device or want to upgrade to Google TV.

In terms of the most recent Android TV and Google TV updates, the revamped Family Link gives you improved parental supervision controls for what your kids are watching. Personalized profiles have come to more users than before. And there’s even a Google TV iOS app now, so you can buy an Android TV without needing an Android phone.

As for upcoming Android TV and Google TV updates, Google will implement App Bundles in 2023, which will help you optimize storage space when installing or uninstalling streaming apps. And Google allegedly has plans to make Android TVs more in sync with other Google devices. For example, they could soon show your Wear OS or Fitbit heart rate data during an at-home workout; show Nest camera feeds on your TV; or let your Pixel Buds fast pair to Android TVs. We could see some of these new tools in 2023.

Powerful performance

NVIDIA Shield Android TV

Android TV in all of its glory
This dongle costs more than the Chromecast with Google TV but supports AI upscaling of non-4K content, making everything you watch look better. And it supports GeForce Now streaming if you have a large Steam library you want to play on your TV.

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Keegan Prosser is a freelance contributor based in the PNW. When she’s not writing about her favorite streaming apps and devices for Android Central, she’s listening to a true-crime podcast, creating the perfect playlist for her next road trip, and trying to figure out which fitness tracker she should try next. You can follow her on Twitter @keeganprosser.

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