Vodafone TV review: A worthy Android TV contender

The Vodafone TV streaming box is surprisingly open and easy to use if you need extra smart TV features.

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Quick Verdict
Vodafone's first streaming box provides access to most, if not all the streaming services you could want, but we're still waiting for the perfect streaming solution.

The good

  • Includes 4K chromecast.
  • Free to air tuner.
  • Simple operation and set-up.

The bad

  • Doesn't include all catch-up services.
  • No local recording.
  • Slow switch from free to air to streaming.

It wasn't exactly a huge surprise when Vodafone launched its own streaming set-top box. It's very much the style of the time, and with Telstra offering up the Telstra TV 2 and Optus having its long-term association with local PVR maker Fetch, Vodafone was very much alone amongst the big three Australian telcos.

The Vodafone TV changes all that, bringing an Android TV-based platform to Vodafone customers. Or indeed anyone's customers, because the Vodafone TV is open enough to work with any ISP as long as you're happy to pay Vodafone for the box itself.

Vodafone TV review

Vodafone TV: Design

Vodafone hasn't reinvented the concept of a small TV streaming box in any particular way with the Vodafone TV. Indeed, it's a rather pedestrian design that, save for the silver Vodafone logo on the top, could be used as a generic stock image of what you might imagine a streaming box might look like.

That's actually no bad thing since ultimately you don't want to be spending too much time staring at the box. The whole point is staring at the TV, instead. The Vodafone TV is small enough to pop away anywhere and, aside from a small base-mounted green light, quickly becomes inconspicuous.

The same could be said of the Vodafone TV's chunky little remote control, which again could well be the model for any generic TV remote you'd care to name. It has dedicated buttons for fast launching of Netflix or YouTube, as well as buttons for Live TV, home and the inbuilt microphone for voice searches.

The Vodafone TV can get a little cable cluttered, thanks to the close arrangement of its HDMI output, TV antenna and ethernet cables. Naturally, you can reduce that a little by using Wi-Fi instead of ethernet connectivity. There's also a USB port on the side for adding any additional content, or optionally side-loading apps, although Vodafone's not likely to give you support for such activities.

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Vodafone TV review

Vodafone TV: Installation

The core requirements for the Vodafone TV are refreshingly open, as befits an Android TV approach. You'll need to pay Vodafone for the Vodafone TV box, of course, but Vodafone's not tying it to a particular subscription product in the way that the somewhat similar Foxtel Now box does. It also doesn't require a Vodafone broadband connection to operate, unlike the Telstra TV 2 that only works on Telstra broadband connections. While Netflix and YouTube are front and centre, you don't have to use them or have a subscription to either service.

As such, the only absolutely mandatory aspect of the installation process is a Google ID, because this is still an Android platform, and you'll need it to load on apps beyond the preinstalled Netflix and YouTube apps. Otherwise, it's a very simple process of plugging in HDMI and power, connecting it all up and handing over network credentials if you're using Wi-Fi to hook up your Vodafone TV.

The only quirk in its set-up that I hit was that it's very aware of the HDCP copy protection features built into the HDMI standard. I had initially planned to have it connected to an HDMI switch for testing, but the Vodafone TV refused to show a clean image that way.

Direct connection to a TV panel solved this neatly, but it's worth bearing in mind if you have a more complex TV set-up, or indeed if you have older components in your home entertainment set-up. If they can't talk HDCP to a level that keeps the Vodafone TV happy, you may have problems. To be fair, this isn't Vodafone's doing as I have seen similar issues with devices such as the Fetch Mighty previously.

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Vodafone TV review

Vodafone TV: Performance

One of the more refreshing aspects of the Vodafone TV's presentation is just how open it is. There's a small row of "Vodafone recommends" apps, covering Netflix and YouTube at the time of writing, but beyond that, you're on your own as far as app installation goes. Frankly, the "Vodafone recommends" section feels like a bit of a waste of screen space because they're the same apps you already have as buttons on the remote control anyway.

It's quite the change from the Foxtel Now box, which presents Foxtel material first and foremost even if you don't want it to, or the more locked-down or limited natures of a Fetch box or the Telstra TV 2.

However, that's not to say that it's open to absolutely every streaming service you might want. Foxtel Now is notably absent, as is 9Now and SBS on Demand, although it's easy enough to locate the apps for iView, TenPlay and 7Plus. Again, that's not Vodafone's fault because it's a matter of app developers making Android TV 7.1.1 compatible apps, though it is a somewhat limiting factor.

Somewhat limiting in this case because, like the Foxtel Now box, the Vodafone TV is also a fully capable Chromecast device as well, meaning any service that supports casting to Chromecast can send its signals to the Vodafone TV with ease.

There's something that feels almost devious sending an episode of Game of Thrones to the Vodafone TV via an Apple iPad, but it's all above board and supported, so why not?

Vodafone's open design even extends to applications that are often associated with less-than-copyright-friendly apps that Foxtel blocks on the Foxtel Now box, such as Plex or Kodi. What you do with them, naturally, is up to you.

It's not just a question of streaming apps, with a number of other entertainment and information-based apps available for the Android TV platform, including games. Entertainingly, 3DMark will run on the Vodafone TV, albeit only with the Ice Storm Extreme benchmark.

I couldn't resist the urge to benchmark, so I can tell you (rather uselessly) that it scored 3,839, putting it in similar company to the Motorola E4 or Nokia 3 smartphones. It's not super-capable in the 3D graphics department, but then it doesn't really need to be for the limited range of Android TV games.

The Vodafone TV also includes a single in-line TV antenna socket, so you can tune in your locally available digital TV stations. Tuning is easy enough and well guided through the user interface. Predictably, switching to and from the live feed to streaming applications can be rather slow.

You're also limited in EPG terms to just the "now and next" information inherent in the broadcast signal. Like every other single tuner small box, Vodafone TV is only interested in showing you current content, with no onboard support for pausing, rewinding or recording live TV. It's a streaming box, not a PVR, and as such Live TV almost feels like a pasted-on extra.

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Vodafone TV review
At $120 outright, the Vodafone TV is a mostly open TV streaming box that will deliver a solid, if not exactly spectacular viewing experience. It's not hard to see it as Vodafone grabbing a generic OEM streaming box and putting a Vodafone logo onto it, but that's not an absolute condemnation if the prospect of a configurable TV box appeals to you.

Vodafone may have come late to the streaming party, but in its first take on a streaming box, it has delivered a quality result.

Vodafone TV: Pricing and availability

Vodafone TV review
Vodafone Australia sells the Vodafone TV for $120 outright, or for $5 per month on a 24 month broadband contract.

At the time of writing, if you do bundle the Vodafone TV with either the Essential Plus or Premium NBN plans from Vodafone, you'll also score a 12 month Netflix subscription, worth at least $120. Or in other words, if you're planning on getting an NBN connection through Vodafone and could use some free Netflix, it's a bit of a no-brainer.

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Vodafone TV: Alternatives

The Australian streaming TV box space is a busy one, and you do have alternative choices to consider.

The Apple TV 4K is still our favourite in terms of simple interface and app compatibility, although like the Vodafone TV, you've got to use AirPlay to get services like Foxtel Now up and running on it.

Within the telco space, the Telstra TV 2 does offer Netflix, Stan, Foxtel Now and all the local catch-up services on the one box without Cast/Airplay requirements, but it's only operable on a Telstra broadband connection, and has limited access to the Roku app store.

Foxtel has its Android TV box, the Foxtel Now box that (not shockingly) does include Foxtel Now and Android apps, but in a locked-down environment based on Foxtel's own contractual arrangements with copyright holders. However, it is slightly less expensive than the Vodafone TV at just $99.

If you want the full PVR experience, consider a Fetch box such as the Fetch Mighty, or its smaller sibling, the Fetch Mini. That's a platform with inbuilt Netflix, Stan, hayu and YouTube app access, as well as Australian catch-up services, but there's no "app store" there for additional functionality.

Finally, if you're happy to cast from another device to your TV, you could consider Google's Chromecast devices to add smart functions to your TV.

Vodafone TV: What the other reviewers say

SMH"If you can live without built-in Foxtel then the Vodafone TV has a lot to offer in Australian lounge rooms."N/A
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Product Name
Vodafone TV
Up to 4K
Video connectivity
Internet connectivity
Operating system
Android TV 7.1.1
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