Flo TV portable television review

If you've ever been on a long journey with kids in the back of the car you'll know that after a while your kids will get restless and that means your journey quickly descends into a nightmare. Qualcomm, the company behind most of the chipsets in smartphones around the world, believe it has the answer with the FLO TV, a spin off from the technology it's already dabbled with in mobile phones from companies like LG and HTC.

The concept is that you get a small portable dedicated device for watching television on without having to plug-in aerials (it's a mobile signal that is transmitted digitally over UHF channel 55), worrying about tuning-in stations or not having anything stored to watch.

The Flo TV device sports a 3.5-inch capacitive touchscreen display, a built-in speaker, 3.5mm headphone jack, and flip-out stand so you can perch it on your desk. Made by HTC, the design of the device is fairly simple. Buttons are kept to a minimum (volume, mute, EPG and battery status) with the main control coming in the guise of that touchscreen display.

The quickest way to access stations to watch is either via the EPG (electronic programme guide) or simply by flicking your finger from top to bottom or bottom to top of the screen. Doing so loads up the next channel for you to watch with the system letting you see what is on (via an EPG message) so you can keep scrolling if you don't fancy the station.

Each programme, just like the EPG on your cable box at home, has information about it and the channels available include full-length simulcast and time-shifted programming from Adult Swim Mobile, CBS Mobile, CNBC, Comedy Central, FOX News Channel, MSNBC, MTV, NBC 2Go and Nickelodeon.  

The stations aren't actually exact copies of the actual stations, a legal wrangle thing we're told, and certain stations aren't running all the time (Adult Swim only comes on from 10pm till 6am for example).

That's the theory and in practice the device quickly lets you watch television on the go, lets you switch through channels easily and lets you quickly shut the kids up with Nickelodeon in the back of the car. The in-built speaker is surprisingly good, if not a little tinny, and will fill a room allowing you to treat this as a radio in your hotel room (there aren't actually any radio stations available).

However, it's not all high fives. The quality isn't as good as we would have liked with the screen resolution somewhat lacking. Then there is the inability to record any programmes, meaning that while you've got used to your PVR and time shifting television in your home you won't be able to do that on the road.

You can set reminders in the EPG, however you've got to have the device on to let it remind you. We are sure it's a legal thing stopping the recording aspect rather than Qualcomm making that decision, but we can't say we wouldn't have wanted this feature.

The final grumble is that while the channel selection is okay it's not amazing, especially considering the Flo TV comes with up to $14.99 monthly subscription on top of the $250 purchase price (you do get the first 6 months free).

The 12 or so channels are a start (Qualcomm promises there will be up to 20 in the future) but for a device aimed at keeping the kids quiet in the back of the car we would have expected more content aimed at children. Nickelodeon is good, but where is Nick Jr, PBS Kids, and all the other crazy channels allowing you to get your fix of Wonder Pets every waking minute of the day?

As for the battery life we managed to get around 5 hours without changing channels too much, pretty much what Qualcomm claims.

 

Verdict

Remember that scene in Wall Street where Michael Douglas is watching TV on a small black and white portable? Well that's what this will enable you to do, but in colour and without the big aerial.

If that's what you want to do, then the Flo TV will be right up your street. Everyone we showed, that wasn't a technology journalist, was impressed. However most did comment on the lack of quality on the 320 x 240 resolution screen.

From a hardware perspective it works, and works well. However while the technology looks and sounds promising, the execution for us isn't there just yet.

A bigger screen, better resolution and more channels are all on our wish list for version 2. For now, take this as a first attempt that could easily be bettered with more content and a higher resolution.