Hands on with T-Mobile’s new TV service Called TVision

We take a look at T-Mobile’s new TV service called TVision, which is an alternative to cable and satellite.

At first glance, T-Mobile’s new TV service, available in big cities including Los Angeles, New York and Chicago – is a head-scratcher. The service, which still requires a proprietary box, is about the same price as cable yet doesn’t offer quite the same flexibility of cord cutting.

It’s only after further investigation you realize the plan isn’t fully yet realized. Today, T-Mobile must coordinate with local cable providers to deliver its service, which hamstrings it. But look to the future, and in a world of 5G wireless, the service starts to make more sense.

For starters, T-Mobile says it isn’t targeting cord cutters. The company says it is targeting conventional cable and satellite subscribers by promising them “less BS” in the form of hidden fees, bill creep and early termination fees. This is only partly true. For instance, the service costs $100 (minus an early adopter/T-Mobile subscriber credit of $10 a month), then you pay $10 additional for a box fee each month, plus up to 20% taxes on top of all that.

Additionally, extra channels, like Pac 12 and other regional sports channels, are an additional fee each month, as well as extra boxes to use the service on additional TV’s. On top of all of this, you still need to keep your high-speed internet connection from your current provider, which is where all the head scratching comes into play. Ditch the cable part of your bundle and your monthly high-speed internet bill is almost guaranteed to go up.

One bright spot: KTLA is available as a local channel in the lineup!

I could forgive TVision for all of this if it truly seemed better than cable or satellite, but right now the service seems half-baked. For instance, you get a nice big DVR and channels galore, along with personalized recommendations on what to watch at any given time, but you still need to go to another input on your TV if you want to watch Hulu, Amazon or even Netflix programming.

TVision is promising these apps “by the end of the year” and launching with a paltry selection of integrated apps including YouTube, Pandora and iHeartRadio. Pick up a $35 Chromecast and you can do better.

TVision is a rebranded version of Layer3 TV, which T-Mobile bought last year. It promises to be a better way to watch TV, but I wasn’t very impressed with the software. It’s definitely a step above what your typical cable and satellite box offers, but nowhere near as slick as TiVo, or Apple TV’s interface or even Fire TV. It needs to be better than all of these things for a price point of over $100 a month.

There is Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant support if you have an Echo or Google Home device on your home network. It’s nice functionality to have, but I found the commands to be hit or miss. You still have to say things in an unnatural way, like “Alexa, ask T-Vision to search for Game of Thrones” or “Alexa, ask T-Vision to tune into KTLA.” It’s much more natural to just hold down a microphone button on the remote and say “game of thrones” or “ktla” and have it appear on screen.

And yes, there is a mic button on the remote but it’s not currently supported. Also, the remote control is IR based, which means you need a direct line of sight to the box for it to work properly. I’m so used to Bluetooth and RF remotes from Apple TV, Fire TV and other providers that I forgot you actually have to aim a remote at something anymore. It was a bit frustrating.

Facebook and Twitter are supported but in the most basic of ways. For Facebook, you can only see photos and videos you’ve personally uploaded to the service. You cannnot browse your news feed. Twitter allows more robust access to your newsfeed.

Overall, I’m confused who TVision is for. It’s not for cord cutters, since it’s way too expensive to be a solution to save money over your current setup. Also, you don’t get access to the wide array of apps offered by any of the top platforms like Roku, Apple, Google and Amazon. If you’re a cable subscriber that switches, you will probably be paying more for less. Separate bills for internet and cable means bye bye bundle savings, and in many cases, you will lose sports networks that are specific to your city, like Spectrum’s SportsNet LA that carries the Dodgers. That leaves satellite customers, who might benefit from no contract but the service isn’t much of an improvement over what they’re used to. Also, there’s no Sunday Ticket on TVision if DIRECTV customers are thinking of moving over.

All this leaves TVision in a tricky place, at least for now. I appreciate the fact that folks will have one more option when it comes to live TV services, but you can get 99.9 percent of what TVision offers by purchasing an Apple TV, Roku or Fire TV and signing up for Sling TV, YouTube TV or DirecTV Now. The real vision of TVision might be realized in the future when T-Mobile’s 5G wireless network can handle the delivery of this service. Only then can the company truly compete on price, features and convenience.