Google TV has always been an ambitious idea. In its ideal form, you'd be able to access all your home theater content -- including your cable/satellite box, streaming video services and content from the Web -- in a single user interface, powered by Google search. It's a great pitch, but it tends to fall apart in the implementation: it's buggy, true DVR integration really only works for Dish Network subscribers, and it still lacks dedicated apps for services like Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant, and MLB.TV.
Sony's NSZ-GS7 ($200 list, available July 22) is the company's second Google TV box, and it's a significant improvement over the Sony NSZ-GT1 Blu-ray player. It's a set-top box (no Blu-ray functionality) that's the spiritual successor to the Logitech Revue. The real star of the NSZ-GS7 is the redesigned, double-sided remote, with a vastly improved touch pad and full keyboard on the back. It's geeky and definitely not for everyone, but it's a worthy competitor to the Revue's full-size keyboard.
But even with the improved controller, the NSZ-GS7 can't overcome Google TV's shortcomings. There are still too many caveats on all its premiere features to be recommendable, save for the most diehard (and patient) tinkerers. The NSZ-GS7 proves that Google TV hardware can improve, but what it really needs is a software overhaul.
Sleek, slim box
The Sony NSZ-GS7 is a slick looking piece of hardware, save for the annoying Energy Saver sticker on the far left that isn't easily removed. It's a largely glossy black box with no buttons at all, and the top is textured, giving it a nice look and feel. The ports are around back, including an HDMI input and output, two USB ports, and a single IR blaster post. There's also an Ethernet jack, plus the box features built-in Wi-Fi as well. Kudos to Sony for designing the NSZ-GS7 so it doesn't need a bulky power brick, instead requiring just a simple, slim power cable.
The NSZ-GS7 is really all about the remote. In fact, Google TV has always really been about the remote, as the software's complex approach to managing your video content requires more than just a directional pad and a couple buttons. Sony's first attempt with the NSZ-GT1 was a miss, with an truly awful touch pad and a dizzying array of buttons.
The NSZ-GS7's remote is a full redesign and it's a significant improvement over the NSZ-GS1's remote. The front is dominated by a large touch pad and it's much better than the sensor on the NSZ-GS1. Above are typical Android buttons and a directional pad, plus simple DVR-style buttons such as guide, DVR, and TV.
What's really interesting is the full keyboard on the other side. Google is all about search, and it's tough to search without a keyboard. The double-sided nature of the remote actually works pretty well (better than Boxee's implementation, actually), although it's easy to accidentally to flip the remote over so the keyboard is upside-down.
Overall, it may the simplest Google TV remote yet, but that still makes it more complicated than any other home theater remote. It's sure to overwhelm nontechies, which is more of an issue with a home theater device that everyone in the household will use.