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TCL Google TVs hands-on: The affordable smart home TV you’ve been waiting for

TCL Google TVs hands-on: The affordable smart home TVs you’ve been waiting for
(Image credit: Future)

TCL today announced new versions of its 5-Series and 6-Series televisions that will run the Google TV rather than the Roku platform the company is most closely associated with.

While TCL has made Android TVs before, that smart TV software is being phased out for the newer Google TV. Compared to Roku TV, Google TV supports more smart home controls and offers integration with the rest of Google's services. The TCL Google TVs will even feature built-in, far-field mics, letting your set act like one of the best Google Home speakers when you say "Hey Google." 

Google TV is the next iteration of Google's smart TV operating system. It's an evolution of Android TV, the platform used by companies like Hisense, Sony and even TCL in the past. But as we’ve seen on this year's Sony Bravia XR A80J OLED, as well on the Chromecast with Google TV streaming device, Google TV feels totally fresh.

The software puts greater emphasis on content rather than apps, and generally improves the Android TV experience with an enhanced user interface organized by recommended or trending content. And by prioritizing Google's own paid live TV service, YouTube TV, Google TV offers a wholistic solution for modern TV viewing.

So what do you get with a TCL Google TV? I had the opportunity to see the 5-Series and 6-Series Google TVs in-person, and it impressed. I could easily add White Lotus, one of the best HBO Max shows now, to a watchlist from a paired phone. I also noticed that 2016 version of Suicide Squad was trending — a film many (including myself) might want to watch since The Suicide Squad remake is finally out.

Also in the realm of content curation, TCL new offerings are the first Google TVs to support dedicated kids profiles. Parents can add select channels and set timers to manage their children's viewing habits.

TCL Google TVs price and availability

Previously, you could only find Android TV in TCLs lower-end sets. But soon we’ll be seeing Google TV in an elevated collection of the company’s TVs, specifically the 5-Series (50-, 55-, 65- and 75-inch sizes) and 6-Series (55-,65- and 75- sizes.) The sets start at $599 for the 5-Series and $999 for 6-Series.

In terms of picture and sound quality, you should expect the same QLED experience as with the existing Roku versions of these sets, including the TCL 6-Series Roku TV (R635), one of the best TVs for the price right now. You’ll also get your favorite gaming settings, including variable refresh rate and an auto game mode, perfect for your next-gen consoles. 

TCL 6 Series

(Image credit: TCL)

The important physical difference between a TCL Roku TV and TCL Google TV is the far-field mic. There’s a big emphasis on the TV as a smart home device here, as well as being home. With these Google TV sets TCL is offering an add-on webcam for comfortably videoconferencing from your couch.

All TCL Google TVs are available to pre-order now. TCL has not shared an exact release date for its new lineup, but with pre-orders live, I'd expect the sets to start shipping in coming weeks.

Kate Kozuch

Kate Kozuch is a senior writer at Tom’s Guide covering wearables, TVs and everything smart-home related. When she’s not in cyborg mode, you can find her on an exercise bike or channeling her inner celebrity chef. She and her robot army will rule the world one day, but until then, reach her at kate.kozuch@futurenet.com.