Last week, Hisense, a Chinese electronics company, released their first Google TV device. The Hisense Pulse is the second Google TV set top box to come in at $99 this year. As time goes on, Google TV keeps getting better and better, slowly moving from tech gadget to something you’d want your mom to have in her living room. Google TV has improved quite a bit over the past 2 years since the launching of the Logitech Revue, the first Google TV device. Is Google TV ready for the masses? I believe so. Let’s have a look at the Pulse, the best Google TV set top box yet.
In comparison, the Pulse has the same CPU, GPU, amount of RAM and the same amount of local storage that comes with the Vizio Co-Star. In fact, the devices are very similar in form factor coming in at just 10ths of an inch difference in some places and about an once in weight. However, unlike the Co-Star and similar to other Google TV devices, the infrared blasters are located at the set top box, whereas the Co-Star has them in the remote.
The remote of the Hisense Pulse is quite impressive. It’s teardrop design feels completely natural in your hand while using it as a remote and more importantly, while using it as a keyboard. The bulge or thicker part of the teardrop is on the right side or bottom depending on how you’re using the remote. If you’re right handed, you’ll love this, sorry lefties. Holding the remote in landscape style for typing as I mentioned feels almost completely natural as this keyboard remote has no bulk unlike other Google TV remotes. The remote trackpad has a slight texture to it, making it easier to glide your finger across, controlling a cursor on your screen. Besides form factor, the Pulse’s remote wins over other Google TV remotes as it comes with a built-in microphone. However, the mic doesn’t work yet. This functionality will be enabled when Google TV version 3, which includes voice commands and search, rolls out to the Hisense Pulse in mid January.
The Hisense Pulse uses the stock Google TV interface, the setup of the Pulse was pretty straightforward and easy from my personal experiences. There are a few quirks making their rounds though.
If you have multiple devices that need to be controlled by the Pulse remote or your TV and Pulse set top box are far apart, you might be in for a minor headache.The IR blaster itself only has one emitter, making placement key as well as frustrating for many users. You’ll want to place the IR blaster in a place where it has a fairly straight line of sight towards your TV and cable box. If you can’t manage this, you might be able to solve all your problems by picking up a dual IR emitter, they’re cheap. You’ll want to make sure your IR blaster is all the way plugged into the back of the set top box as well. Trust me on this one, I went through 112 TV codes before I pushed the IR blaster connector in a bit more, until I felt and heard it click.
Another issue seems to be surrounding input and output devices. According to a Hisense engineer, the Pulse wasn’t designed to control anything beyond your TV and cable/satellite receiver. Those that have audio receivers (AVR) might struggle finding compatible remote codes. There’s also been a few reports of users having trouble locating their cable provider during their TV configuration. For example: if you live in zip code 12345 and your cable provider has a zip code of 12346, you’ll want to use their zip code and not yours. Normally, we see these types of minor issues getting resolved in future updates as more compatible devices are added and databases are tweaked.
Besides the standard Google Play Store, Music, Movies & TV, PrimeTime, and Spotlight apps you’ll find the Hisense Pulse comes with a bunch of useful apps installed as well. As this is a non-skinned, stock experience device, some might not like Hisense’s take on this. However, Google TV is still a fairly new and growing platform, including these apps help you get the most out of your Google TV. Included you’ll find: Crackle (just a Chrome shortcut), Flixter, Netflix, NY Times, Quello, Redux TV, SnagFilms, Thuuz Sports, Twonky, WillowTV and Zynga Poker.
A few of my favorites that weren’t included on the Pulse by default are SocialEyez, Able Remote, and Plex. Recently, Amazon Instant Video was released for Google TV devices running Google TV version 3. Once the Pulse gets upgraded in mid-January, I’ll add that app to my favorites as well. The Pulse also launches with the newly released PrimeTime mini-Guide which makes finding content on TV extremely easy and fun.
The Good: The Hisense Pulse is the best Google TV set top box to date. Not only does the remote feel elegant and work without typing stutters plaguing other devices, the remote is future proof, launching with a built in microphone. With Google TV devices there’s historically been quite a bit of lag. While the last round of updates to the Co-Star removed nearly all noticeable lag, the Pulse still seems to be slightly faster. I’m not sure if this is due to Vizio’s skin on top of the Co-Star or not. Either way, the Pulse just feels faster and I can use it without frustration.
Since we like to talk about root here at Android Authority, it should be mentioned that the Hisense Pulse can easily be rooted with a few very simple ADB commands. At launch, the Pulse’s bootoader is unlocked allowing an ADB root shell. All you have to do is simply push over the SU binary and Superuser.apk files and you’re nearly set.
The Bad: It’s hard to build a device to suit all users, especially for under $100. If your entertainment center is bigger or different than most, you may have to put a little extra time into your setup, placing the IR blasters, or purchase another one.
Should you buy it? That’s up to you. The Hisense Pulse is cheap enough at sub $100 to be within impulse buying range. If you’re currently rocking a Logitech Revue and hoping for the latest version of Google TV or Amazon Instant, you’re going to have to purchase a newer device. CES 2013 is right around the corner where we might see additional Google TV devices from ASUS, Netgear, and new TV’s from LG. Who knows when they will be available for purchase though. The Hisense Pulse is available right now at Amazon.com.