Samsung UE40F6400 £799.99
19th Jul 2013 | 10:11
Great value smart TV with dodgy voice command tech
Last year it was the dual-core processor that really brought smart TV into the realm of real-world usability. In 2013 it's quad-core processing that's making multitasking apps possible.
But who actually needs to use Skype on a TV while surfing the internet, watching Lovefilm and streaming some music all at once? Not many of us, which is why the sweet-spot with TVs such as the Samsung UE40F6400 is now with dual-core processors, aka 'last year's tech'.
That's as always with flatscreen TVs, and despite its step-down reputation, this 40-inch LED-backlit LCD TV from Samsung's 6 Series still manages to offer voice interaction (though don't get too excited), active shutter 3D, Freeview HD and Samsung's excellent, Wi-Fi-powered Smart Hub within a highly polished design that hides multiple HDMI and USB ports.
Forget metallic bezels or aluminium - you won't find such materials on affordable televisions - and instead revel in the Samsung UE40F6400's reasonably slim 49.6mm (1.95 inch) deep and 16mm (0.63 inch) wide bezel.
It's a shiny, slightly bulgy bezel in gloss black, with a 3mm-wide, convex transparent edge to catch ambient light; you might see the odd sparkle.
You won't find the Micro Dimming LED tech of high-end Samsung TVs here, but the flip-side is bargains galore. With a full price of just £799.99 (around US$1,215 / AU$1,320), the Samsung UE40F6400 is already being sold at a considerable discount.
There are a dizzying range of sizes of this exact TV, with the 32-inch Samsung UE32F6400 (£600), 46-inch Samsung UE46F6400 (£1,030), 50-inch Samsung UE50F6400 (£1,230), 55-inch Samsung UE55F6400 (£1,450), 65-inch Samsung UE65F6400 (£2,500) and monster-sized (and priced) 75-inch Samsung UE75F6400 (£5,000) all boasting exactly the same range of features and specs.
However, probably more important is the major differences between this television and others in Samsung's huge - and often cut-priced - arsenal. It's a sea of suspiciously similar model numbers, but we've sorted through them for you.
Samsung's Series 7 TVs - and its identically-sized Samsung UE40F7000, which costs a shade under £1,200 - have built-in speakers that are twice as powerful, a built-in camera for Skype-type features and a camera app, as well as gesture control (don't worry, you're not missing much), a Freesat HD tuner in addition to Freeview HD, a slimmer bezel and a 34.4mm depth, and a Smart Evolution kit.
Two other 40-inch TVs just above the Samsung UE40F6400 include the Samsung UE40F6500 (£900) and Samsung UE40F6800 (£1,000), the latter of which includes a narrower bezel and a slightly different 'branch' design whereby two completely separate feet attach to the back of the TV.
It might sound exciting, but in our experience it makes the TV too wide to sit on most TV tables, and nor does it swivel - take measurements before you buy. Both of these step-up TVs add a Freesat HD tuner.
If you're happy with Freeview HD but want to make savings, consider two other Samsung 40-inch TVs in the 6 Series - the Samsung UE40F6200 (£730, though its lacks crucial 200Hz processing and 3D features) and Samsung UE40F6100 (£700, though this 3D TV has only two HDMI inputs and a single USB slot).
Phew. Now, let's get on with expanding upon the Samsung UE40F6400, which - despite our exhaustive explanations of the alternatives - is one of the best value televisions in the entire Samsung lineup for 2013.
Features and picture quality
Samsung's 6 Series is so busy with variants, upgrades, downgrades and exclusives that we're pretty sure most shoppers will buy whichever one is being aggressively promoted - and that's probably no bad thing because, as a rule, the 6 Series is Samsung's best-value class of TV.
There's a plethora of ins and outs for every occasion. A single Scart sits on the rear panel behind the TV's right-hand side (as you watch it), alongside wired Ethernet, one HDMI slot, a set of component video inputs, and both analogue audio (phono) inputs and an optical digital audio output.
The latter is great news for those with home cinema systems and amplifiers, though note the absence of a digital coaxial as well as any kind of slot to attach Samsung's Smart Evolution annual OS update kit.
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Still, it's on the side panel - again, on the TV's right side, where reside the real reasons to buy this particular model over others lower down in Samsung's 6 Series. Alongside three HDMI inputs (bringing the total to four) are three USB slots, one each for a USB flash drive, a Skype camera and an external hard disk for making recordings.
The latter scenario is rather rudimentary, since the Samsung UE40F6400 has only one Freeview HD tuner (so you have to watch whatever you record), but it's a system that's well integrated into the Smart Hub user interface.
Also on this side panel is an RF input to fuel the built-in Freeview HD tuner, which is some rather unusual - if also handy - positioning.
Still on hardware, the Samsung UE40F6400 also includes two pairs of Samsung's own, and ultra-slim, active 3D glasses, which are slated to last around 150 hours on a single charge. That's enough to watch the world's entire library of 3D movies twice (probably).
The Samsung UE40F6400 does have another unusual angle that adds to its flexibility, namely two separate remote controls. The headline-grabber is the Smart Touch remote control, which has a touch trackpad to navigate the TV screens and (if you're feeling brave) a built-in microphone, too.
However, the shrunken second - and more traditional - remote is still a notable improvement on last year's TVs, certainly in terms of minimalism.
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There's a microphone inside that Smart Touch remote for voice interaction, which we'll look at later.
But what most of us are really concerned about is apps and catch-up TV. Happily, the Samsung UE40F6400 has these in spades. In fact, we'd go so far as to say that it's impossible to buy a smart TV with more must-have apps and extras than the Samsung UE40F6400 and its brethren.
BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, Demand Five and 4OD make up a uniquely comprehensive catch-up offering from Samsung that dominates the Samsung UE40F6400's Wi-Fi-powered Smart Hub screen.
Other apps that impress include both typical fare (KnowHow Movies, Netflix, Lovefilm - though the latter only after a thorough search of the Samsung Apps store - and those must-have but rarely used apps such as Facebook and Twitter) and more unusual apps (Curzon On Demand, NatGeo Images, BFI, Digital Theatre plays, TED and TuneIn internet radio).
S recommendation is on hand, too, to make suggestions for both live TV programmes and movies within catch-up apps that you might have subscribed to, though it learns your habits slowly, so don't expect wonders from the off.
Inside the Samsung UE40F6400 is Samsung's 3D HyperReal Engine picture processing tech - along with a full suite of tweaks that can be applied to just the current, or all, sources - and here it proves to be well-named.
Although black levels are certainly a step down from Samsung's higher-end TVs, with less shadow detailing on show, we were impressed by the TV's ballistic colours, decent contrast and fine HD detailing.
Active vs passive 3D
However, it's the 200Hz LCD panel that proves the picture's pillar. That's all about blur reduction, something that's blighted LCD screens for yonks. Here, our Blu-ray disc of Inception is largely free from motion blur and is clarity incarnate, after engaging one of this TV's special features - MotionPlus.
MotionPlus is a frame interpolation tech that's at last coming of age. Engaging it in its strongest Smooth mode adds stunning fluidity and far more detail during fast-moving sequences, and though we did notice the odd flicker and torn edge around really fast-moving objects (flailing arms and legs, swords and guns), the less powerful Standard setting just doesn't cure quick camera pans of blur and judder quite so effectively.
Switch to native 3D, in this case with Hugo, and the image instantly gets more contrast-rich - thanks to those active shutter 3D specs - which makes the movie's opening scene of snowflakes over Paris especially entrancing.
However, it's with MotionPlus that it really takes off. Some people hate this video-like effect, but with it switched off some of the actors resemble 2D cardboard cutouts divorced from the action around them.
If MotionPlus remains optional for regular Blu-ray, it's nothing less than a magical must for 3D.
However, it's worth mentioning that although we found the 3D specs comfortable, we did get a lot of reflections in them from behind, though only the merest hint of crosstalk (usually in mixed brightness scenes with lots of contrast).
Standard definition picture
The TV's screen itself is cleverly reflection-free, though we were disappointed by standard definition TV. The Samsung UE40F6400 manages to smooth out problems with low resolution broadcasts using Digital Clean View. It cleaned up some BBC2 Wimbledon broadcasts, especially close-ups of the players, but long shots from the back of the courts looked overly fuzzy and soft.
Meanwhile the MPEG Noise Filter appeared to add a slight sheen of blur. This is best left on its medium setting, where it seems to successfully smooth and clean edges.
Despite these minor issues, we'd judge the Samsung UE40F6400 as a great value performer with an overall image that's above average in quality for a TV in its price bracket.
Usability, sound and value
Samsung AllShare Play, which used to act as a conduit between Samsung devices - and which is still mentioned within the architecture of the Samsung UE40F6400 - has been upgraded and renamed (on the mobile app side, at least) as the rather less wordy Samsung Link.
Luckily we had a Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 to hand during our review, so downloaded the new app and attempted to trade photos, music and files with the Samsung UE40F6400.
The integration is very good, though not flawless; we managed to stream photos (it's even possible to pinch to zoom on a tablet and get the exact same real-time view on the TV), music and video files.
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The link is a bit unreliable, since it did stall once, and there's a rather long pairing process, but MP3, FLAC, WAV and WMA files all streamed successfully, as did JPEG photos and MKV, AVI, MP4 and WMV video files. The same files play from a docked USB flash drive, too.
Within a polished but often ponderous user interface, S Recommendation is an interesting way to combat the problem of umpteen channels and not being able to find anything to watch.
It learns your habits and makes suggestions on what's coming up soon on live TV, and selects movies it thinks you'll like from catch-up TV and movie apps (though an account with Samsung is required, which immediately and pointlessly puts up a huge 'can't be bothered' barrier).
However, TV suggestions on Smart Hub's central On TV screen merely get an icon, and it's usually impossible to tell what the suggestion actually is, since tiny pictures of random TV presenters will mean nothing to most viewers. Nor did it get anywhere near making good suggestions during our review, but perhaps all it needs is time.
We also noticed that Smart Hub's Timeline screen, which ought to present a chronological schedule of what's coming up, worked only intermittently, and was often blank. Add that to the rather empty-looking Apps screen, where just 16 of the 30 app tiles are filled, and Smart Hub begins to seem a little less polished that it might first appear.
Partly joined to S Recommendation is the TV's voice interaction tech, though during our review it proved a failure. "Have you got any recommendations?" provoked the TV to suggest the channel we were already watching as the first option. So we said "First", to which the TV replied, "please use a full sentence", and upon our repetition, launched the built-in web browser. Hmmm.
Later on it heard "Enter URL" as "TiVo", "BBC News" as "Playing me" and "Two" as "Twitter", the app for which it automatically launched.
The voice is also rather robotic, and pronounces YouTube as "YarTube". These misunderstandings make scheduling the TV to change channel at a particular time, though theoretically possible, a nightmare to set up.
The Samsung UE40F6400's regular remote control is much, much better.
Despite having some fairly standard speakers, we were pretty impressed by the Samsung UE40F6400's built-in sound. Of the basic audio modes we favoured the Music setup for its clear vocals and background details, though Amplify adds some much-needed bass.
Movie muffles things a little, but the all-round impression from its 10W speakers is of an open, reasonably detailed soundscape with just enough low frequency action.
There is a SoundShare mode to link via Bluetooth to one of Samsung's DA-E750 Wireless Audio Docks.
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As always, if you're shelling out £800 (around US$1,215 / AU$1,320) or thereabouts for a TV, something special must be in store. That's exactly the case here, with reliable and versatile pictures - aside from, perhaps, SD TV channels - combining with probably the best smart TV system around.
If that wasn't enough, we'd rate the Samsung UE40F6400's build quality as above average for its price, with two pairs of 3D specs and two remote controls provided - especially the Smart Touch version - the icing on the cake of a good value, advanced package.
The cutting out of a Freesat HD tuner (compared to pricier Samsung TVs in 2013) is a wise move, shaving a few quid off the price for those only interested in Freeview HD, at most.
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Apps a-plenty and with both touch-sensitive remote control and voice interaction onboard, the Samsung UE40F6400 is a hugely likable TV with ambitions above its station. Crucially, however, it conducts its core duties of impressive pictures and sound with little fuss.
We're big fans of the Smart Touch remote and this TV's streaming capabilities generally, though it's smart TV that most TV buyers will be impressed by. There's more third-party app innovation for Samsung's Smart Hub than anything else, and the company is also the only one to secure rights to present apps for all the UK's terrestrial broadcasters.
Sound is above average, colour and contrast impress, and MotionPlus processing is capable of taking 3D, especially, to another level.
Though it looks polished, the Samsung UE40F6400's Smart Hub screens aren't quite as reliable as they could be, and they're not as quick as on pricier Samsung TVs.
Standard definition TV channels are upscaled rather weakly, the dual-core processor is liable to stutter, and so too is the integration with other Samsung products while streaming. Voice interaction, meanwhile, is best avoided.
Active vs passive 3D
It's not the best upscaler, nor the slimmest TV, and some won't like the need to use MotionPlus for both 2D and 3D, but we're quite taken by the Samsung UE40F6400. Packed with apps within a reasonably polished Smart Hub system, there's plenty of contrast, colour and detail to compete with pricier options.
We're also big fans of the Smart Touch remote and of its integration with Samsung Galaxy gadgets, though it does stutter occasionally.
However, on the extra features, we're mostly disappointed. It might sound like a strange thing to say, but the presence of voice interaction - and even of the hit-and-miss S-Recommendation system - actually detract from the Samsung UE40F6400's otherwise highly polished and great value package. Experimental technology is all it is, and until it's much more powerful we think that such technology is only going to introduce a sheen of disappointment.
Having just become the owner of one of the UK's best value smart TVs - and that's exactly what this is - that's a shame. With apps a-plenty and an easy to use interface and Smart Hub pages, the Samsung UE40F6400 is a great value option for a living room.
There are many alternatives in this competitive sphere, not least from within Samsung's ranks. Elsewhere we'd suggest auditioning something from the Panasonic ET60 Series, which is similar save for a passive, rather than active, form of 3D.