Earlier in December, we decided to put a TV into our guest room. One catch: there is no aerial there, so initially we thought, ‘We have some great DVDs, let’s plug in the DVD player.’ But it didn’t quite feel right.
We’ve stayed at enough places with smart TVs, including some running the Android TV system. We’ve never really had a need to pursue this since most of the things I really love to watch have come out on DVD, and if Amanda and I wanted on-demand, there’s always the laptop with an HDMI cable. Simple.
I began looking into this and was intrigued by one suggestion on Mastodon for an Nvidia Shield, but alas, none were available in the time-frame (viz. before guests arrived). I was largely stuck with the Amazon Fire sticks, various Google-branded Chromecasts, and the DishTV Smartvu. The ever-knowledgeable Drew at PB Tech recommended the Smartvu, since he was in a similar boat: his place didn’t have an aerial, and he used the Smartvu to work as his regular TV. It also happened to be the most expensive of the lot.
My criteria were fairly basic. I wanted something that I could set up and sideload APKs on to, and never, ever go to a Google Play store. I began de-Googling in earnest at the end of 2009 and I sure as heck wasn’t going to intentionally invite the bastards back 13 years later—and actually pay to have their spyware in my home. The fact that Google’s offerings were more expensive than Amazon’s should be an affront to all consumers. Pay more to have them spy on you!
DishTV’s New Zealand distributor has comprehensive instructions on how to set it up, and sure enough, one of the first steps was it would take you to the Google Play store. No doubt that would be the same story with the Google Chromecasts. Which, unfortunately, left me with one choice: give Amazon money even though they owe me (and this is an ongoing dispute in which, since they are Big Tech, I believe they are lying).
But Amazon it was. PB was charging quite a lot more than Harvey Norman and Noël Leeming and, while Gerry Harvey might be a prized dick, he does seem to hire good people on the shop floor. I never had anyone at Leeming help. Nor could I even find the product at their Tory Street store.
Amazon does require an Amazon account, which I still have, despite all the BS; but once you are in, sideloading is not too difficult. And there’s no Google Play in sight, even if it is a reasonably stock Chromecast set-up.
Of course, I went through the privacy settings and made sure any data the gadget had collected to date were deleted.
I then proceeded to follow these instructions and enabled third-party apps.
The first method, sideloading from my phone using Apps2Fire, never worked. Waste of time. For whatever reason, the third method didn’t, either: ES File Explorer refused to sync with Dropbox despite all my credentials being correct. Of course I had to attempt the second one last—download the Downloader (yes, really), then go to the address where the APKs are.
It’s just as well, since some of the Amazon-hosted APKs don’t work (e.g. Euronews), so you need to find alternatives. Matt Huisman offers some New Zealand ones on his website, and getting the Freeview one was a no-brainer—the terrestrial channels are then all available, as though one had a normal TV. (I was very surprised to learn that this is not a common thing to do, and equally surprised that the APK was not available on Amazon; presumably it’s not on Google Play either.)
Amazon did suggest getting the Fire TV app for my phone, but when you scan the bar code, it offers two destinations from which to download it: Google Play and Apple Appstore (I still want to call it Ishop). This is pretty senseless, since Amazon has gone to the trouble of hosting so many APKs itself, why not its own one?
Maybe … it’s because it’s a lemon and doesn’t work. I grabbed the one at APK Mirror, and it was about as useless as a milliardaire running a social network. (I don’t believe it even installed.) No biggie, once everything was set up I had zero use for it.
Which leaves Alexa, which interested me from a technological point of view. The original Alexa will stop working on December 31, so I might as well shift to using the thing that Amazon now calls Alexa. And to ask it to make fart noises, which seems to be its only utility if you don’t have other gadgets wired into the network. Only problem: how does it work? Where do you talk into? The stick? The remote?
Strangely, Amazon does not say when I searched for information on its own site, so I guess everyone else automatically worked it out by telepathy.
All I know is when I pressed the button, as per the very few instructions provided in the box, the TV said to wait for the tone, then speak. Nothing ever happened, whether I spoke to the remote or to the stick.
One Mastodon user told me that I had to talk into the slot in the remote.
It was a week later that I tried keeping the button pressed down after the tone. Only then did it work.
I’m not sure how anyone is supposed to know that, especially as Amazon’s own instructions just instruct you to speak after the tone. There’s no instruction to keep the button pressed down. I would even say that implicitly, you’re instructed to let go of the button. You hear a strange noise, you release the button. That seems like a natural reaction to me.
Again we come to the usual conclusion that tech people make a lot of presumptions about how tech-savvy the public is. Folks, you need to assume that we are coming to these gadgets with zero knowledge about them. Yes, I realize Walter Matthau had to press the button on his mic to talk to Robert Shaw in The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, but Walt never had a computer tone beep back at him.
Now with hundreds of channels, there’s still barely anything to watch, though I did find the Jackie Chan movie Wheels on Meals in the original Cantonese. Once I finish watching that, it’s back to the DVDs for me. I just hope our guests are happy.