Home Reviews Entertainmnent Gadgets Review: Kogan Smart TV HDMI Dongle

The idea behind the Kogan Smart TV HDMI Dongle is to upgrade a 'dumb' TV (as long as it has an HDMI interface) with smart TV features such as online video, web browsing and apps. How well does it work in practice?

When we reported last year on the launch of the $99 Kogan Smart TV HDMI Dongle we wondered how well the infrared remote control would work if the dongle was hidden behind the TV.

A review sample eventually arrived, and we needn't have worried - the device has a separate infrared receiver that can be positioned conveniently and reasonably unobtrusively. And if you also purchase Kogan's $39 Android Deluxe Wireless Keyboard & Trackpad, you'll rarely need the IR remote. If you regularly use the dongle's functions that require text entry (eg, web browsing), you're more likely to retain your sanity by spending that extra money - onscreen keypads are OK for phones and tablets, but not for TVs.

The TV we used to test the dongle only had one HDMI port remaining, and that one was side-mounted. The good news is that this means there were no issues about clearance between the TV and the wall (as could be the case with a rear-mounted socket, though that could be overcome by using the included very short HDMI extension cable), but the dongle did protrude slightly from the TV's bezel.

And it turned out that the exact dimensions of the two pieces of equipment meant the dongle wouldn't fit snugly into the socket, so we had to use the cable anyway. We're not trying to allocate blame here, just pointing out the issues that can arise with what should be a very simple installation. If the installation was permanent, we'd probably buy a right-angled HDMI connector similar to this to keep everything neat (our TV is free standing, not wall mounted).

The dongle comes with a reasonably short USB cable to draw power from the TV's port. The TV we used did not appear to provide sufficient current as the dongle kept rebooting when we tried to use it, though we suspect this was a shortcoming of the TV rather than the dongle. A plugpack is included, but we had to dig out a USB extension lead to reach from the nearest mains socket to the dongle.

Once we'd twigged that the plugpack was needed and connected the Keyboard & Trackpad, things moved along more smoothly. The dongle reminded us of some routers we've used, because changing settings (eg, switching from 720p to 1080p) often seemed to force a restart.

There are a bunch of preinstalled apps including Adobe Reader, Kindle, Facebook, Flickr, Google Maps, Quickflix (the dongle comes with a trial offer) and YouTube, and access to Google Play means there are many more to choose from.

It wasn't all smooth sailing - see page 2.


Our initial experience wasn't particularly positive. The dongle seemed sluggish and often didn't respond to button presses on the Keyboard & Trackpad - we knew we were pressing firmly enough because we watched the light on the remote flashing, but typing in a URL such as theworldgame.com.au would show as thewldgame.com.au or something similar, or pressing the right-arrow from the home screen twice would only move the selection one place.

Standard definition videos from YouTube or a source on our local network would play correctly, but HD content kept stalling and rebuffering - even though the same HD videos played smoothly on a smartphone held next to the dongle.

It wasn't practical to move the TV or our wireless router, so instead we connected the dongle to a monitor in the same office as the router, and things improved. HD content played smoothly (including MPEG-PS streams recorded off-air) and the dropped keystrokes problem was ameliorated but not completely eliminated.

So we moved on to try catch-up TV services, which we think are a major reason for wanting this type of device. ABC iView almost worked first time, but stalled after the prologue that displayed the program rating and then the browser refused to respond to any URL that we entered. Cycling the power seemed the only way out of that one - that's one situation where it seems mandatory to use the IR remote (unless you just pull the plug), as there's nothing in the manuals about shutting down from the Keyboard & Trackpad. Subsequent attempts were successful, but this and other niggles make us question the stability of the dongle.

SBS OnDemand and 9's catch-up site worked, Plus7 nearly worked (the toolbar that lets you enter full-screen mode from a desktop browser wouldn't appear), and Ten's 'full episodes & video' section repeatedly crashed the browser.

Another shortcoming involved moving around web pages. Pressing the PgUp button often resulted in a return to the home screen rather than moving towards the top of the page (come to that, any keypress seemed to have the potential to do the same, and on one occasion placing the Keyboard & Trackpad gently on a desk either caused or coincided with an abrupt exit from the browser), and we failed to find a way of scrolling the content of some sites - iView was a prime example - so that the particular area we wanted was wholly visible. Android just doesn't seem to sit comfortably on a non-touch device.

Before we leave the subject of the browser, we noticed that some HTML5 content - notably the recent 'zamboni' Google Doodle - could slow the dongle to such an extent that the trackpad became very sluggish and it was an effort to close the page.

To end the feature survey on a more positive note, the tools for playing content (audio, video and photos) from a microSD card worked as we expected.

Overall, there were so many glitches that we found using the dongle an exercise in frustration. While we have a fairly high tolerance for tech that doesn't work first time every time, we wouldn't impose the dongle on our family and so can't recommend it. We wanted to like it as we're convinced there's a market for this sort of device, but unless subsequent software updates improve its stability and usability the Kogan Smart TV HDMI Dongle doesn't fit the bill.

Even with those improvements, the falling cost of smart TVs (Kogan offers a 39in Smart LED TV for $399, though it looks like it may run the same software as the dongle) leads us to expect a price of no more than $99 including the Keyboard & Trackpad (or at least a wireless keyboard). Since the dongle has been offered at a special price of $59, that wouldn't seem impossible.

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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences, a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies, and is a senior member of the Australian Computer Society.

 

 

 

 

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