While hardly as impressive as the pointer-style, double-sided remote with QWERTY keyboard supplied with any Philips TV pricier than this, the otherwise identical remote included here is one of the best in the business. No gimmicky shaping or weighting here, just sensibly placed and sized buttons. Even the build quality, though not a patch on the metallic designs of its pricier brethren, is superior to most remotes despite using a combination of hard and soft matte black plastic.
We would like to see a shortcut button to the TV's Pixel Plus HD options, which are otherwise easy to miss since none of the onscreen shortcuts lead to that section.
Though we do like the sleek and simple user interface now used by Philips – especially the combination of black backgrounds and icons in primary colours – it does have a few weak areas. It's a very light, non-intrusive design, but occasionally seems a mash-up of different ideas. One example is the 42PFL5008's electronic programme guide for Freeview, which is a tad spreadsheet-like. Schedules for seven channels over two hours are presented over an orange-pink background, with no apparent stylist connection with the rest of the floating user interface. Sadly, there's no thumbnail for live TV and engaging the EPG kills live TV pictures and sound, too.
The same applies to the 42PFL5008's digital file menus, but they're impressive in other ways. With a USB stick plunged into the side of the 42PFL5008 it was, in our test, necessary to wait around a minute for the file system on it to be identified and screened. However, we didn't first have to choose whether we wanted to play video, music or photos. The 42PFL5008 lets us thumb through the files of any type.
That's actually pretty rare on so-called smart TVs, which remain pretty pernickety when it comes to digital files. The 42PFL5008 supported JPEG, PNG and GIF photo files, MP3, M4A, MP3, OGG, WAV and WMA music files, and AVI, MKV, AVC HD, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, WMV and WMV HD video files. Music and video files can be scanned through in up to 32x speeds, while the media file system is actually a lot simpler and less (annoyingly) dynamic than on Philips higher-end TVs, though no less good-looking.
What we're describing on the single core 42PFL5008 is perhaps its overall highlight; a lightweight user interface that doesn't ever become sluggish or slow. Unlike the TVs just above this one in Philips' range, processing and onscreen menus are thoroughly speedy, which makes this an enjoyable TV to use – surely the most important aspect of any TV, after picture quality.
The Smart TV pages, for instance, are quick to skip around and rarely freeze, while the selection of apps that work with the 42PFL5008 do so without too much fuss. Using the MyRemote app (available for Android and iOS) we sent photos and music from a phone and a networked TV to the 42PFL5008, though the live TV cloner feature WiFi SmartShare – glimpsed on other Philips TVs – wasn't on offer. It works both ways, too, with a smartphone running MyRemote identified as a source on the 42PFL5008's core source list. It's then possible to delve into files on the phone.
While not exactly a home cinema-in-one, the 42PFL5008 20W-rated speakers do a thoroughly respectable job. Sound presets include Movie, Music, Game and News, crucially all with enough in the way of bass to impress. There's not a great deal of high frequency detail, with some speech sounding clipped, but one thing is for sure: the 42PFL5008's sound quality is much better, much more balanced, and much more powerful than most flat TVs.
Two pair of frankly very basic 3D spectacles is poor return on any TV running Easy 3D, but we're impressed by the build quality of the TV in general. Overall it's a good value set that just about earns its price tag despite some obvious omissions. A fourth HDMI is found on many of its rivals – particularly from LG, which is what the 42PFL5008 is battling (and where its panel comes from) – though we can't complain about the lack of the pointer-style, two-sided remote control found on the 42PFL5008's pricier brethren. Besides, any mid-to-low-end TV with Ambilight has got to be considered good value.