Cord Cutting Guide
Best Smart TVs for Streaming: Which Apps, Features & Brands To Know
Dec 11th, 2019
Once you’ve ditched your cable subscription, you’re going to need to watch sports, sitcoms, scary movies and SNL. There are a lot of options out there, from antennas to casting sticks, but one of the simplest is a connected television.
Not only can you access everything in one place, you can often sync other devices in your home--we’re talking about Alexa, Google Assistant, Nest, etc. The best thing about smart TVs is having all your smart apps in one place without having to purchase an extra device like a casting stick or set-top box. Understandably, there are a lot of things that need to be considered before you make your purchase. What’s the best smart TV for streaming? Which brands are the best? What are the must-have features? Which are the best tv streaming apps?
We break it all down for you in this handy guide to help you figure out which smart TV is right for to level-up your entertaining experience.
What features do you want (need) in a smart TV?
As the name implies, a smart TV is a long way from the days when you had to walk over to the set to change the channel. If you’re about to upgrade your set, here are the smart TV features you should consider:
- Compatibility with other devices: Some TVs can act as a dashboard to sync all of your home’s smart devices--think of it as a really big computer screen to control your thermostat, lights, music, and shows/movies.
- TV controllers: Of course remotes are standard, but some will support voice activation or will have an app you can access from your phone. Just ambitiously trying to solve the age-old dilemma of wondering how the remote got lost again.
- An app library: Some TVs come preloaded with apps (Netflix is a popular one), but you can truly customize your console by adding even more apps, like games and fitness programs. These options vary by brand--and some brands will let you access an app store to purchase non-native apps.
- Voice recognition tools: Or, as you probably know them, your good friends Alexa and Google Assistant.
What are the top must-have apps for your smart TV?
Speaking of apps, you want your television to support your post-cord-cutting lifestyle, which means it needs to be loaded with ways to get more out of the big screen in your house. This is what brings the most value to a smart TV--all the easy ways to access streaming platforms and apps within the same device, with a couple of button clicks. When you think “best smart TV apps,” your mind might immediately go to binge-watching sessions and making sure that you’ll have access to high-quality shows and movies. Those are definitely important, but the best smart TV apps provide you with that and so much more.
Here’s a quick rundown on the different categories and some of the top apps in each.
- TV, Movies, Original Shows: Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, and HBO Go are the basics when it comes to streaming entertainment. (You’ll need a subscription to access these and some other smart TV apps.) If you’re looking for shorter-form or more native-internet video content, YouTube is the app for you. From catching up on talk show clips to keeping up with viral videos to rocking out to music videos, it’s easier when it’s already on your TV.
- Music: Spotify, Pandora, and/or iHeartRadio make streaming music a seamless experience whether you want a solo dance party or to queue up some tunes for a group gathering.
- Communication: Think about Skype on your TV like FaceTime, but on a way bigger screen. It’ll feel almost like your loved ones are in the room with you.
- Games: If you’re a serious gamer, you probably have a console or PC set-up - but if you want to play some casual family games, a lot of smart TVs have built-in apps to do just that. Or they can stream games through a service like Steam.
- Weather: If you’ve taken advantage of your local news channel to check the weather, you can keep up with important updates with AccuWeather or The Weather Channel.
Which smart TV brand is right for you?
Most smart TVs come equipped with the standard features you’ll want. Each of the major smart TV brands offers a variety of screen sizes and price points, which can make it tough when deciding which is the best for your needs. You probably want to do your own research on the right color temperature for the room your TV will live in, how much stutter you’re willing to deal with, what the image looks like when viewed at an angle, and so on. But we can help you analyze the “smart” features on a TV. We highlighted five big brands and their best features:
Samsung has some great TV features, but in terms of “smart” capabilities, their TVs run on TizenOS, which gets consistently glowing reviews. Samsung’s SmartThings feature is the main selling point. It allows you to connect all of your devices through your smart TV. You can do everything from turning on lights to giving voice assistant commands to control your thermostat — all via your TV.
Full Samsung Smart TV Reviews:
This brand is all about connecting — connecting memories (that means you can load pictures onto your tv for your viewing pleasure), connecting with your voice assistant, connecting information. Vizio’s SmartCast streamlines the process of controlling and showcasing these things. It even has Apple AirPlay 2 built in! There’s a reason these are the TVs that college kids tend to buy--because it’s a good option that works with a lot of different equipment, even at affordable price-points.
Full Vizio Smart TV Reviews:
TCL teamed up with Roku to offer some of the best smart TVs for beginners on the market. These are probably the simplest smart TV options in terms of streaming (they offer 500,000 movies and TV episodes), though it’s important to note that they won’t sync up with your smart home. But if you set up your phone or tablet as a streaming companion, you can use voice search, use headphones for private listening or use it to cast video to your smart TV. They also tend to be less expensive than Sony or LG (or even Vizio).
Full TCL Smart TV Reviews:
If premium visuals are a priority for you, you’ll want to take a closer look at Sony. Yes, the price tag is higher than some of its peers, but you have options such as OLED screens (a higher contrast that gives more detail, depth and textures in dark scenes) and a thinner bezel for a bigger screen without increasing the size of the actual unit.
Full Sony Smart TV Reviews:
While LG has some impressive visuals--we’re talking top-tier viewing experiences from the first in the OLED game--LG smart TVs are an umbrella of sorts. They are equipped with lots of built-in AI features (Alexa, Google Assistant) to control other aspects of your home. They also have fancy features similar to Sony, like TVs that look like a picture frame. In case you want your cultured friends to think you purchased a large print from National Geographic instead of an expensive TV.
Full LG Smart TV Reviews:
Smart TV Reviews
While you may have gotten all the info you needed to choose a smart TV from our criteria above, it’s always important to do your own research. Luckily, that doesn’t mean going out, maxing-out your credit card to buy every option you like, and taking them for a test run. Someone else has already done that.
Here are the best smart TV reviews we’ve found to help you in your search.
- Tom’s Guide
Tom’s Guide has great Smart TV reviews for beginners, aka if you don’t really know what features you want or need in a TV but know that you want it to be nice and fancy.
Rtings is the most comprehensive review website we’ve found. They review every feature on a TV that you could think of, from temperature to smart features (although we already have you covered there).
CNET reviews are best for the most recently released televisions. They also do a great job at compare/contrast for brands and versions.
- The Verge
The Verge boasts the latest TV news, how-tos on optimizing your home theater set-up and reviews for the greatest, newest TVs on the scene.
Finally, the reviews you find on Wired are going to be on the latest releases of new televisions, smart or otherwise (not that you would even want a dumb tv…).
Go forth and shop!