What is the Cube?
The ASUS Cube is just that, a little black cube. It’s what Google refers to as a buddy box, an external component that allows you to add Google TV onto your existing Television. Coming in at just under 5 inches tall and deep, the little box easily found a home on my entertainment center.
The Cube keeps it simple when it comes to the box’s design. The front of the Cube has a light that shows blue for on and red for off. That’s it. There is no way to turn the Cube on or off from the unit. You need the remote for that.
Flipping the cube around to the backside, you won’t find a lot of inputs or outputs. There are two HDMI ports so that you can pass through your cable or satellite box, but that is your only option for audio and video. There is a 10/100 Ethernet port, a USB port for hooking up an external drive, a port for the power cord, and a port for an IR Blaster. The only other thing is a 2nd USB port on the side of the Cube. It makes for a very quick and easy setup, if you have an HDMI compatible TV/receiver.
Inside, the Cube is a Marvell Armada 1500 chipset and 2 gb of available flash storage. It has support for Dolby Digital Plus, HD Video, and HDMI-CEC. It also has support for DLNA, FTP, SMB or an external, USB-attached hard drive and Wi-fi b/g/n.
The standout feature on the Asus Cube is the remote. It is a double sided remote with a track pad and volume, channel and video controls on one side, and a full Qwerty keyboard on the other. The track pad is where the remote really shines. It has a sturdy feel and a textured grip that makes it easy to use. The track pad can be toggled back and forth from a pointing device to a push button d-pad. In either mode, it is responsive and easy to use.
My other favorite part of the remote is the built in microphone. This has become my favorite feature of the Cube. Pressing the microphone button allows me to speak into the remote to perform just about any task I want. Saying “History Channel” tunes my TV to the History Channel. ”Open Pandora” does just that. ”Google Phoenix Suns” opens the Chrome Browser to a Google search of the Phoenix Suns. ”Morgan Freeman” brings up everything available in tv, movies, and Youtube for Morgan Freeman. I am really surprised with how well it works. You can also go into settings and turn on Google’s Personalized Voice Recognition and the feature works even better.
The Cube also comes with their exclusive “Cube Interface”. It is a very user friendly way of sorting and scrolling through all of your apps and bookmarks. It is a definite improvement over the vanilla UI that comes on other Google TV products because it is far more intuitive. I find that I don’t use the menu system much though because the more I get used to having the microphone, the more I use it for all of my tasks.
Finally, Asus also throws in 50 gigs of free cloud storage for 2 years. I have already uploaded some videos to it and it really works well.
The Cube comes with a remote that can only control the other devices in my entertainment cabinet through a single IR Blaster. Who thought that was a smart idea? Even worse, after several hours on the phone with Asus and having a replacement unit sent out, I still can’t get the IR Blaster to work with my 4 year old Mitsubishi TV or my Pioneer receiver. I also can’t get the CEC HDMI to function properly, which means that I have to use another remote to power on and off my TV or to use my blueray player.
Also, the placement of the microphone button on the side of the remote means that I inadvertently bump it all the time. Pressing the microphone button brings up an overlay on the bottom portion of the screen. If you don’t say anything, it doesn’t go away, it asks you to retry. Pressing the back button on the remote does not clear it either, you have to flip the remote over and press esc on the keypad. I am hoping that after I get used to the remote, I won’t bump the microphone button as often.
The keyboard on the back of the remote leaves something to be desired. It’s not the worst mini keyboard I have ever used, but after years as a devoted Sidekick user, I know how good a mini keyboard can be. The keys take too much force to press down and this often causes me to either not have a character register, or to press multiple characters. Luckily, with the voice control, I rarely use the keyboard, except to to hit the esc button to clear the voice recognition app.
I love the Google TV experience. I love the ability to have apps like Youtube, Pandora, Netflix, Thuz, Flixster, Google Music, etc all on my TV. The Primetime Guide from Google is the easiest way to find out what’s on tv, and I find myself using the Chrome Browser quite often. For me, the issues with the cube all lie within the hardware. Asus was so close to having a great system. Their UI is fresh and easy to use. The track pad on the remote is very good. My favorite feature is the very accurate voice control. They just made a major misstep with not making the remote more universal. If you are a fan of Google TV, the Cube is a good system, especially if you can get the IR Blaster to work. If you are not a fan of Google TV, the Cube is not going to win you over to Google’s side.
If you are still interested and want to see what’s inside the box, you can check out my unboxing video here.
Are you a fan of Google TV? Let me know what you think in the comments below?