I’ve thrown big props towards the Boxee Box lately calling it the best media streamer for cutting the cord. It’s a solid device that provides a memorable user experience. That’s rare these days but the Boxee Box nails it, which is why I give it so much credit.
But it’s not perfect. I seriously believe that the pros greatly outweigh the cons. Still, there’s room for improvement and I pray that Boxee addresses these four issues in the next update.
A proper web browser
You can browse the web on the Boxee Box, but it’s more of a utility than a causal experience. This is partly because the browser is a poor performer and the remote doesn’t lend to a natural control scheme. However, the second point could be easily countered with a smart skin.
Right now the browser doesn’t have basic functions found in modern browsers. No autocomplete, multiple tabs/windows, or Flash support. Of course these aren’t exactly must-haves for the Boxee Box. This is a media streamer, not desktop so the focus should be as such. Performance and usability is paramount. Bookmarks would be key here – think smartphone-ish bookmarks with large, easily-selectable thumbnails. This would at least place commonly accessible sites within reach.
Some sort of trackpad would be a huge improvement as well. Look at the Google TV remotes. They’re wonderful and make web browsing easy-peasy.
Of course I’m not a UI engineer. I’m just a lowly user dying for a better Boxee Box web browser. At least Rdio.com works right now although a Rdio app would make me a happy sailor.
Better remote options
Google TV’s secret sauce is the huge range of controllers including very clever iOS and Android apps. Logitech offers a full size QWERTY keypad and a small keypad style controller. Sony’s GTV units use a PS3-style keypad with an optical trackpad. If those aren’t enough, the platform supports most USB input devices.
It’s the apps that Boxee Box should look at though. They’re fantastic as they bring to the system voice search, a trackpad and the phone’s familiar QWERTY keypad. The current Boxee Box remote is great for a basic remote, but the platform — especially for the web browser — could use a proper trackpad and these apps would solve a major issue. After all, it’s not a stretch to speculate that Android and iOS phone owners are within the Boxee Box’s niche demographic.
Improve overall performance
The Boxee Box can drag sometimes. It needs to be restarted every few days. It’s certainly not as smooth as a Roku or Apple TV. It gets a pass in my book because if the huge feature list, but I’ll agree with the haters, it’s a hog sometimes.
Somewhat ironically the Boxee Box handles 1080p web videos with ease and I’ve only had one or two massive MKV files stutter because of high bit rates. It’s the interface that drags. Switching between menus and browsing videos and apps can be frustratingly slow sometimes. The box doesn’t seem to cache box art for some reason. The slow performance is my family’s main complaint and should be addressed.
It seems to me that since the box doesn’t have an issue playing back resource intensive files that hopefully the GUI’s performance can be addressed by a firmware update.
Gmail, Facebook, Twitter
Integrating notifications and web communication apps could be an epic win for Boxee. Or it could be an epic fail. In many ways the current top streamers like the Boxee Box, Roku, or WD TV are winners because they’re one task devices. Users use them to only watch videos just like the Kindle is used just for reading while the multifunction iPad doesn’t offer the same distraction-free reading environment.
I’ve always wanted a solid way to do email and Facebook on my TV. I believe Google TV missed the mark by not including at least an app. But an Android-like notification bar would work great within the Boxee UI. Even the QWERTY remote would make communicating a non-issue.
Of course this experience could interfere with the core functions of a media streamer. I for one do not want an audible notification about new email while watching a movie. That would be horrible. But since my Boxee Box is almost always on, simple access to email/Facebook would be appreciated.
The Boxee Box is still a wonderful little streamer even with these issues. Have I said that enough yet? I hope so.