Announced at CES in January 2015, the Razer Forge TV is an Android TV-based streaming device as well as an Android gaming platform. It is available with just the console for $99 or with the Serval Bluetooth controller in a bundle for $149. In addition to offering streaming video content and native Android apps and games, the Forge TV will offer Razer’s proprietary PC game streaming service via an update in the future, apparently Q4 2015, but launches without that functionality.
Today, I’ll give you my thoughts on this device and whether it is worth purchasing over competitors like the Nexus Player and Roku 3, and how it compares to spending a little extra for a low-end PC like the HP Stream Mini.
This was intended to be a full review, but due to certain events related to this device that I will detail below, there’s no real need for a full review.
The Razer Forge TV is an Android 5.0-based system, with full functionality with the Google Play Store, though it has a very limited selection of apps. It does not ship with a controller, and you interact with it via a smartphone or tablet app, much like the available apps for Roku and Amazon Fire TV. The app is only available for Android, though an iOS release is planned.
The brains of the device are a Qualcomm Snapdragon 805, featuring quad-core processing and an Adreno 420 GPU. This is the type of specs you might see in a high-end phone or tablet from late 2014; the Snapdragon 805 powers the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 and the Nexus 6, and you’ll find the Adreno 420 GPU in phones such as the Motorola Droid Turbo or Samsung Galaxy S5.
The Razer Forge TV has 2 GB of RAM and 16 GB of local storage, with about 11 GB available to the user out of the box. There is no available SD or Micro-SD card slot to expand storage, but the device does have a USB 3.0 which in theory does allow for expanded storage via Flash Drives or External Hard Drives, though as of launch, the device’s OS as configured does not allow this.
I do wish that OEMs would bump up the local storage to 32 GB on devices like this, as modern non-freeware Android games are routinely pushing above 1 GB each at this point, and not all Android Apps and Games play nicely with external storage.
Razer did not skimp on the connectivity options, which include Bluetooth 4.1, dual-band Wireless 802.11 ac, and Gigabit Ethernet. As a device designed for streaming content as well as, in the future, streaming PC games on your local network, the dual-band ac and Gigabit Ethernet are greatly appreciated.
Display and sound are carried via HDMI, which is not included in the box, though this is not atypical for devices. Finally, belying the device’s mobile-centric components, the Razer Forge TV is a miniscule 105mm x 105mm x 17mm.
Regarding the including Serval controller, it costs $79.99 if purchased individually, so if you’re considering purchasing one, you save $30 by buying the bundle. The controller itself is Bluetooth-based and also includes a clip to attach a smartphone, for use with any Bluetooth-supporting device.
It is based on the XBox 360-type model with added Android control buttons, not dissimilar to what NVIDIA did with their Shield controller. It does lack the mini-touchpad that NVIDIA includes, however.
Android “TV” (he said, with air quotations)
The Razer Forge TV console itself is an aesthetically pleasing device, and for the most part the specs are there and the connectivity options are decent.
The success of the Roku, Chromecast, and similar devices have proven there’s a market for streaming boxes that take advantage of the content available from Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Vudu, YouTube, and so on; in theory, adding a nominal additional cost to beef up the specs and open a device up to native gaming and game streaming seems like a reasonable product, one that people might be interested in.
Sadly, Razer has totally missed the mark with this product. In order to position itself as a streaming box with added gaming capability, the Razer Forge TV needed to have functional streaming capabilities, and at launch it does not.
To start with, there is no support for Netflix.
Let me state that again: without figuring out a side-loading solution, you cannot use Netflix on the Razer Forge TV.
Or Amazon Prime. That’s right, there’s no support for Amazon Prime, either. Not natively, nor via casting.
No Netflix, No Amazon Prime.
You do get Hulu, though. Also, VLC, which is hilarious for reasons I will explain shortly.
The initial available app selection is terrible, and I can’t help but feel this is Razer taking advantage of assumptions people have about what it means to be an “Android TV” device. Be honest, are there any of you out there that didn’t assume this box would be able to use Netflix?
Yes, you can side-load Netflix, and once loaded, you can access it via a sideloaded app launcher, but using the flexibility and customizability of Android as an excuse and crutch to make this device have the bare minimum of support you’d expect is not reasonable nor acceptable.
Cortex Game Streaming
The other device category the Razer Forge TV is competing against is anything that can stream PC games, including those already in existence, and those to come. In the latter category, the low-end is represented by the $50 Steam Link box, and the high-end by the NVIDIA Shield Console, both due out by the end of 2015.
In addition, the release of “PCs on a stick” like the Intel Compute Stick gives rise to the possibility of just using a full Windows 8 budget PC to do Steam streaming and lower-end gaming like indie titles and emulation.
At the $100 price point, the Razer Forge TV seemed like a compelling product by merging the streaming content of a Chromecast with the game streaming of Steam Link box, but here again, this box is a failure.
The implementation of PC game streaming on the Razer Forge TV, said to be “soon after release” is not due to hit the box until Q4, potentially a full six months after retail release.
Yes, that’s right: No PC streaming until months into the future. In the interim, you’re limited to local Android gaming exclusively.
Serval Controller & Android Gaming
There is one plus side to this device: the included Serval controller is quite good, and the Razer Forge TV also supports use of the Xbox 360 controller via that USB port.
Android games – those that you can squeeze onto the included 16 GB of local storage – will run as you’d expect on the higher end of 2014’s mobile technology.
Except, that is, for emulation.
Remember how I noted earlier that the Forge TV has a USB port, but it doesn’t appear that the device can use it for expanded memory right now? And that it doesn’t have an SD or Micro-SD card slot? In addition to this, it also doesn’t have a web browser.
You can download emulation programs, but you can’t get the ROMs onto the system, at least not out of the box.
Speaking of: remember how I said you get VLC? You also can’t use that for anything in the absence of access to external media or a web browser.
Yeah, so basically, here’s what this device does to you if you think about it for any length of time:
To be fair, you can side-load a number of file explorer programs and gain access to files that way, and if you do so, this is a very capable emulation box and the Serval controller is of decent quality… though given the review history of Razer’s controllers for PC and console, of somewhat dubious longevity.
Still, not having this function out of the box is inexcusable on Razer’s part.
Google’s commitment to keeping Android an open platform is what has made it the runaway success it is today, at least in terms of global market share. Unfortunately, it also is its chief weakness when compared to its main rival, Apple.
Playing off the Android TV concept that most customers have in their mind, and Razer’s name recognition in the PC gaming space, the Razer Forge TV is a half-baked product that, at least at launch, provides users with neither the gaming experience they’d expect, nor the streaming content experience they’d expect. Instead it comes across as little more than a cash grab using name recognition as leverage.
If Google wants to compete seriously in this space, they need a marquee product that does something better than the competition. More importantly, they can’t allow the Android TV moniker to appear on a product like this, which doesn’t offer anywhere close to a full and reasonable feature set.
As I mentioned earlier, in theory this product offers a nice cross-section of value. I thought, hey, I can “cast” to this (nope) and watch content on it (nope) but also use it for game emulation (nope) and streaming PC gaming (nope).
The Shield Console, in theory, is significantly different that other similar devices by nature of its streaming capabilities (handling 4K content) and better hardware, but the cost premium to make this possible is more than nominal. Native Android gaming is, in general, too focused on tablet and phone touchscreen interfaces to dent the living room in my opinion, and emulation isn’t really a sustainable mainstream selling point. By the time this device releases, the PS4 will likely have had a price drop, or will include significant bundled content.
As far as the Steam Link, $50 for a box that only streams PC games, when a full PC on a stick is $150, may not make sense to enough consumers, unless it streams them significantly better than other solutions. That remains to be seen.
For now, it seems like consumers are best served by buying the best content streaming solutions, like the Chromecast and Roku, or jumping up a notch to lower-end PCs like the HP Stream Mini at $179.99, which can stream content as well as offer local PC gaming, game emulation, and streaming PC game content via Steam.
Keep in mind that Razer can solve these problems. Via an OS update, they can resolve the USB external media reading problem. They can clean up their app’s functionality, and sign deals with Netflix and other key content providers. They can enable their Cortex streaming service.
The question is, will they do it, and when? This hardware is already aging. Unless they move very quickly, I have a hard time believing this box will be anything other than a sad footnote in the continued Android struggle to figure out the streaming box segment of the market.
Now, excuse me, I have to open an RMA on this thing and get it shipped back to Amazon.
(Seriously though, don’t buy it – did you even read what I wrote? Buy the NVIDIA Shield Console if you want a similar device)