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Asus Cube is a capable, but flawed, Google TV set-top box

Yardena Arar | May 15, 2013
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.

Once you've connected all the cables and the AC adapter, you power on the Cube with another button on the remote, which launches a brief setup routine, during which you adjust the resolution and screen size of the interface, verify Internet access, specify your TV service provider, and set up control of your cable/satellite box, TV, and AV gear. However, the remote has only one power-on button for an external device, and you have to choose between using it for your TV and the cable/satellite box.

I also had a lot trouble setting up the IR blaster with my cable box. Usually I can place an IR transmitter pretty much anywhere on the box, but it took a lot of tries for me to finally locate a sweet spot on my Comcast Motorola box. And from that location, I was never able to get the remote to control the volume on my AV receiver.

Once setup was complete, the main user interface appears--and it's a cube. Rotating it up and down essentially scrolls through its main menu options, which include screens for accessing various media types, games, social networks, and so on. 'Turning' the cube sideways brings up the options for each category--channels, players, or apps. Alternatively, you can access most functions by pressing the home key on the remote, scrolling to the right, and then selecting the All Apps icon. You can customize the home screen by moving, adding, or deleting apps and widgets using the remote. If that all sounds a tad confusing and not that intuitive, that's because both are true.

You can download apps from the Google Play store to the Cube's 4GB of internal memory. Asus also offers access to 50GB of free cloud storage via a pre-installed Asus WebStorage app. And you can download an app that lets your Android smartphone or tablet access Cube content and apps.

The Cube supports playback of media stored on a plugged-in USB drive as well as UPnP servers on your home network in several dozen popular file formats for unprotected content. USB playback worked as expected. However, while I was able to navigate to a couple of servers on my home network, the Cube never recognized media stored in folders on those servers. (Asus says it was unable to replicate my problem.)

Also preinstalled is a full-featured version of the Chrome browser, allowing you to browse the Web on your TV. You activate the cursor using the cursor key that's next to the microphone key on the bottom edge, after which the navigation touchpad functions like a regular touchpad. But several other buttons are disabled when you've activated the cursor, including some of the colored diagonals on the touchpad. Browsing with Chrome went smoothly for the most part, although I sometimes ran into problems trying to use scrollbars. Typing in URLs on the aforementioned remote keyboard wasn't much fun, though. For example, for a product that relies heavily on the Web, it's odd that there's no dedicated . button for entering URLs (you have to press the Fn and M keys at the same time to get the dot).

 

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