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Mohu Channels review: An ugly marriage of over-the-air and streaming TV

Jared Newman | March 26, 2015
Over-the-air broadcasts are enjoying something of a renaissance in the cord-cutting age. If you live within range of broadcast towers, a simple antenna will deliver basic channels--including ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, and PBS--in beautiful high definition for free. It's the perfect supplement to streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime.

I ran into a couple of issues initially. When I first tried to set up the device, nothing came through the television, but unplugging the device and plugging it back in seemed to bring the signal back. I also found a recurring issue where every time I restarted the device, the full programming schedule failed to load. The only fix is to jump into an app, and then return to guide to refresh the list.

Once the device was up and running, bigger problems began to emerge. Mohu's software isn't based on Google's new TV-friendly version of Android. Instead, it's a paved-over version of Android's mobile operating system, which constantly reminds you that it isn't meant for televisions. You'll notice elements of the Android tablet interface poking through where they shouldn't, such as the notification bar that you can pull down from the top of the screen.

But where non-TV Android is most evident is in Mohu Channels' third-party apps. These apps are designed for touch screens, not keyboard-based remote controls, which is precisely why Mohu included a tilt-based cursor as a workaround. The cursor is supposed to approximate touch input, but it's actually much more aggravating. To scroll through menus, for instance, you must hold the "select" button, tilt your wrist to scroll, let go of the button, tilt to reposition the cursor, then repeat. The concept alone is clumsy enough, and the finicky nature of the cursor only makes it worse.

Punching below its weight

Another major downside — and I'm not sure how much of this is hardware vs. software — is how slow Mohu Channels can be. Every time you return to the channel guide, it spends a few seconds refreshing itself and preventing you from doing anything else while you wait.

Navigating through apps or the Play Store feels equally sluggish. On several occasions, I hit the back button and failed to get an immediate response, so I hit it again. This in turn triggered a double-tap when the system caught up to my commands, sending me back out to the channel guide and triggering that long refresh all over again. I might have pulled out a few hairs in the process.

The saving grace of non-TV Android should be the ability to run all kinds of apps that you can't normally get on other set-top boxes. For instance, I was able to watch full episodes from NBC, CBS, Conan O'Brien, and Comedy Central through their respective apps, which is something I wouldn't be able to do on a Roku or Fire TV (at least not without workarounds).

But even the flexibility of Mohu's software turns out to be a mixed blessing. Some apps that are table-stakes on other media streamers, such as Crackle and MLB.TV, wouldn't work at all on Mohu Channels.

 

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