At home I watch a Samsung TV connected to a number of streaming devices like a Google Chromecast, an Apple TV 4K, and even an Xbox. The Samsung TV works well with everything, but my other devices have special relationships. My Chromecast starts by synchronizing with my Google account. My Apple TV curates my entire Apple walled garden. Why doesn’t my Samsung TV do anything special with my Galaxy phone?
That’s not to say the Samsung TV doesn’t work well with my Galaxy Z Flip 4. I can use my phone as a remote for the TV. The TV can send video to the phone so I can walk away from my living room and keep tabs on the World Cup, for instance. It does this through the SmartThings app, which is available on Android and iOS.
That means that pretty much any capable Android and iPhone can do the same things I can do. The limits are more on which Samsung TV you buy than which phone you own, as only the better Samsung TV families handle all of the back-and-forth video sharing between phone and television sources.
Of course, Apple is gonna be Apple
Compare that to my Apple TV. If I want to control the TV with a phone, the only official Apple TV Remote app is available on iOS. I can download the Apple TV streaming video app to my Chromecast, but I cannot download the Apple TV remote to my Android phones. It’s weird the ways that Apple wields exclusivity.
The Apple TV does a much better job with all of my Apple… stuff. My photos, my music, even my apps and games are available on the Apple TV. On my Samsung TV, I can load my Samsung account, but Samsung mostly cares about my Payment Methods in case I want to buy something through the TV apps.
I have been dutifully synchronizing my Samsung devices to the Samsung Cloud for years. My Samsung TV acts like it doesn’t know me. I’ve personally purchased Samsung phones, tablets, televisions, even appliances like a fridge. I expect more respect from my devices if they expect me to login with a password.
Samsung, just let me turn on the TV
At the very least, how about a dedicated remote control on my phone that is always connected to my TV? Every time I want to use my SmartThings app as a remote, I need to make sure my TV is turned on. At the least, I’d want my Samsung phone to remain attached to my Samsung TV so I can power up without digging through the couch cushions for the lost TV remote.
My Xbox Series S can pair my Microsoft account directly to my controller. When I turn on my Xbox with my controller, versus my kid’s controller, I get logged in automatically. Samsung should be making phones that work as seamlessly with its TVs as an Xbox controller with the console.
Is it better that Samsung works with everyone?
There’s an argument to be made for device agnosticism. I spoke with our entertainment editor Matthew Bolton in preparing this story, and he rightly suggests that it is good that Samsung is giving these features to everyone through the SmartThings app.
What we don’t want is an Apple situation on the large screen. It’s bad enough that the Apple Remote app is exclusive, but that’s just to control a small box you connect to your set. It would be a different and more anti-competitive situation if Samsung said only a Samsung phone could power on a Samsung TV.
I see the point, and I also see a difference. I’m not suggesting Samsung needs features that work exclusively with Samsung phones. I’m saying that Samsung could make its TVs work better with Samsung phones than they do with other phones.
An Apple iPhone 14 or a Google Pixel 7 can still use SmartThings as a remote control for a Samsung TV. A Samsung phone shouldn’t need the app. Every smartphone owner still gets to control the Samsung TV with an officially supported app, unlike with Apple TV. Samsung owners just get more value and convenience for being brand loyal.
Samsung Health and Samsung Galaxy Watch 4
I did find one unique pairing of Galaxy and Samsung TV, but it is confoundingly restrictive. If you have a Galaxy Watch 4 or Watch 4 Classic, and one of a select few Samsung 2021 TV sets, you can pair the Samsung Health app on your Samsung TV with your Galaxy Watch.
With this integration, when you take a fitness class on the Samsung TV you can see your health stats as monitored by your Galaxy Watch. Apparently no phone is involved, and once the class is over, the relationship ends.
Still, this is a start. This is what I want. More of this. You can add a webcam to the mix and the TV will compare your video to a real personal trainer. Unfortunately, you can't use your Galaxy smartphone as a webcam here, you can only use select Logitech brand cameras.
This is an extremely limited example, but it's the direction I'd like to see Samsung take TV and smartphone integration. Let's use the sensors, the cameras, the wireless capabilities, and all of the software features of my smartphone to make my TV experience even better.
I'm just here to make the phones better
A dedicated remote control, more robust support for the Samsung Cloud, these are just initial suggestions for how Samsung might add value to both the phone and the television by making them work better together. Frankly, my job isn’t to design new product concepts for phone makers. My job is to hold them accountable to make better products.
Samsung, there are customers who are showing loyalty and buying multiple screens. It’s time to deliver for these buyers. Where is the tight Bixby integration across the entire household that we were originally promised? Where does all of that software innovation – One UI and Tizen and Wear OS and more – reach a point of synergy?
If it isn’t happening, it should be, because the technology is in our hands and we are already paying for it. I complain that Samsung phones are overloaded with features. If we’re going to get so many features, how about features across platforms that only Samsung can deliver? Features that deliver more for Samsung owners? The only reason my Galaxy phone doesn’t add value to my QLED TV is a lack of imagination on Samsung’s part.
If you want to learn more, check out our roundup of all the best Samsung TVs
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Phil Berne is a preeminent voice in consumer electronics reviews, having reviewed his first device (the Sony D-EJ01 Discman) more than 20 years ago for eTown.com. He has been writing about phones and mobile technology, since before the iPhone, for a variety of sites including PCMag, infoSync, PhoneScoop, and Slashgear. He holds an M.A. in Cultural Theory from Carnegie Mellon University.
Phil was the internal reviewer for Samsung Mobile, writing opinions and review predictions about top secret new devices months before launch. He left in 2017. He worked at an Apple Store near Boston, MA, at the height of iPod popularity. He has been a High School English teacher at Title I schools, and is a certified Lifeguard. His passion is smartphones and wearables, and he is sure that the next big thing will be phones we wear on our faces.