May 28, 2013
The Favi SmartStick is a very good idea in theory: slap Android with a good 10-foot interface on a dongle with an HDMI output, microSD card slot, USB port for accessories, and an IR blaster with remote for navigation, and turn any TV into a smart TV with the power and flexibility of Android. All this for only $49 for the 4 GB model!
The problem with the reality is that the Favi SmartStick is just too underpowered to do anything at high quality.
While the OS is only Ice Cream Sandwich, it’s not a huge deal, as most if not all video apps are going to support ICS. Oh, and getting apps is very easy because the SmartStick comes with Google Play. Thus, the selection is exactly what Google Play offers, so the selection is great. Oh, and a rooted firmware is also available for those who want to tinker.
However, the default interface is good enough as it is, working well as a “10-foot interface” for use on a TV or other large display. As well, the tablet Android interface doesn’t look bad on a TV either, there’s little to no text that seems too small, so as a whole it’s just a good TV experience. This could just be one of those Chinese-made Android dongles found on the likes of eBay and DealExtreme, but the interface was made with care for English speakers. Plex comes preinstalled as well. There’s an included remote that can simulate a mouse cursor, though there’s also an optional handheld keyboard-plus-trackpad available that connects via an RF USB adapter. Most USB keyboards and mice should work, along with some USB ethernet adapters. There’s no Bluetooth, sadly.
So, we have a solid set of software, but what about the hardware? Well, here’s the problem: the processor included with this thing just isn’t up to the mustard for video-watching. All the video I watched with the Favi SmartStick was blurry. This seems to be an issue with the video decoding on the processor with apps and not a network issue, because watching identical services on the same network with other devices showed better quality. Watching an animated program like Bob’s Burgers on Netflix made the blurring especially clear. Whatever’s decoding video on this device, it doesn’t do a good job at it. Video stored on USB devices and SD cards seems to work a lot better, and it handled pretty much any file format I threw at it. Also, the media buttons on the keyboard work with local videos, but not generally with apps.
Games don’t work all that well, either: Sonic the Hedgehog runs at a very slow framerate, though Angry Birds works alright. So, this thing is a casual gaming machine at best.
And really, casual usage is all that this thing is really good for. The video quality is poor but passable, and the unlimited number of services does give it a distinct advantage over boxes where the user is at the whim of the manufacturer to offer the channel. Just for playing local files off of a USB drive, with the built-in remote? Sure, there are worse ways to spend $49. And maybe casual use of other video apps might be worth it. But really, knowing that better is possible from Android makes the Favi SmartStick a real disappointment. Perhaps a future iteration with a better processor will be a more solid recommendation.
The Favi SmartStick is available from Favi for $49 for the 4 GB model, and $79 for the 8 GB. There’s a microSD storage slot, so the 4 GB is likely the smarter option considering how cheap microSD storage is now. The RF keyboard/trackpad is available separately for $39.