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There's nothing fab about a phablet TV remote

Once upon a time the idea of a television relying on Google's Chromecast for content and shipping with a 6-inch Android remote might have excited me. Because for the most part television manufacturers have tried too hard to be UX designers an ended up making TVs that send me running for a set-top box as quickly as possible.

But Chromecast and Android? I love those things.

So when Vizio said "Hey, we want to send you this TV — the M50-D1 ..." my ears perked up. (For the record: This is a loaner they sent for review, review it I did, and now I'll have to figure out what to do with it.)

But things have changed a little bit between the time the set arrived, and the time you're watching this video and reading these words. First and foremost is that this is a 2016 model, and the 2017 sets revert to something a little more traditional.

Let's rap.

Truth be told, I rather enjoy the idea of a dumb display. I've never really been a fan of built-in apps. Do they work well? Will they ever be updated? It's a crapshoot, really. I'll rely on set-top boxes, mostly. The NVIDIA Shield TV with Android TV is great, Apple TV is excellent, and Roku is my recommended box for anyone not locked to either of those those ecosystems. (And I just recently fell in love with HDHomerun for a TV tuner.)

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Vizio tablet remote

But there's still something rather odd about relying so much on Chromecast. Or maybe it's just that this thing's trying to make me believe I have to rely on Chromecast. Because really it's making me rely on having some sort of set-top box. Because for as great as Chromecast is as a streaming protocol, it's not great if you're the type who likes to lean back, remote in hand, and go all stick-and-throttles on your viewing experience.

That's where the 6-inch tablet comes in, of course. On one hand it's superfluous. There's something like a 99 percent chance you either run Android or iOS in your house, and both of those handle Casting things just fine, and so you don't really need another device. But you can't just sell a TV without apps and assume the user will figure things out. And, so, Android remote.

But tablets and phones suck as in-hand remotes. You have to look down at them. You can't navigate by feel.

And you know what? Vizio must have come to that conclusion, too. Because it's gone back to more full-featured remote controls in its 2017 line and has ditched the Android tablet altogether. The other thing is that the newer sets have apps built in. (And this older model apparently will see them return in a software update.)

So. We now have a decent mid-range display. (By the way, the LED panel itself is about what I'd expect for something in the $800 range. It's good, but not great, and the picture falls off a little bit as the viewing angle increases.) It's overcomplicated by a lack of build-in apps and the inclusion of a full Android remote. (Also by the way: If you don't want to have your full Google account laying around the living room for anyone to pick up, be sure to lock down this tablet, or don't bother signing in in the first place.) And we have Vizio going back to something more traditional.

Can't say I blame 'em.

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13 Comments
  • You're right where I'm at Phil, but here's dilemma without a solution. I absolutely love YoutubeTV. Even as a sports guy, it has me ditching DirecTV. And controlling it with a phone and Chromecast is great, UNLESS you've got guests/visitors. Giving up my phone for the day is not an option. A buttoned remote won't solve the problem as there are no TV apps for YoutubeTV. So I'm looking for a 6-8inch table to leave in the main room to serve only as a whole home automation solution for guests (Nest, WeMo, Netflix/YoutubeTV etc). The problem is that while most tablets meet the minimum requirements for YoutubeTV, the app is not available for them. The dream - 7 inch tablets with Google Assistant and the ability to operate all home automation with either voice or touch screen.
  • Can't do YouTube TV through NVIDIA Shield or something?
  • In classic Google Fashion, there is no Android TV app for YouTubeTV yet available.... Chromecast/Google Cast only. So you can cast to an NVIDIA Shield, but not operate without a secondary device. It's early days, I know....
  • I miss the iR blaster on my S6. But other than that, an actual remote is much better than a tablet or "app". Even using the Samsung APP on my S8 to control my Samsung TV, leaves a lot to be desired for me.
  • I have yet to find a better remote than my Harmony Elite. It controls my entertainment center as well as most of my smart home stuff.
  • Phone and Tablet aren't my cup of tea for tv control. I thought the Xbox did a decent job at the beginning though. I'd just walk in the room and say "Xbox On" and both it and the tv would turn on. Then to open YouTube per se, I'd just say "go to YouTube." If watching a movie and needed a bathroom break, "Xbox, Pause." So, I think a remote with voice integration is the best bet.
  • I have had a 2016 Vizio P since launch. When I first got it, the transition to a tablet remote for watching Netflix was annoying but I got use to it and now prefer browsing Netflix on the tablet over scrolling through stuff via Netflix on my Tivo. Phil did you test out using a Google Home as the remote to Play, Pause, FF/RW? If not I recommend it because it makes it so much easier. I have become so accustom to using voice control that when I am watching regular cable on my Tivo, I will sometimes try to give the voice command to pause :P
  • I am not a huge fan of Vizio. Picked up an M-Series for a decent deal end of 2016. I've found it has some bugs with it. Seems to constantly lose internet connection, and when switching from one component to another, I occasionally have to turn off/on the TV for it to figure out there is a signal.
  • I have an old Nexus7 for a guest tablet for nest and casting stuff, but with the addition of my shieldTV I barely gets used anymore. I really prefer the on-screen interfaces. It's also the one thing holding me back from hulu live and YoutubeTV. On another note, which HDHomerun works best? I tried the connect and it failed miserably. Kept dropping channels, no audio on channels that did stream, and most of the time I just got channels unavailable. This happens on mobile, the shield via live channels app, and the HDhomerun windows app that is on a wired desktop. The 100M port on the HDhomerun feels underpowered. Maybe a just had a bad unit.
  • Having a phone or tablet as the only way to control what I watch is definitely not an ideal solution for me either... Which is why I don't have chromecasts all over my house. However I really do like the ability to cast and having that option... just not as the only option. For this reason is why I prefer Android TV and Fire TV devices.
  • Hey Dad take the Misfits shirt off, you werent there.
  • I love your reviews but as soon as you said "no over the air tuner" I stopped.
  • Agree to disagree. Yes, a full touchscreen device makes it more difficult to do things like turn up the volume without looking. However, you neglected to mention that the included basic remote that you get with the 2016 Vizio TVs can be used during playback for things like volume control in the same way as a traditional remote. The phone/tablet interface is used primarily for content discovery and selection which only happens intermittently throughout the viewing session. Plus, with traditional built-in TV apps you cannot browse for content and view content at the same time. The case paradigm allows and excels at this.