Smart TVs are all the rage now, with most people ditching traditional and satellite TV (also, cable TV in places where such is available) and hopping on various streaming platforms like Netflix and Showmax. But would you be better off with a “dumb TV” than buy a streaming box separately?
A dumb TV is basically a digital TV with no smart capabilities, therefore it has no connection to the internet, but you would still be able to receive free to air (FTA) channels.
The Kenyan market is relatively tech-savvy, at least from the seller’s point of view, and this is reflected in the number of TV brands available in the market from the very basic entry-level ones costing less than Kshs 10,000 to behemoths costing upwards of Kshs 1,000,000.
But where do you put a cap on this comparison? This is because at around Kshs 50,000, every TV above this price point will have smart capabilities built-in. Furthermore, dumb TVs are most of the time capped at 43 inches or smaller, further locking them down to less than Kshs 50,000
However, the smoothness and overall user experience dealing with the inbuilt smart capabilities of the Smart TVs will vary wildly from manufacturer to manufacturer.
There are a number of compelling reasons why you should instead purchase a dumb TV, instead of buying a streaming stick separately to get all the advantages present in smart TVs.
Dumb TVs are generally more affordable compared to their smart cousins. The slightly lower price might be the difference between rocking a 40-inch or 43-inch dumb TV instead of settling for a 32-inch smart TV.
Admittedly, the size difference might not mean much to most people, but a bigger screen is almost always welcome and adds immersion to your movies or TV shows. Furthermore, if you are a gamer mostly enjoying two-player games like FIFA, Mortal Kombat or Need for Speed, a bigger screen will always trump the small screens. This applies to sports fans as well. Nothing beats watching Son Heung-min curling one in at the far post on a big screen.
Quality of software and hardware
The entry-level market, which the overwhelming majority of Kenyans shop from, is dominated by TVs that are given the bare minimum capabilities just to be slapped with the smart TV label.
You will then be subjected to apps that rarely get updates, are sluggish, and moving from one to another is a pain because of the low-performance chipset in the TV.
It is true that you get what you pay for, but rather than dealing with the subpar performance of the cheap smart TVs that will only get your blood boiling up due to how poorly they perform, put the money in getting a bigger and better quality dumb TV.
One way of keeping the prices of these smart TVs low is agreeing to serve ads to the end-users. Instead of getting a clean user interface, various ads will be displayed each time you are at the navigation menu of some TVs, and, if by rotten luck you get one of the aggressive ones, you will first be met with an ad each time you turn your TV on.
Ads are one of the main reasons people are ditching cable TV, and getting served with the same things on a personal TV is definitely a dealbreaker for me.
Coupled with the ads, you might find that there are three or four apps you can not uninstall from your smart TVs. They are hardcoded in the system in the hope that a certain percentage of the TV buyers will use them.
They might be a necessary evil to keep the prices down, but they massively impact the user experience on their platforms.
Streaming boxes as alternatives to smart TVs
The problems highlighted above will most of the time plague low-end TVs, where manufacturers are more willing to cut corners to keep their cost of manufacturing low as possible. However, this is not to say high-end smart TVs are safe from these underhanded tactics.
Choosing a dumb TV should not hinder you from consuming streamed media as there are a number of streaming boxes that are affordable (like the Ematic Android TV box being sold by Safaricom or recent versions of this Xiaomi Android TV box we reviewed a while back), get regular updates and can easily be moved to a new TV once you decide to upgrade from what you currently have.
The Google Chromecast, Amazon Fire Stick, Apple TV and the Roku Streaming Stick are among the most popular streaming boxes in the world, but there are numerous in the wild, most of them based on Android that will outrightly outperform your smart TV at a fraction of the cost.
You basically get all the advantages of a smart TV without a single drawback at a cost of less than Kshs 10,000.
You also get to pay for what you need, from the simple ones streaming in 1080p to robust ones capable of streaming 4K content up to those for enthusiasts like the Nvidia Shield which also possess gaming capabilities.
It is important to note that all these depend on your internet speeds as streaming 4K content typically requires at least a 25Mbps connection
At the end of the day, you should only buy what suits your needs. Most middle range and high-end TVs will hardly suffer from the problems highlighted above unless you want to stream 4K content where a streaming box will give you a much more enjoyable and smoother experience.