Favi SmartStick Review

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Pros: Access to Google Play store; Smooth streaming performance; Small, portable design; Affordable

Cons: No Bluetooth; Poorly designed user interface; Finicky remote; Single-core processor

Verdict: The $49 Favi SmartStick can turn your TV into a Google Play TV, but this product could use more refinement before it's ready for prime time.

The Favi SmartStick isn't just your average Android stick. Positioned as a one-stop entertainment hub -- complete with a remote control -- it's ready to turn any TV into a smart TV. Outfitted with Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich and a user interface designed specifically for the big screen, this $49 device can stream content, play games and is small enough to easily fit in a pocket or bag. Find out if this device can truly entertain on the cheap.

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Design

The Favi is roughly the size of a pack of gum, if the gum had a male HDMI connector sticking out one end. Measuring 3.6 x 1.3 x 0.6 inches, this device is fairly discreet when plugged into most televisions, depending on the location of the TV's HDMI port.

The Favi's size makes it perfect for travel, as it can easily be stuck in a back pocket, although you'll also need to bring a miniUSB cord with you in order to power the device. The SmartStick is plastic and completely white, with numerous vents that allow the SmartStick to breathe when things start to heat up.

Aside from the male HDMI connector, there's also a USB port for connecting a keyboard or mouse; a microSD slot; a miniUSB port for charging; and a small jack for the included infrared receiver. The SmartStick also has built-in 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, allowing for Web browsing and media streaming.

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One feature that's sorely missing is Bluetooth, an omission that forces users to utilize the USB port rather than natively connecting to wireless devices. In order to use more than one accessory, like a keyboard and a webcam, you have to attach a separate USB hub, because the device only has one USB port.

Setup

To set up the Favi SmartStick, we plugged the device into a 23-inch external monitor and connected the miniUSB power cord via the included AC adapter. Next, we plugged in our keyboard's USB dongle, which allowed us to control the device during the initial setup.

An installation wizard launched immediately, and we walked through the process of choosing our language, location, date and time. We also connected to our wireless network during this setup process, although this step could be completed at a later time. The final step was to adjust the display to fit to the very edges of the monitor, which we did using the arrow keys. The entire process took less than two minutes, and then we were ready to play.

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Remote Control

Included with the Favi SmartStick is a 4.75 x 2-inch remote control and IR receiver, so you can navigate the Favi's interface while sitting on your couch. In addition to directional arrows and an Enter button, there's a Home button, a Search button, page up and down, a button to toggle the mouse on and off, a Menu button, a Back button and media controls.

The remote control has all the buttons and features needed to completely control the Favi SmartStick, but it's definitely not the way we wanted to interact with this device. The remote wasn't very accurate, and sometimes we had to push buttons a couple of times before it would register. Sometimes, arrow keys would be misinterpreted too, moving left or right when we were actually pressing the up button. Ultimately, we preferred connecting a keyboard and mouse.

Interface

The Favi SmartStick's interface is built on top of Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich. A small status bar on the top-left side of the screen displays the date, time, Wi-Fi signal strength and connected peripherals. To the right, across the top of the screen, are five tabs: Apps, a Web browser, Video, Music, Photos and Settings.

Apps and content within each of these folders are listed in a grid underneath the top navigation bar. The Apps section is where we spent most of our time, as it was populated with YouTube, Plex, Netflix and Google Play Movies & TV. Content only appeared in the Video and Music sections if they were loaded on an SD memory card.

Unfortunately, everything is organized alphabetically, so our Apps section was a bit unwieldy. We missed the ability to organize apps ourselves. Roku 3, for example, lets you put your favorite streaming services right at the top for easy access. It also would have been nice to be able to organize apps in folders, allowing us to put all games or utilities into their own sections, separate from our media apps.

However, we liked the interface for the Browser section. There's a dedicated omnibar, which supports both URL and search query entry. Below this bar, you'll also find tile bookmarks to several popular websites, such as Google, Picasa, Yahoo!, MSN and Twitter. We wished we could have customized these bookmarks, but we couldn't figure out how to change, delete or move these tiles.

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Though this user interface is much better for TV use than the stock Android interface you'll find on other Android sticks, the experience is far inferior to that of such devices as the Roku, Apple TV and Boxee.

Content and Apps

The SmartStick provides full access to the Google Play store, which offers a wide selection of apps, movies, TV shows and music.

The Favi SmartStick keeps it fairly simple in terms of preinstalled apps, including just Plex, TV Remote and TuneIn Radio, in addition to the default Android apps. Plex is especially useful, as it allows users to stream content directly from a notebook to their television. We were able to install the Plex Server application on our MacBook Air and play any video directly on the SmartStick, with encoding happening on the fly.

In addition to giving users access to the plethora of applications available in the Google Play store, Favi encourages the side-loading of applications by including AppInstaller, an application that scans the external SD card for .APK files.

Performance

Powered by a single core 1-GHz ARM Cortex-A9 processor with 1GB of RAM, the Favi SmartStick mostly fulfills its duties as a media-streaming device. We loaded a trailer for "Life of Pi" onto an SD Card and navigated to the Video section. The movie started playing immediately, with completely smooth playback at 720p quality.

Streaming "Ice Age" in the Google Play Movies & TV app was also fast and smooth, with no issues loading or watching the movie. Unfortunately, although Favi touts 1080p support, changing the setting to the higher definition did nothing.

We had no problem playing the Jet Ski game "Riptide GP." Everything was smooth sailing as we crashed through the waves and raced around the track. When we tried the more demanding "Dead Trigger" shooting game, things got a bit choppy, and we noticed some dropped frames and lag.

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The SmartStick didn't fare as well on synthetic benchmarks. On AnTuTu, a test that measures overall performance, the Favi SmartStick scored 2,932. The Android Mini PC RK3066, which has a 1.6-GHz, dual-core Rockchip RK3066 CPU, scored a lower 2,629. However, the Zealz GK802 (quad-core 1.2-GHz Freescale CPU) scored a much higher 8,872.

On An3DBench, which measures graphics performance, the Favi scored 6,733. The Android Mini PC RK3066 clocked a higher 7,631 on this test, and the Zealz GK802 came in at 7,395.

Accessories

For $39.99, users can purchase a wireless keyboard and touchpad -- an all-in-one unit for controlling the SmartStick. The unit is roughly the size of a television remote control and features a full QWERTY keyboard with a 1.5 x 1.5-inch touchpad on the right. The unit includes a USB dongle, which is used to wirelessly connect the keyboard controller to the SmartStick.

The keyboard has several useful features. There are dedicated Android buttons, including Home, Menu and Back, and the entire keyboard can be backlit with the push of a button. There are also dedicated media-control buttons and volume controls above the numeric row of the keyboard. Additionally, there's a laser pointer built in to the right edge, which could help if you're giving a presentation from the SmartStick (or entertaining your cats).

Although this keyboard controller was better than the included remote control, it was still quite uncomfortable to use. Typing is difficult due to the small key size, and we had to stretch our right thumb over the touchpad to type. Controlling the cursor was also difficult due to the small size of the touchpad and the placement of the left and right click keys, which are on the other side of the device.

We decided to switch to a full-size keyboard and mouse after about 10 minutes with the keyboard controller, which was a lot more comfortable and allowed us to control the SmartStick with significantly more speed.

We were also able to connect a third-party USB webcam to the SmartStick, allowing for video chatting over Skype. There was no setup required; we just plugged the webcam into the stick's USB port, and it worked. However, our image looked really blocky when we viewed the video preview through the SmartStick, and the image was even blurrier on the computer on which we placed the Skype call.

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Configurations

There are two different versions of the Favi SmartStick: a 4GB model, which costs $49.99, and an 8GB model, which costs $79.99. Both models can be expanded by an additional 32GB with a microSD card.

Verdict

The Favi SmartStick helps bring Android to the big screen. We appreciate the device's small size and Google Play access for apps and content, but the lack of Bluetooth and poorly designed user interface left us feeling like this was a second-class set-top box. A zippier dual-core CPU also might help. Users who want a more immersive entertainment hub will be happier with the $99.99 Roku 3, but the $49 Favi SmartStick is a less expensive and more portable option.

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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
CPU single core 1-GHz ARM Cortex-A9
RAM Included 1GB
RAM Upgradeable
Storage Drive Size 4GB
Ports IR
Ports miniUSB
Ports USB
Display Resolution
Front-Facing Camera Resolution
USB Ports 1
Card Readers microSD
Size 3.6 x 1.3 x 0.6 inches
Weight 1.3 ounces
Company Website http://www.favientertainment.com/