Previewed at the 2013 CES (then called the Qube), the Asus Cube is a set-top box that delivers the Google TV experience--a combination media streamer, advanced program guide, and application bundle--for a modest $140. But in my tests, its many admirable features weren't always easy to use.
Physically, the Asus Cube looks a lot like a Boxee Box made whole (the Boxee Box being a cube with a corner lopped off). Measuring about five inches on each side and weighing in at less 15 ounces, the Cube sits between your usual TV video source--typically, a cable or satellite box--and your HDTV, with HDMI cables making the connections both ways.
In addition to the HDMI in and out ports, the Cube has an ethernet port for connecting to a broadband network, an IR blaster port for an included cable to transmit commands from its remote to the cable or satellite box, and a couple of USB 2.0 ports for hooking up drives with media content for playback.
Asus does skimp a bit on networking components: The Cube only supports 10/100 ethernet, and if you can't use a wired network connection, you're limited to 802.11n Wi-Fi on the 2.4GHz band. In crowded environments, the 2.4GHz band is highly subject to interference, making it less than ideal for streaming media. Support for the roomier 5GHz band would have been nice, and in its absence a wired network connection is highly recommended.
The Cube's somewhat thick candy-bar remote is one of the more unusual Google TV remotes I've seen, combining not only fairly standard navigation and playback buttons on one side and a QWERTY keyboard on the other, but also a hybrid touch-sensitive and mechanical navigation pad, plus support for voice searches and a dedicated Netflix button.
You initiate voice searches by pressing one of the remote's two microphone buttons--one located on the navigation side of the remote, the other set into the bottom edge of the remote when you're holding it for typing on the QWERTY keyboard. Unfortunately, the button on the edge is too easy to press inadvertently when you're using the navigation side of the remote. I also found the keyboard's smallish, rubbery keys uncomfortable for touch typing: It was difficult to tap them head-on and I found myself using the edges of my fingertips.
The hybrid touch-mechanical keypad, which takes up about the top third of the remote in navigation (portrait) mode, works quite well, however. I found the touchpad to be sensitive, and the mechanical up, down, left, right and OK/select buttons were also responsive. The remote also has colored diagonal bars, which you use for various functions much the way other remotes provide colored context-sensitive buttons.
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