Do you own a trusty old HDTV that's perfectly swell except it doesn't furnish Internet connectivity, which means that your "Dumb TV" cannot directly access streaming content like Netflix, YouTube or Pandora.
Of course, you could buy a "Smart" Blu-ray player with network connections that let you swim in the wide world of streaming content. But if you haven't spun a DVD or Blu-ray in years, who needs a player.
Another option is a dedicated streaming box like ones from Roku or Apple.
But if you really want to streamline your setup while transforming your Internet-deprived TV into a "Smart TV" then the FAVI SmartStick provides a simple solution.
Plug the compact SmartStick into one of your TV's HDMI slots and this Android based device wirelessly accesses your network and a wide assortment of apps that can be downloaded from the Google Play Store and watched on your TV.
Basically, the Wi-Fi enabled SmartStick is self-contained and does all the heavy lifting as far as network connections and streaming are concerned. Your TV just displays what the SmartStick is feeding it.
One major advantage to this system is portability. You can unplug the SmartStick from the TV in the living room and connect it to the one in the bedroom. In the spirit of Paladin, Have Apps - Will Travel.
(Editor's note: The SmartStick comes in two configurations. The appropriately labeled SS-4GB has 4GB of internal storage and sells for $49. The 8GB SS-8GB retails for $79. This review of the 8GB version also can apply to the SS-4GB.)
Out of the Box
Depending on how recessed your TV's side facing connection panel is, when the SmartStick is plugged into an HDMI input on a side panel, it will be visible as it protrudes beyond the back of your TV.
In addition, though diminutive and unassuming, the SmartStick may still be too large to easily fit into your TV's HDMI slot that is located on a panel that is facing down.
To remedy tight fits, FAVI includes an HDMI extender cable that affords some flexibility when attaching the SmartStick.
Also in the box is a miniUSB power cable and a power adapter. You can use the adapter to plug the cable into an electrical outlet. But a much tidier option is to power the SmartStick by connecting the cable to a USB port on the TV, if there is one.
Since the SmartStick is hidden behind the TV and out of line of sight to the remote control, a cable with an IR receiver is part of the package. You plug one end into the SmartStick and then adhere the IR end to the front of the TV.
At the end of the device is a slot for a microSD card where you can add up to 32GB of additional internal storage.
Also on that end is a USB 2.0 port where you can attach a USB flash drive.
If you are planning on navigating around the SmartStick interface, especially if you will be browsing the Internet, I strongly suggest that you save yourself some perturbation and purchase the optional Wireless Keyboard with a built-in TouchPad and a Laser Pointer, which retails for $40.
If you do, the keyboard comes with a fingernail sized RF receiver that you plug into the SmartStick's USB port.
The keys on the keyboard are small and some of the labels are hard to see in low light, but the combination of the touchpad and keyboard are invaluable when you are searching on a site like YouTube and need to enter queries.
The laser pointer is a bit of an odd added feature but handy for pointing out the rude dude across the room who is texting while you are trying to watch your Netflix movie.
Now before discussing the Google Play Store full of apps available with the SmartStick, I need to emphasize that the SmartStick is a wireless device, with no wired connection to fall back on.
For it to perform its magic, you must supply the SmartStick with a fast and reliable wireless network.
Speed is vital especially if you plan to stream high definition content like movies. If you are serious about obtaining good picture quality from streaming video sites, you will need fairly fast and robust bandwidth from your Internet provider, ideally over 10Mbps.
With that said, since the SmartStick is Android based, you have access to the thousands of apps offered in the Google Play Store, though many of them are more appropriate for use on smartphones or tablets. But there are more than enough big screen-centric apps to occupy your viewing hours like Netflix, Hulu Plus, HBO Go and YouTube.
But wait, there's more. To extend the SmartStick's reach, you can download the Plex Server software and install it on to your computer. Plex manages all your media files (movies, music, and photos) in your library, as well as provide its own link to streaming channels like TED and NPR.
When you select the Plex app on the SmartStick interface, those files can be played back on your TV.
With all the content available, it's a bit surprising that the remote control that comes in the box is so minimal.
But if you are simply using it for basic interface navigation, then this palm-sized device provides all the necessary buttons.
I do like that you can toggle between using the direction keys to move around the interface to a mouse-like function. Though if the interface is longer than the TV screen, there is no scroll bar and you need to shift back to using the direction keys.
Of course, it only takes a couple of minutes of seriously trying to search a site to realize why FAVI makes the larger remote with keyboard and TouchPad. It's worth the extra expense, especially if you plan on playing games like Angry Birds.
Assuming that you already have your Wi-Fi network up and running and you have adequately charged the SmartStick, you simply plug the SmartStick into an available HDMI port on your TV, attach the miniUSB cable to a USB port for power, and stick the IR receiver on the front of the TV.
When you turn on your TV, you choose the SmartStick HDMI input and the initial setup screen will appear. The major task here is to connect your Stick to your Wi-Fi network with the proper password.
Once the initial setup is completed, it's time to explore the expanse of apps. If you have an Android smartphone or tablet, this will be familiar territory. If you are Team Apple to the core, you might be better served with an Apple TV box. But if you want to walk on the wild side, then you will need a Google account.
And if you haven't already set up accounts with sites like Netflix or Pandora, you will need to establish those. Once again, all of this data entry is facilitated with the big remote with a keypad.
Most of this process was straightforward. I did run into complications when I tried to sync the Calendar app with my Google Calendar on my computer, but I encountered a similar problem syncing my Samsung Galaxy phone.
If you decide to employ the Plex media server system, you need to download that software on to your computer. It takes some time to set up the Plex file system, which I find a smidge intrusive.
I admire the design of the SmartStick's interface and once I was familiar with the layout of the buttons on the remotes, choosing and using the apps was painless. But I advise that you set aside an evening to load the apps and adjust any settings before you invite your friends over for movie night.
How well the SmartStick performs, especially when streaming HD video content, depends mightily on the speed and reliability of your Wi-Fi network.
If you are going to commit to a wireless network solution in your home, expect to spend some time and money building a capable system. If you don't, expect to scream when you stream.
I did run into a minor glitch once when watching Netflix, but when I tested it on other occasions, I had no problems.
Though I have read that other users occasionally have encountered inconsistent reception. FAVI has supposedly remedied those problems with a software update in February. As always, it is good to keep your system updated.
You can set the SmartStick to output 720 or 1080 video to match your TV's native resolution. Other than that adjustment, the picture quality coming from the SmartStick is definitely reliant on the quality of the stream emanating from the provider.
I did notice that photos on my computer being relayed through the Plex server to the SmartStick and then displayed on the TV were not as clear as the original images. Whether it's caused by a compression that Plex is performing or how the SmartStick handles the file, if you are photographer, you will not be satisfied with this system of viewing your photos.
As for the fidelity of the music playback, that ultimately depends on the quality of the speakers on your TV, which are typically not that great. Also, unless you can turn your TV screen off when just playing music, you are burning up a lot of unnecessary electricity by playing music on your TV.
At $50 for the 4GB version, the SmartStick is a real value if you want to add Smart features to your "Dumb TV."
The $80 price for the 8GB version begins to encroach on the cost of a budget Smart Blu-ray player or a Roku box. But the SmartStick is much more compact and portable.
The SmartStick is unquestionably easier to use if you purchase the Wireless Keyboard with a built-in TouchPad. It costs $40 retail, but I'm currently finding it on Amazon for a slightly more wallet friendly $32.
If you are one of the cord-cutting, apps-loving, stream-swimming new breed that is disrupting the old order of expensive packaged programming bundles spoon-fed by bloated TV networks, then the SmartStick from FAVI allows you to bring Internet connectivity - and all the Google apps - to your streaming-deprived, non-Smart TV.