After being hugely impressed by the flagship Samsung UE46F8000 and Samsung UE55F8000 from Samsung’s 8 Series of LED TVs, can equal amounts of hyperbole be heaped on this step-down 46-inch LED TV? Darn right it can – and at £300 (around AU$450 / US$463) cheaper, we’re almost convinced that this Samsung Series 7 screen is a better value option.
Part of that conclusion comes from the Samsung UE46F7000’s looks, which are at least equal to its so-called big sister, and in some ways much more practical.
The most obvious change is the desktop stand, which is here a more traditional design that the arced – and more space-hungry – stand found underneath the Series 8 TV.
Not that Samsung’s ‘One Design’ found here isn’t an unusual take on a classic structure – the supporting core of the desktop stand is unique in that it’s here that you’ll find the Samsung logo. The support for this central pillar protrudes from the bottom of the main TV, which makes it appear a little tricky to set up. We feared we might crush or damage that protrusion, but in practice this wasn’t an issue during our test.
Although its footprint is a tad larger in terms of width and height, the Samsung UE46F7000 is actually slimmer than the Samsung UE46F8000, though just by half a millimetre. That 34.4mm (1.35-inch) depth is overshadowed by the ‘super narrow’ bezel, which consists of just 5mm (0.2 inches) of shiny silver all around the screen, plus a 2mm outer layer and a 1mm gap to the actual image.
The screen, an LED-backlit LCD panel with 1920 x 1080 pixels, hosts some of the best smart TV features yet.
Fitted with a quad-core processor, the Samsung UE46F7000 can handle two feeds from either of its Freeview HD or Freesat HD tuners. These can be recorded to USB, though it’s what they enable in terms of smartphone and tablet apps that’s really exciting (cue multi-screen viewing).
Just as enticing is Smart Hub, a five-panelled structure that separates an On TV home screen with a live TV thumbnail and a load of now/next and recommended programmes from pages dedicated to movies, apps and linked computers, tablets and smartphones.
A pop-up camera helps power a face recognition system and gesture-driven control options, though there’s also a touchpad remote equipped with a microphone for voice control. However, on the pricier Samsung UE46F8000 these features disappointed us, proving too time consuming and too often inaccurate.
Lastly, and probably leastly, the Samsung UE46F7000 comes with two pairs of active shutter 3D glasses – Samsung’s own SSG-5100GB – which cost around £15 (around AU$22.50/US$23) each.
The Samsung UE46F8000’s key features in terms of picture quality – namely Cinema Black and its native 200Hz panel – are retained on the Samsung UE46F7000, which provides further evidence that those after pitch perfect pictures could here find a way to save a few coins.
However, while the Samsung UE46F8000 boasted Micro Dimming Ultimate, the Samsung UE46F7000 just has Micro Dimming without the ‘Ultimate’, suggesting that there are fewer LED clusters. Local dimming will therefore be slightly less advanced, though whether this drastically reduces the picture is debatable.
The Samsung UE46F7000 is priced at £1,599.99 (around AU$2,405 / US$2,470), and is accompanied in Samsung’s 7 Series by the 40-inch Samsung UE40F7000 and 55-inch Samsung UE55F7000.
The step-up Samsung Series 8 – as epitomised by the stunning 46-inch Samsung UE46F8000 and 55-inch Samsung UE55F8000 add more powerful speakers, Micro Dimming Ultimate and a rather wide arc design stand that won’t be to everyone’s taste.
However, go shopping for a Samsung TV with a mind to save cash and you’ll likely be more tempted by the drop-down sub-series sets such as the Samsung UE46F6400, which adds a little depth (15mm/0.59 inches to be exact – oh, the horror) but retains the four HDMI inputs and costs just £1,029.99 (around AU$1,548 / US$1,592).
However, it does mean sacrificing Micro Dimming, putting up with much less powerful speakers, a beefier bezel, no voice or gesture controls and a single Freeview HD tuner.
Those not bothered about the extra smart TV gubbins ought to consider one of Samsung’s value-busting plasma televisions, such as the 51-inch Samsung PS51E490, though plasmas with Smart Hub – and the rest – are soon on the way in the shape of the 51-inch Samsung PS51F8500.
Besides active shutter 3D and voice/gesture control, the Samsung UE46F7000 is all about the Smart Hub’s redesigned interface. It’s less about apps and more about a clever division of labour and what Samsung calls S Recommendation, where the TV monitors what you’re watching and uses the metadata it collects to make recommendations.
This all happens on the Smart Hub’s front page, called On TV, with four other pages – Social, Apps, Movies & TV and the snappily-named Photos, Videos & Music – taking care of all other app-based smart TV features and home networking.
The back of the slim-as-hell Samsung UE46F7000 is identical to the Samsung UE46F8000, with four HDMI inputs complemented by three USBs – though these are all high up, which makes it tricky to connect short USB cables often found with smaller HDDs and flash drives.
It also has a Scart (via an adaptor), Ethernet LAN, component video and composite video (via more adaptors), a headphones slot and digital optical audio out.
For those who tire of the 2013 version of Smart Hub come March 2014, an Evolution Kit can be slotted in to this same connections panel, adding extra processing power, too.
Two remote controls are supplied, one traditional one in black plastic – though it is smaller than usual – and another in simply gorgeous brushed metal that comes with a touchpad and a buttons etched with their logo or function. We know which one we’ll use… though it did take us a while to figure out how to insert the batteries into the touchpad remote.
Voice and gesture control tech is here, as are myriad apps and powerful image options, though what underlines it all is a quad-core processor – and with so much going on, that’s a relief. So too is the ability to take two streams from either the Freeview HD or the Freesat HD.
Those of you wanting to save money will be glad to know that there’s very little difference between the Samsung UE46F7000 and the pricier Samsung UE46F8000. In fact, we’d go as far as to recommend that if you plan to install a TV in a living room where you’ll be primarily be watching in bright light, choose the Samsung UE46F7000 ahead of its more expensive sibling.
However, there are differences, and those after the absolute last word in picture quality will find the Samsung UE46F7000 a notch or two behind its sibling.
With our test disc, Prometheus on Blu-ray, we immediately spotted some light leakage from the bottom two corners of the panel that was much more pronounced than on the Samsung UE46F8000. It fact, when viewed in a blackout – and only then – it’s possible to discern a central sphere that’s noticeably darker than the rest of the screen.
The Cinema Black feature proves useful when engaged, making the black bars top and bottom of Prometheus – or any 21:9 movies on Blu-ray – nicely dark and reasonably uniform.
However, reduce the viewing angle and it becomes less impressive, something that applies to almost all of this TV’s image strengths. It’s also a shame that Cinema Black isn’t available while playing digital files, such as MKVs – only Blu-ray and DVD.
What’s really key on the Samsung UE46F7000 is its native 200Hz panel, which renders high-octane sequences from Prometheus silky-smooth and free from the blur that plagues lesser TVs. It instantly makes the Samsung UE46F7000 a high-end TV.
But ultimate judder removal is left to the Motion Plus system. By inserting guessed-at frames of video into the action it tries to make movies look more like video, but in doing so it does create fizzing around fast-moving objects.
It’s best left on its Smooth setting, which gets rid of judder nicely. It’s a decent effort, but it’s not as good as on Panasonic’s 2013 attempts, such as the tech in the Panasonic TX-L42DT65B, and those wanting as pristine a picture as possible should probably leave it alone.
Meanwhile, colour is rich and well saturated and helped by some strong black levels, but only after some tweaks. Once again, Samsung’s picture presets are a little off the pace, so we do recommend reducing the power of the backlight and lessening the colour on both the Movie and Natural picture presets.
There is a Black Tone setting that’s worth experimenting with, but if you set it higher than Dark it does tend to crush shadow detail.
Switching to 3D mode, again with Prometheus, we were glad to see that the Samsung UE46F7000’s performance closely matches the Samsung UE46F8000’s stunning detail, depth and crosstalk-free performance.
Maybe it’s the dual-core processor at work, but we’ve honestly not seen 3D look this precise and smooth on an LED TV before Samsung’s latest crop. 3D movies for the home – time for a rebirth? Probably not, but it’s proof that active shutter 3D isn’t dead yet.
Although detail is high from Blu-ray sources, it’s not the starkest, most precise image we’ve ever seen, though that’s no bad thing. The flip-side of that is much more valuable, in that you get a pleasingly clean and precise all-round treatment of standard definition.
Standard definition and streaming
If a rerun of Wonders of the Universe on BBC Two HD looks sharp and fluid, the same broadcast in standard definition is almost as impressive. On a screen of this size that’s impressive, and it continues through the various video qualities.
Carl Sagan’s Cosmos on DVD is highly watchable despite its age, while both home-grown videos from a smartphone, and some cat videos via the YouTube app, remain clean and smooth.
Usability, sound and value
While the new layout of Samsung’s Smart Hub user interface is impressive, it does take a little getting to know. The feeling is mutual, since S-Recommendation – which uses metadata from either a built-in tuner or a hooked up set-top box – takes a good few days to start nominating useful programme ideas.
Voice and gesture control
Its gelling with the Samsung UE46F7000’s voice interaction features is less impressive. Our shout of ‘What’s on?’ culminated in the Samsung UE46F7000 giving us a list of six items – complete with icons – along the bottom of the screen, ranging from horse racing on Channel 4 to The Big Bang Theory and, oddly, an empty slot on a ‘shut’ BBC HD channel (actually now BBC Two HD).
The voice system doesn’t use programme names, just numbers, so we then had to say ‘3’ to switch to The Big Bang Theory. It’s merely a different, rather than quicker way of accessing programmes, and in our test was really slow. Even changing channel took at least 10 seconds. Having to press the microphone button each time you speak is a pain, too.
If voice control is awkwardness all-round, gesture control is another disappointment. Despite the use of a pop-up camera that’s capable of capturing 5MP images, we experienced some problems in getting the Samsung UE46F7000 to recognise our swipes.
The most useful gestures are via the touchpad remote, where a touch of the side of the touchpad puts a virtual sketchpad in the corner of the TV screen, with a drawn squiggle of, say, ‘3’ immediately switching to ITV. It takes a few minutes to get to know, but that touchpad works well and feels thoroughly high-end in the hand.
What’s most impressive about the Samsung UE46F7000’s user interface is the basic stuff coupled with the extra processing power on duty here. That quad-core processor really makes a difference to everyday functions, with the Samsung UE46F7000 being speedy and thoroughly joyful to use.
Though the apps in Smart Hub haven’t changed much, the web browsing has, but to no avail. Using the touchpad to navigate a cursor on the page is, technically, much easier, though it’s still much, much slower than surfing the web on a smartphone.
Entering text via an on-screen keyboard just doesn’t work, even with the touchpad cursor, though in our test the biggest problem was the browser software, which crashed and had to be painfully restarted. It’s like using an underpowered Windows netbook from five years ago. Yuck.
If the ‘second screen’ antics created by the provision of multiple tuner feeds is genuinely exciting, it’s not as universal as it should be. If you’ve got a Samsung Galaxy S4 or other Samsung Galaxy smartphone there’s no problem, with the Smart View app enabling you to watch one channel while another plays on the TV. The app also works as a remote control for the TV.
But the same app on iOS works only in clone fashion, enabling the viewing of one channel simultaneously on the TV and a smartphone or tablet. We’re not sure that the point of that is.
The transmitting of TV channels to both apps is a little behind the live feed on the TV, though our major worry revolves around how little these extra tuner skills are used – the EPG for Freeview HD is a joy to use, but limited. For instance, the ability to see what’s playing on another channel without actually switching to it – as seen on Panasonic’s TVs for 2013 – is sadly missing.
It’s a similar story with AllShare, an app native to Samsung Galaxy devices that enables file sharing between all Samsung devices.
That said, file support from USB sticks and from computers on the same home network – via Wi-Fi, no less – is smooth and comprehensive.
In our test we got AVI, MP4, MKV and AVC HD video, JPEG and PNG photos, and MP3, M4A, WMA, FLAC, OGG, APE and WAV music files to play.
At last we find a chink in the Samsung UE46F7000’s armour beyond LED light leakage.
Armed with two 20W speakers that are only half as powerful as the ones that delighted and surprised us on the Samsung UE46F8000 – which also had its own built-in woofers – the Samsung UE46F7000 fails to give much presence or power to music or films. As well as a lack of bass, there’s little width and detail tends to get lost.
Whether the £1,599.99 (around AU$2,405 / US$2,470) Samsung UE46F7000 can be judged good value against a host of far, far cheaper options boils down to how important usability is to you.
Forget the fancy voice and gesture controls – they’re simply not worth paying for and, in our opinion, lessen the attractiveness of the Samsung UE46F7000 as a whole.
3D functions, too, are virtually default on any TV above £600 (around AU$904/US$929). However, you’ll not find a quad-core processor on many TVs at all, and it is worth paying for, since basic, everyday TV functions are performed very quickly, and that extra power helps produce a versatile, clean and smooth picture, too.
If you’re choosing between the Samsung UE46F7000 and the pricier Samsung UE46F8000, know that the former is different in three key areas; it has a better, more practical desktop stand, but it does have weaker speakers and a less advanced panel that won’t suit those wanting to watch frequently in a total blackout.
Whether any of those differences apply to you, however, is a different matter. Either way, there’s no doubting that the Samsung UE46F7000 is a star performer and a key screen for 2013.
The quad-core processor is a revelation, and the redesign of Smart Hub – as well as a host of slinky transitions, icons and live TV thumbnails – is as impressive as the all-round picture quality that extends to awesome 3D.
However, most of our love for the Samsung UE46F7000 is split between the stunning design (which stays the right side of practical) and a great touchpad remote that’s easy to use and so, so much nicer to own than the horrible black plastic remotes we’re all used to.
The built-in audio on the Samsung UE46F7000 is pretty poor, which gives you a major reason to consider upgrading to the Samsung UE46F8000 if you’re after a true all-in-one experience. After all, what’s the point in saving £300 (around AU$450 / US$463) if you then need to go out and spend at least that amount on a sound bar or home cinema?
Aside from a couple of niggles about USB slots being too high up on the TV’s side, that problem with LED light leakage and the difference in second screen apps, what’s most annoying about the Samsung UE46F7000 is its ineffective, unstable and slow voice and gesture control options.
For anyone after a high-end TV, we’d wager that the Samsung UE46F7000 will suit more people than the Samsung UE46F8000.
It’s clearly got a lesser panel inside, with some LED light leakage, and a tighter viewing angle. These are both obvious, especially when watched in a blackout. However, how many people actually want to watch in darkness?
Bright, detailed and with excellent black levels, the Samsung UE46F7000 (after some tweaking to some overly rosy presets) presents a versatile and thoroughly impressive picture that extends to 3D, too.
And the Samsung UE46F7000 is also a joy to use, which is mostly down to Smart Hub, a new touchpad remote and that quad-core processor, though iOS users will be disappointed with only ‘clone’ viewing of TV channels on an iPad.
At the time of writing we’d not reviewed all of the major new TVs from the big brands, but the Samsung UE46F7000 should certainly be compared to smart TVs from Panasonic, Sony, LG, Toshiba and Philips.
It’s also worth trying a direct comparison with one of Samsung’s plasma TVs, such as the Samsung PS51E490 or the 50-inch Panasonic TX-P50VT65 plasma.
By Jamie Carter, TechRadar