Best Buy pulls TCL Google TVs amid complaints of slow, buggy software

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Back in late summer, TCL announced an upgraded version of its high-end 6-Series TV. Aside from some technical improvements — the newer set fully supports HDMI 2.1 and 4K gaming at 120Hz — the biggest change had to do with software, with the latest 6-Series running Google TV instead of the Roku OS that has shipped on many of TCL’s most popular sets in the United States. The company has already released TVs powered by Android TV internationally and on a few budget models in North America, but the 2021 6-Series was meant to be a combined showcase for TCL hardware and Google software.

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So far, it’s not working out that way, and things aren’t going quite as well as TCL might’ve hoped. Best Buy — the exclusive US retailer of the TCL Google TVs — has abruptly removed both models from its store listings, and TCL confirms to The Verge that there are issues being ironed out.

Some early buyers of the 6-Series with Google TV (model R646) have complained about what they describe as a buggy, sluggish user interface. I myself have been reviewing a 65-inch model over the past couple weeks, and while the Google TV home screen seems to work relatively well, it didn’t take long for me to notice some general slowness when pulling up and going through the settings menu. There can also be a lag before the TV reacts to remote control commands. My roommates have observed crashing apps and a few instances where the TV itself froze and became unresponsive. Some online reviews cite more annoying problems that require unplugging the TV altogether.

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Similar early criticisms have also been leveled at the 5-Series with Google TV; Caleb at Digital Trends found his review unit to be on the slow side and ran into several bugs.

This Reddit thread about the 5-Series with Google TV is equally applicable to the 6-Series.

TCL has already rolled out several software updates meant to improve performance and stability. “Our priority is to deliver an optimized user experience with Google TV and have a cadence of planned software updates for TCL devices,” TCL spokesperson Rachelle Parks told The Verge in late November. Some of those updates do seem to have made a positive difference, and Parks told us in a statement on Thursday that “customers will see marked improvements in the weeks to come.”

But as of this week, Best Buy removed both of those models from its store listings. TCL’s own website has a link to Best Buy that no longer works. Prior to the removal, the 65-inch 6-Series I’m testing had an average review rating of 3.5 stars. Many reviews praise the panel and Mini LED picture quality but go on to list issues encountered with the software.

TCL confirmed to The Verge that it’s aware “some are facing challenges with the stability of the user interface” and yet, that the company expects these TVs to be “available again in the coming weeks.”

While TCL is familiar with Android TV, the Google TV software experience is new territory for the company, and clearly, it’s having a rough go at this early stage. I hope a lot of the performance issues can be ironed out with more updates; this really is a fantastic TV, with terrific peak brightness and excellent contrast thanks to that Mini LED backlighting. But it’s not where it needs to be right now.

In fact, I’ve already gone ahead and plugged an Apple TV 4K into one of the HDMI ports just to avoid the sluggishness and jank. Streaming devices are a great way to speed up budget TVs, but they shouldn’t be a necessary bandaid for a TV with an MSRP of over $1,000.

The Verge has reached out to Best Buy for more details. This could be a supply shortage situation (though it’d be odd for the pages to completely vanish in that case), or maybe TCL is taking a beat to assess next steps for its new Google TVs to turn around their buggy early reputation.

Update December 9th, 8:28PM ET: Added information from TCL about software updates and availability.

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