Design & Features
Samsung has taken pains to reduce the width of their Smart TV bezels in recent generations besides slimming their TV's profiles, starting with the C-series two years ago. With the ES8000, the bezel size is almost non-existent. A 3mm-thin aluminum border frames the 55-inch screen, resulting in a clean and minimalist screen suitable for wall-mount installation or seated on its new stand. Speaking of its new stand, Samsung has ditched the Quad-stand found on previous models for a new Arc-Flow foundation. It looks somewhat similar to the one sported by the LG LM9600, but Samsung's version packs a wider base. The Arc-Flow, however, lacks swiveling options which makes it less versatile than their rival's solution. Given the bezel's narrow width, Samsung has made concessions for a little "tab" just below the panel to showcase their brand name. The web camera and microphone are built-in, and they're located at the top. A little beveled knob situated behind the camera enables you to 'close' the lens to ensure your privacy concerns are taken care of. Like most of Samsung's LED edge-lit panels, the ES8000 brandishes a glossy and reflective screen. You might want to dim the room lights if you're catching the latest blockbusters on this model.
Little has changed in terms of connectivity. There are three USB ports, three HDMI slots, and a Composite jack by the side, but note that the latter requires a breakout cable as with most of Samsung's premium tellies. In addition, the ARC (Audio Return Channel) function is integrated on the second HDMI port (HDMI2) for those who want to pipe audio back to the receiver. Along the lower row of the AV panel, you'll find the component jacks, RF input, and LAN port, aligned in a downward-facing orientation. Fortunately, Samsung has avoided any rear-facing ports to make it easier for wall-mount installations.
A Smart Touch Remote is included in the ES8000 package along with the standard remote, but note that it's only exclusive to the ES8000 and ES7500, as well as E8000 plasma display. Using a Bluetooth connection, the Smart Touch Remote is thus named because it also features a touchpad to facilitate navigation on the Smart TV interface. Comparatively, we'd roll with LG's Magic Remote instead of the Smart Touch. Reason being it is easier to point-and-click rather than manage a trackpad in our book.
Smart, But Not Necessarily The Smartest
It's heartening to see that Samsung's has upgraded their Smart Hub platform with a HD makeover. The interface is more defined now compared to last year's fuzzier standard-definition effort. Layout is similar on the whole, but we did observe three new sections on the splash page, and they are - Family Story, an interactive and social service for family members to share messages and photos, while the Fitness section enables you to track things like your Exercise Progress and BMI. The Kids segment, on the other hand, is packed with lots of infotainment content to keep the little ones busy. On top of these, Samsung is also offering 5GB worth of cloud storage for Smart TV users. Like last year's models, you'll need a Samsung Smart TV account to login to Smart Hub. Alternatively, you may use the TV's built-in Face Recognition Mode.
Samsung has a decent number of apps in the News, Education, and Entertainment aspects, but there isn't anything to shout about honestly. Singtel's VOD service, otherwise known as Singtel Video Store, is still available. You may also stream multimedia content (mainly videos, photos, and music) from a Samsung smartphone or tablet to the ES8000 via the renamed AllShare Play. This feature is based on DLNA technology essentially, meaning that your device is required to be on the same home network as your TV. To stream, simply hit the Share option on the selected file, and activate 'AllShare' on the Samsung mobile device. Cloud storage services like SugarSync is supported by the TV too. We also observed that Samsung's introduction of a dual-core processor seems to have improved loading times for most of the applications as well.
So what did we think of Samsung's interactive controls? Here's our opinion in a nutshell:
- Motion Control - You'll need to run the Motion Control Environment Test first to check if the room is bright enough for the camera to register your hand movements. To activate gesture controls, lift your arm and face your palm towards the camera. Clench your fist to activate an onscreen icon. And to return to a previous page, simply move your hand in a circular motion.
Verdict: Arm gets tired after a while. We'd rather use a remote.
- Voice Control - To activate voice control, press the Microphone button on the remote. A pop-up menu would appear on the TV with a list of voice commands. Additional voice commands will be listed by saying "More Commands". Surprisingly, Samsung's voice feature worked very well in most instances. Commands such as Volume up, Source, Smart Hub, Web Browser and Exit were spot on most of the time. The only caveat is that it is very sensitive to ambient noise. You'll have to ensure the room is relatively quiet for this feature to work as stated.
Verdict: It's a nice-to-have feature, but again we'd prefer a point-and-click remote anytime.
- Face Recognition - The camera was able to register our faces without too much trouble. Although Samsung advised us not to try this in low light conditions, we went ahead any way, just to test the odds. And it worked reasonably well. One drawback is that you have to keep your head perfectly still.
Verdict: Probably the most practical feature out of the three. Signing into the Samsung Hub account via Face Recognition also signs you in to the rest of your social media accounts, like Facebook, Twitter, etc.