The recent influx of Google TV manufacturers has the industry wondering if this is the beginning of the platform’s takeoff. Google is making progress in the software side as well as its partnerships, but there is one new Google TV manufacturer people have been really excited about – ASUS.
The ASUS CUBE with Google TV is the manufacturer’s first Google TV device. This would usually have GTV fans worried about the lack of experience and possible quality issues, but ASUS has done a great job establishing itself as a reputable Android manufacturer. ASUS is not walking into this completely blind-folded.
The ASUS CUBE comes in with good specs, the newest Google TV features and an interesting take on design. Both the physical and software designs are very unique. The main question for Google TV users right now, though, is whether they should pull the trigger on the CUBE or wait for what may come soon (we are awaiting Google TV news at I/O). Should you wait? Let’s jump into the review and see.
ASUS CUBE Design & Hardware
Right off the bat you will be able to recognize the ASUS CUBE from far away. Not only because its cubical design is aesthetically pleasing and very unique, but because it is one BIG device. The ASUS CUBE measures in at 4.92 inches cubed (4.92 x 4.92 x 4.92).
This is quite large compared to other Google TV’s, but many of you haven’t seen a lot of other Google TVs. For reference, we will use a device you can find at any store – the Apple TV. Apple’s smart TV box measures 3.9 x 3.9 x 0.9 inches, making the CUBE seem like a Titan next to it.
How many of you move it around enough for its size to be a deal-breaker, though? You can find a nice place to put it at and then just ignore its size. If you really do care about your Google TV’s size, you will have to find another option. I happen to like its physical build. The unit feels relatively solid, considering it is made out of plastic and seems to have a lot of empty space inside. The weight is centered in the bottom of the device, making it feel more stable and hefty.
The ASUS CUBE may be big, but the most important part of the device is its remote. It will be the accessory you will be interacting with most of the time, and ASUS didn’t do a bad job at making a good remote. It is much slimmer than remotes like the VIZIO Co-Star’s, the keyboard buttons offer great feedback (eve though they are made of rubber) and it comes with good shortcuts to simplify your experience.
This doesn’t mean the remote doesn’t have its defects, though. What bothers me the most is the fact it lacks a number pad in the top side (bottom side would be the keyboard). Another issue is that it does not have backlit keys, but not many Google TV devices do. The keys in the keyboard are also arranged in a weird way. The ASUS CUBE wouldn’t be the only Google TV to have this problem, though. It only takes a few hours to get used to the layout.
Aside fro those few downsides, the remote works as it should. I like that the D-pad, ok button and color buttons are merged into one. It creates a bit of confusion a first, but one can switch between touchpad mode and D-pad mode by pressing the pointer button on the side of the remote. This makes it easier to switch between input methods and gets rid of the confusion. On the other hand, it’s very easy to press the pointer button by accident (while handling), which can get a bit annoying.
Other shortcuts and keys are self explanatory, and there is a very handy Voice Search button on the side. And yes, this remote does have a microphone and is ready for Voice Search out of the box. It also supports motion controls and one can even use said feature to play games!
Specs & Ports
The device is powered by a Marvell Armada 1500 processor and has 4 GB of internal storage. The ASUS CUBE with Google TV also comes with all the ports you can expect. It has two USB 2.0 ports, one of which is located on the side for easier access. This makes it simpler to use USB flash drives or external hard drives. On the back you will also find an ethernet port, two HDMI ports (in and out), the power port and an IR blaster out port.
ASUS CUBE Performance & Software
The setup is simple. Get all the cables in the right place and you will be set to go. I had a small issue with the CUBE not receiving signal from my cable box, but the issue was easily fixed. If you can’t see your cable’s image, you can go to All Apps > Settings > Advanced Setting and switch between Mode0 and Mode1.
There is one big issue you will run across during setup, though. In fact, I would say this is the device’s biggest flaw. The IR blaster, which plugs to the back of the CUBE, is at the end of a long cable. You can place it anywhere so that it works with your cable box, DVR, TV or any other secondary device. The problem is, the IR blaster is not strong enough to reach two devices!
The IR blaster must literally be closer than an inch to your secondary device’s IR sensor. This makes it nearly impossible for it to work with both my TV and my cable box. Unless you set up your devices’ IR sensors to be really close to each other, you will find yourself forced to pick which one you would like your CUBE’s remote to control.
I chose to use my TV’s original remote for turning the TV on/off and setting the volume, while the IR blaster is controlling my cable box. Very sad to see this issue, which is what I feared the most when I saw the IR blaster was not in the remote.
The ASUS CUBE has to have about the most unique Google TV UI (even LG’s doesn’t beat it). It is completely different from what we are used to, which could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your preferences. If you like fun transitions and visual stimulation you will love it, but if you prefer simplicity you might want to check out Open Launcher (read our review) or go with another device.
You are welcomed by a cubical interface. You can move up/down/left/right by using the D-Pad. Moving up and down will switch categories while moving to the right will let you into your category of choice. Categories include Home, TV & Movies, Games, Social, music, news and other general genres.
I don’t like the fact that the layout adds extra steps to reaching your app tray, or specific apps. The UI does allow you to keep your apps more organized, though. It is customizable so you can add your new apps and organize them in your categories of choice.
Remote Mobile App
There is something that really makes up for the fact that the ASUS CUBE gives up quick access to apps in exchange for their fancy UI. The remote app is simply awesome! No, it will not give you all the features Able Remote offers. In fact, it is not even completely optimized for Voice Search.
So what is it that makes it special? For one, it is much simpler than Able Remote, yet more integrated with your content than the official Google TV Remote app. My favorite part is the “Home” section of the app, which gives you quick access to all your content.
There are App, Video, Music, Photo and All Files folders. After accessing your folder/category, you are presented with a list of content and it can be opened directly from the app. So let’s say you want to open an app but don’t feel like searching through the arguably cumbersome interface. Just open the app list on your smartphone, select your app from the list and voilà. You can even search for content. These features really make up for the other flaws if you prefer using your phone as a remote (it is always backlit, too!).
It also has a regular remote which looks much like the older-generation official Google TV Remote app. For some reason this section is a separate download, but they work together and only one app will appear in your phone’s app tray.
If you move past the UI, you will find that the Marvell Armada 1500 makes the CUBE very snappy. It is easily faster than the VIZIO Co-Star and other similarly-priced Google TVs. I, of course, love that part. With the exception of a load here and there when opening certain apps and features (that happens with all devices), the CUBE is almost always flying.
Now I did run into a few force closes, which is something ASUS will probably fix in future updates. My Live TV app force closed once, and it would not fix itself. I had to unplug the device and plug it back in. That was the only issue I ran across, though. Everything else worked perfectly.
- Good performance
- Simple set-up
- Slim remote with good button feedback
- Aesthetically-pleasing design
- Unique UI
- Great remote app and unique ASUS features
- Remote keys are not backlit
- UI can be confusing and/or annoying for some
- The device is much larger than competing Google TV products
- No number pad in the main remote side
- IR blaster is too weak – must be too close to the sensor, forcing you to use other remotes for secondary devices
Overall rating: 4 out of 5
The ASUS CUBE with Google TV is a great device after you learn its few tricks. It performs very well and I would say it is up there with the Sony NSZ-GS7 in my list of favorites. At $139.99 it is also not incredibly expensive. The device is fast & innovative, the remote is arguably better than many others (not Sony’s), you get all the GTV V3 features and even get to enjoy ASUS’ extras. This includes the cool remote app, 50 GB of free ASUS WebStorage and the unique UI.
In a nutshell, it is very much worth its price. The only issues we can find with it are really not ASUS’ fault. There’s still not a great selection of TV-optimized apps and Google TV definitely needs to evolve further. Considering all, ASUS did a great job. My only real issue is really the IR blaster problem mentioned in the “Set-up” section above. Now, should you buy it?
Google I/O is just around the corner and we are expecting Google TV news. I sincerely doubt it will be a new device, but you never know. I would wait until next month and see what Google has up its sleeve. If you are ready to pull the trigger now this is a great option, though. Especially if you like to deviate from Google’s vanilla experience.
The ASUS CUBE with Google TV is unique, fast, fun and full-featured, but many may be turned off by some of its differences. In a way, the average consumer probably won’t even know it is Google TV and will most likely believe it’s “just another” smart TV ecosystem. You can see all the details in the video review embedded at the top of this article. Also, don’t be shy to ask me anything in the comments if you have any other doubts!