Modern TVs are hyper-connected, with the likes of Samsung packing a whole range of functionality into its smart TVs.
For many, the relationship with the TV is all about the remote control and the TV's native apps, but there's a whole world of interaction with your smartphone too.
Samsung is building itself an ecosystem, with the smartphone at the very core, but with the TV at the heart. These two categories of devices dominate your time at home: the TV is your biggest and best screen, it's where you relax and consume content, but your smartphone is your most intimate device, always in your hand and vying for eye time too.
Here's how Samsung offers you more when these devices are working in tandem. For this feature, we've used the very latest 2017 Samsung QLED TV with the Samsung Galaxy S8+, with a range of helpers along the way.
Samsung Connect is a newly branded hub, appearing on the Samsung Galaxy S8 as a centre point for your connected home devices. It's closely tied into Samsung's connected home arm at SmartThings, but also to other connected Samsung devices.
In addition, Samsung Connect is a home for your Bluetooth devices, listing everything you have connected to your phone and giving you individual control, replacing the Quick Connect option of older devices.
It's also somewhere that your Samsung TV will show up. We're using the Samsung QLED Q7F, a new 2017 television, but this will also work with some of Samsung's older smart TVs too, like the 2016 KS models.
From the Samsung Connect app you can tap on your detected TV and once you've accepted the connection request on your TV's display, you'll be given a controller on your phone and a whole load of other functions.
This controller reflects the physical smart remote that comes with the TV (for the QLED at least), giving you volume and channel controls, guide access, the home button to open your TV's hub, four-way controller and pause controls. There's also a "more" button that gives you other clever options, like the ability to turn off your connected set-top box.
At the bottom of the controller you get a range of other options - browse content, mirror screen, view TV on phone and play TV sound on phone.
Those first two options - browse content and mirror screen rely on a separate system called Samsung Smart View, which we'll look at in a second.
The latter two options offer a function that’s available between Samsung phones and TVs for a while. To save confusion, we'll deal with these individually below.
Top tip: You don't have to open the Samsung Connect app itself to access these functions. If your phone and TV are connected, you'll be able to access those controls directly from a banner in the notifications tray.
It's worth adding that we've found Samsung Connect to be really solid when it comes to controlling the TV. We've found the connection stable, so it's a useful feature when your remote is out of reach.
How to watch your Samsung TV on your Samsung phone
If you're lucky enough to have both a Samsung Smart TV and a Samsung Galaxy S phone (compatibility depending, we're using a Q7F and Galaxy S8+, but we've done this with the KS9500 and Galaxy S7 before) then it's possible to watch your TV on your phone.
This is ideal for those who want to move to a different room without missing out - perhaps going to the bathroom - or if you're watching a movie with the family and you have to cook dinner and don't want to miss out.
If you've got Samsung Connect on your phone, as we said above, there's the option to watch TV through that app. You simply have to tap that option and the TV will be mirrored on your phone. There's a minor delay, as the TV content is sent to your phone, so it's slightly out of phase.
If you have an older phone, you might find this option in Quick Connect instead, although we suspect that will be phased out so Samsung Connect becomes the sole terminology used.
The word mirrored is important because you can't watch something else, this isn't a fancy alternative to Sky Q or EE TV's multi-tuner options, you all have to watch the same thing. If you're watching football on the toilet and someone changes it to Pokemon XYZ on Netflix, that's what you'll be watching. That said, you can watch anything that's showing on your TV - streaming content, Xbox gaming, whatever.
It's not only watching you can do, however, as you get controls too. This is where it becomes important to set-up your TV and connected devices correctly. As the latest QLED TVs will control attached devices, you can use your mirrored phone to change channels on a connected set-top box, for example to switch your YouView box to a different channel. Now that's clever.
How to listen to your Samsung TV sound on your phone
This is a popular option for those who want to watch something noisy after hours, perhaps when the kids are in bed or when you don't want to disturb anyone else. It lets you watch on your TV, but through a connected pair of headphones you can listen privately.
Again, this now falls into the Samsung Connect app, so on the Galaxy S8, it's just a case of tapping that option from Samsung Connect and the audio track is sent over.
It's pretty good and having used this option, we found that the lip sync was good enough. It's not quite as connected as watching through the TV's own speakers or a sound system, but it certainly works.
Samsung Smart View
We've mentioned Smart View a couple of times and this is something that appears two-fold on Samsung phones:
Smart View/Screen Mirroring in Quick Settings
Samsung has offered screen mirroring for some time. In older devices this is simply called screen mirroring, but in the Galaxy S8 it's now called Smart View. In both cases you'll find an option in the Quick Settings (the swipe-down area of shortcuts) and you can then send your phone content to your TV.
This is a quick and simple option for mirroring, with everything on your phone appearing on the TV. The quality is designed for convenience so it's not great, but it works with everything, so any content on your phone will appear on your TV - photo albums, streaming video, websites, the lot.
In some cases it's integrated into Samsung apps too. For example, open the Samsung Gallery and you'll have the option to send that directly to your connected TV.
Bonus point: for those using the Galaxy S8 or S8+, you'll know that you now have an 18.5:9 display and your TV is 16:9. Fear not. Within your phone window you'll see the settings cog. Tap here and you can change the aspect of the content while you're casting, so it fills the TV properly. Remember to hold you phone in landscape, naturally.
Smart View the app
Here's where it gets really confusing, because Samsung offers an app called Smart View too. This is a universal app that's been around for a few years for all Android devices as well as iOS devices, providing connected functions for those using Samsung phones as well as those not using Samsung phones. We've tried it on the Google Pixel XL and iPhone 5S with the QLED Q7F and this is how you get controller functions without having access to Samsung Connect.
Confused? There's no need to be. If you have a Samsung phone, you'll only need the Smart View app to enable the browse content option we mentioned above, if you don't have a Samsung phone, you'll need to download the app to get a smartphone controller for your TV.
The browse content option presents you with a selection of thumbnails for the apps installed on your TV, e.g., Play Movies, Netflix, Amazon Video and basically launch those apps and control them. That means you can use your phone to open Amazon Video on your TV, select what you want to watch and hit play.
You can also browse through content here, so select the show you want to watch on a particular service, before hitting the button and getting your TV to play it.
That's great, but it's not that simple. Unlike Samsung Connect, the Smart View app is a poor performer. Even on Samsung's new flagship S8+ smartphone, the app frequently disconnects and then refuses to reconnect. The same applies to the iOS version, to the extent that it's more frustrating than useful.
But that's not the end of the world, it's just a limitation and it's difficult to tell if it's the TV, the phone, the app or your everything that's causing the problem.
Using casting with your Samsung TV
So Smart View (the app, not the mirroring part from Samsung phones) is a bit of a dog, but it's not the only option you have for taking control of your Samsung TV with your phone. There's a neat casting option too that you can use for some applications.
Let's make this point first: Samsung does not support the Google Cast protocol, you can't send everything that's Google Cast enabled to your TV, but some services use a different protocol called DIAL.
The good thing about DIAL is that it's integrated into the cast button at the top of an app, exactly the same as if you were using a Chromecast. The apps that currently work in this way include Netflix and YouTube (and not just with Samsung TVs, but with a whole world of connected devices).
The advantage they offer is that you can browse the content on your phone, find what you want, hit the button and play it on your TV. Unlike mirroring, the TV then picks up the online stream, retrieving the highest quality it can support. For example, cast Luke Cage on Netflix and while it would be in HD on your phone, it plays in 4K HDR on your TV.
While Google has pushed its own casting option and that's compatible with loads of services if you have a Chromecast, as it stands, Netflix and YouTube are your only option on your Samsung TV out of the box.
What if you've got a Chromecast already?
Well you're in luck if you've got a Chromecast already for one main reason: automatic HDMI switching. If your Chromecast is connected to your Samsung TV's One Connect box, then when you cast something to it, the TV will automatically switch to that input so you can start playing without needing to use a remote control, without having to change input or anything else. Again, Chromecast will select the highest quality stream it can play, and off it goes.
So course, Samsung's smart TVs offer pretty much all the apps you might want to cast, in which case a Chromecast isn't really worth buying, just so you don't have to use the remote control. Chromecast is a better addition to older dumb TVs, to widen their skillset, but that said, if you're used to using Chromecast with your phone, then it's still a slick experience, especially with the new Chromecast Ultra. Just remember to switch on the HDMI UHD Color option in the settings menu.
What about Bixby?
Good question. Bixby is Samsung's new AI assistant. Launched on the Galaxy S8, Bixby has plans to span all Samsung devices to bring connectivity and convenience.
At the time of writing, however, there's no Bixby cross-over at all. We suspect that Bixby will become a controller for Samsung Connect, but as it stands, you can forget about Bixby for the timebeing.
That said, the latest Samsung QLED TVs offer voice control through the remotes and it behaves in much the same way as Bixby voice control on smartphones, so we suspect it's the same underlying system.