Adamya Sharma / Android Authority
I bought the Sony Bravia W950D 50 inch Android TV five years ago. To say it was an excellent TV for its time is an understatement. Sony’s Triluminos LCD display was one of the best on the market at the time. The set even included a connected soundbar, and as an Android TV it naturally brought with it the power of the Google Play Store and its extensive library of TV apps, including Plex, Kodi, YouTube, Netflix and the works. At the time, the TV was around $1,400 here in India, and because I managed to get a decent discount on it, I was pretty happy with the whole deal. It was my first true Smart TV experience after upgrading from a 27″ BenQ monitor, which I used with a Fire TV Stick for streaming and Klipsch Pro Media speakers for audio.
I thought I was tuned into Android TVs my whole life.
When Sony TV came into my life, I thought I would bet on Android TV for life. Five years later the TV went broke and I’m convinced I don’t want an Android TV anymore. At least in the near future, given the state of affairs.
Do you own an Android TV device?
What happened to my TV?
Adamya Sharma / Android Authority
In the time I’ve spent with Sony’s once-best-in-class LCD, it’s had several hardware issues. The motherboard broke within two years. It cost me an arm and a leg to replace, but I was so committed to the Android TV experience that I went ahead and fixed the thing without making a huge stink about the whole ordeal.
The lifespan of a Smart TV is not what you think it is.
Fast-forward to a few months ago, and the panel finally gave up. With Sony no longer making the device, the TV is now redundant and hanging lifeless on my wall, reminding me of the few good years I spent with it but the many, many frustrating years that followed.
It’s important to understand that the lifespan of a Smart TV in your living room isn’t what you think it will be. It’s not like grandma’s old box that has outlived her most of her life and some of you. An LCD TV can watch for 50,000 hours, so its lifespan is between four and five years (if it’s on all the time), while an LED panel can last up to six years. OLEDs are believed to have longer lifespans thanks to newer technology and better hardware, but my issue with my old Sony TV, or any recent Android TV on the market, isn’t the longevity of the display tech. It’s something else entirely; It’s the terrible software update experience.
The update puzzle for Android TV
Adamya Sharma / Android Authority
When I bought the Sony TV, it came with Android Marshmallow. It was upgraded to Nougat within a year, and I was pretty shocked to see Sony keeping up with Google’s annual Android TV releases. The next update didn’t come for a while, and by that I mean I didn’t get Android 8 on my Sony TV until 2020, the year Google released Android 11 for TVs.
In that span of time, I saw the gradual decline of the Sony TV as its user interface became excruciatingly slow, app crashes became frequent, and other random software glitches went unresolved. This really wasn’t what I expected from an expensive smart TV. No doubt picture quality stayed intact until the TV’s dying breath, but the software experience was sub-par, to say the least.
I just got the Android 8 update on the TV in 2020!
Even today, in 2022, Android TV manufacturers are not committing to long-term software updates for their most desirable TVs. Whether it’s Sony at the top of the pyramid or other brands like Xiaomi, TCL or Hisense, it’s almost impossible to find information on how many updates these smart TVs will receive when you buy them. This is because virtually no Android TV manufacturer promises a set number of software updates. All I remember is that in 2019, OnePlus committed to three years of updates for its Android TVs. But the flagship brands, as well as other budget Android TV makers, have been largely silent on the update front.
Related: The best smart TVs to buy in 2022
As if an absolute lack of engagement wasn’t bad enough, these brands don’t offer adequate and timely updates at all. My expensive Sony TV has only had two updates in its five year lifespan. Some newer sets might get three updates if you’re lucky at what snail’s pace the brand making them decides to introduce them. That’s definitely not enough.
A television is a long-term technical investment.
Unlike a smartphone, a TV is a long-term technical investment. It’s a big device that nobody buys every year or two. In fact, I’m pretty sure people won’t buy a new smart TV unless and until their existing one stops working. If you’re investing more than a thousand dollars in a TV, you can expect at least a four to five year update commitment to match the panel’s lifespan. Without that, these TVs become an absolute problem.
Get a streaming box instead
Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority
When my Android TV UI started to crawl on my knees, the only thing that saved me was a Fire TV Stick. This inexpensive streaming dongle has breathed new life into my multi-thousand dollar TV. I’ve spent the past few years with a streaming stick plugged into the back of my Sony TV, giving me a smooth interface, all the streaming apps I need, voice input capabilities, and a promise of upgrades I knew I had wouldn’t pinch my pocket.
There are several reasons to recommend Android streaming boxes over Android TVs. For one thing, they are not that expensive and therefore easier to replace when their lifespan has expired. Secondly, the devices mentioned above get a lot more Android updates than actual Android TV devices. For example, the 4K Chromecast with Google TV is currently running Android 12 with an October security patch. The Nvidia Shield TV is the epitome of durability. Hell, the 2015 Shield TV is also currently running Android 11. This is an example of a powerful Android TV set-top box that predates my Android TV but still feels newer.
I also have a 55-inch LG B9 OLED that I’ve been using for three years. It gets constant software updates, probably because LG makes its own webOS, and the UI hasn’t slowed down a bit since I’ve had it. I really appreciate that LG even provides a handy online resource to track software updates and changelogs for all of their major TV models. While the TV, its display, magic remote and everything else about it are great, it doesn’t come with a massive library of apps or the ability to sideload things.
Until Android TV OEMs fix the update issue, I’ll stay away.
However, if I want to harness the power of the full Google Play Store on my LG TV, I’ll just grab an Android TV stick or box rather than a full-fledged Android TV. I’d hate not having Sony’s awesome display in my woman cave, but until the Android TV OEMs fix the update issue, I’m staying away.