Feeling early flat-screen TV adopters pain, Samsung have crafted the HomeSync, an Android powered set-top box that adds smarts and media savvy to older TVs.
Look & Feel
Looks-wise, there isn't much to the HomeSync. It's a compact piece of hardware that also happens to be pretty easy on the eyes thanks to its brushed aluminium front panel. On its side it has two buttons - a power button and a function key (used for pairing non-NFC equipped phones).
Its rear features two USB 3.0 ports which makes adding storage to the already ample 1Tb on board dead easy. It also makes transferring files a complete doddle too.
There's HDMI, micro-USB, Ethernet plus two USB 3.0 ports and SPIDIF optical audio output. In short, there's plenty of connectivity and expandability options. Under its hood the HomeSync has a 1.7GHz dual-core Exynos processor along with 2GB of RAM and 1TB of storage. WiFi 802.11b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.0 is also baked in.
Using the HomeSync with a smartphone starts by downloading the HomeSync app from the Google Play then pairing your smartphone with the HomeSync. For smartphones without NFC, you can also pair using the downloaded app. For those who own an NFC-equipped Samsung smartphone, pairing is as easy as tapping it (with NFC enabled) on the HomeSync's top.
You can use your smartphone to navigate HomeSync menus in one of three ways:
Use a the smartphone HomeSync app in pointer mode with on screen cursor controls, or use its touchscreen as a touchpad. You can also mirror the HomeSync's display on your smartphone.
Sharing content with the HomeSync from a smartphone proved to be so idiot-proof that even I managed it. After finding a photo or video on my phone, I tapped the HomeSync icon (which on the top menu bar) which saw it stored on the HomeSync for later viewing.
I was also asked if I wanted to share content in a public folder or put it in a password protected folder (8 users can have HomeSync accounts for up to 6 smartphones each, making it ideal for family use).
Backing up photos/videos to the HomeSync works over both WiFi and mobile data (which was pretty nifty when I was out and about - even if it dent my mobile data allowance).
When it came to media playback, the only thing missing on the HomeSync was a kitchen sink. Its media player app worked with H.264, MPEG-4, VC-1, VP8, DivX, WMV. I was also pleased to see that it handled lossless audio formats such as FLAC alongside lossy audio formats such as MP3, WMA and AAC.
The HomeSync's media smarts don't stop there either. Its YouTube app let me catch some video and thanks to my ISPs (Slingshot) proxy, I was also able to check out Hulu.
Running Android 4.2 also meant I was able to download apps and games - playing Angry Birds or Bejewelled on my TV was pretty cool.
If by now you're thinking I was pretty impressed with the HomeSync, you'd be right, I was. There are some gotchas that do need mentioning though.
I tried installing the HomeSync app on a Nexus 5, but it wouldn't install saying there were incompatibilities. Other non-Samsung handsets gave me the similar results. This could be a show-stopper for those who don't own a Samsung smartphone as the HomeSync doesn't come with its own remote.
Another gotcha is the price. At $349, it seems like good value - especially considering its spec. But cheaper and more widely compatible Android HDMI equipped set-top boxes can be had for less.
Limitations aside, the HomeSync was a pretty nifty media player that added useful smarts to older TVs. If you're the proud owner of a Samsung Galaxy and want to extend the functionality of your phone, and get a smoking hot media player, the HomeSync really is the business. For those not aboard the Samsung bus, its appeal may however be limited.
Connectivity: Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n (dual band)
OS: Android 4.2.2
Dimension: (H x W x D): 183.3 x 135.8 x 29.9mm
Formats: (Video) MPEG4, H.264, H.263, 3GP, WMV, AVI,
(Audio) MP3, ACC, M4a, 3GPP, WAV, OGG, MP4
Video output: 1080p
Chipset: Exynos Dual Core Processor (1.7GHz)
Connectors: USB 3.0 2 Port