Samsung’s new F8000 TV blew us away with its nifty features and outstanding picture quality, but its hefty £2,500 price tag is prohibitive for those on a tight budget. So if you’re looking to save yourself a few quid, it’s worth taking a look at Samsung’s 2012 sets, still readily available online.
Take the UE40ES7000, for example. It’s a 40in edge LED model from the ES7000 series, one step down from the premium 8000 range. You can find it online for around £800, while the equivalent model from this year’s F7000 range will set you back around £1,200.
Sure, it lacks the super-duper features of the latest models, but here’s the best part – with Samsung’s optional Evolution Kit you can upgrade the UE40ES7000 to include the 2013 features. Result!
Design and connections
The UE40ES7000’s funky design will add a dash of panache to any living room. The narrow bezel makes the screen seem expansive, while the gloss-black outer casing is sleek and curvy. There’s an integrated camera at the top for Skype and gesture control, and a lip at the bottom bearing an illuminated Samsung logo, which is a little too bright.
The set perches on a shiny silver Quad Stand with four prongs to prop it up. The screen doesn’t ‘float’ like the F series stand, but it’s much more practical if you’re placing it on a narrow surface. Overall it lacks the opulence of the ES8000 series but that’s only to be expected at this lower price.
The UE40ES7000 features a generous array of sockets on the back, although the provision of three HDMI inputs feels miserly for a near-premium set – once your Blu-ray deck, TV box and games console are covered there’s no room for expansion (this year’s sets offer four). The set does, however, support Audio Return Channel and Mobile High-Definition Link, the latter allowing you to watch HD videos from smartphones.
Three USB ports are available for media playback and TV recording onto external hard disks, plus component and composite inputs, Scart input (via the supplied adapter cable), optical digital output, stereo audio input and an Ethernet port. Inputs for the built-in Freeview and Freesat HD tuners are also provided.
True to form, Samsung has shoved an obscene amount of features into this set – chief among which are built-in Wi-Fi and the best selection of Smart TV content on the market.
At present, Samsung is the only company offering all of the main catch-up TV services – BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, 4OD and Demand 5 – and it’s great to see them all here together.
Smart Hub backs this up with a choice of on-demand movie sites (Netflix, LoveFilm, KnowHow, Blinkbox, Acetrax, Crackle), social networking (Facebook, Twitter, Skype), other video sites (YouTube, BBC Sport, Dailymotion, BFI Player) and loads of other apps too numerous to list here.
But what's nice is the family-friendly slant to the line-up, with lots of games and lifestyle apps that the kids will enjoy (including Angry Birds, exclusive to Samsung). You also get dedicated Fitness and Kids sections and Family Story, a photo-sharing service (which has been ditched on the 2013 TVs).
If you don’t want to be constrained by Samsung’s content, there’s a web browser too. Your Video provides access to films and trivia, Social TV lets you tweet and post on Facebook while you watch TV and a search tool lets you find content by keyword.
Elsewhere you can stream files from DLNA servers using Allshare Play, control the set using an Android or iOS device, and share what’s on screen with an Android device through the Smart View feature.
The set uses the active 3D system and you get two pairs of glasses in the box. The set will also convert 2D material to 3D.
On the picture quality side, the set features 800 Clear Motion Rate for eliminating motion artefacts like blur and judder.
To control the UE40ES7000, there’s a choice of two remotes – a traditional black version with thick rubber buttons or a posh touchpad version with a natty silver/black finish. Operation is assisted by voice and motion control, which are fun to use for a bit but are no replacement for the real remotes.
To use voice control, you have to press the ‘Voice’ button on the touchpad remote and speak your command into the microphone – there’s a wide range of commands to choose from, which are presented at the bottom of the screen. It works remarkably well, and I no trouble getting it to recognise my voice, although I felt a bit self-conscious shouting at a TV.
Motion control allows you to control the cursor or scroll through pages by waving your hand. It didn’t always respond though, which left me fruitlessly flapping my arms about like an idiot on more than one occasion.
Of the two remotes, the traditional version is the most reliable thanks to its logical button layout and excellent labelling, although I liked the touchpad device too. It’s sensitive, intuitive and feels weighty in the hand.
Samsung has improved the user interface on its 2013 TVs, but the previous design used here is excellent. Hit the Smart Hub button and you’re taken to a superb main menu, decorated in vibrant colours with a cool underwater theme in the background (with four alternative backgrounds to choose from). Loads of icons are dotted about the screen, and it plays whatever you’re watching in a small box in the corner.
It’s nicely organised, with recommended apps along the top, ‘signature services’ (Samsung Apps, Family Story, Fitness, Kids and Social TV) through the middle and a mixture of icons at the bottom. It’s very busy – something that the new interface rectifies – but it’s logical, responsive and looks great.
All of the online features are laid out with similar sophistication and logic, particularly the Fitness and Kids zones, which use engaging hi-def graphics and bright colour palettes. Downloading and using apps is a breeze, and it’s great having catch-up TV on tap (provided you have the patience to sit through the commercial channels’ adverts).
The Allshare Play menu works brilliantly, displaying different content types down the left and a list of available devices on the right. Samsung has made this process longer on the new layout, but I prefer this version. After selecting your device, it’s a case of finding the content you want within a sequence of folders.
The separate setup menu is a simple box in the middle of the screen, while a Tools menu lets you make changes and check details on the fly. There’s also a History menu which shows the apps and channels you recently visited.
Ease of use permeates every part of this TV, making it easy to select sources, view the EPG and check upcoming TV recordings using the Schedule Manager. When watching Freeview, the flexible onscreen info banner lets you browse a week’s worth of programmes on any channel.
The full EPG is excellent. The timeline grid shows six channels at once and the cursor skips between programme blocks quickly. Live TV plays in a box at the top and you don't have to hit 'info' to see the synopsis – it's displayed at the top of the screen. Colour-coded shortcuts at the bottom make it simple to skip days or move up and down pages. It's no surprise that Samsung left this EPG design well alone on the 2013 models.
There's also a web browser, which is a pain to use with the regular remote, but with motion control or the touchpad zapper, it's easy to move the cursor and select links. This slick operation is also aided by the set's dual-core processor, which ensures quick page loading and speedy menu navigation.
Let’s start with those blacks, which really do look black. With Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 on Blu-ray, there’s a gorgeous density to the costumes and pitch-black skies. They don’t look hollow or misty, and the set picks up the different levels of darkness with consummate ease, which means you don’t miss out on any detail during the epic finale.
This dark scene solidity is helped considerably by the fact that the backlight is consistently spread across the screen, with no pools of light at the sides or corners to compromise depth.
The set’s detail reproduction is also superb, drawing out every pixel from HD material, right down to the texture of skin and fabric. The image has a punchy, lucid quality about it, helped by the razor-sharp edges.
Samsung also provides a range of Motion Plus modes, which do a great job of making movement look smooth and keeping motion blur at bay. As we found on other Samsung sets, the Standard and Clear modes produce the best results without inducing any processing artefacts – anything higher tends to look a little unnatural.
The UE40ES7000 also produces incredibly fulsome colours, demonstrated by the bright palette of X-Men: First Class. The team's yellow jump suits and Azazel's red face paint have admirable strength and purity.
But it’s not just their strength that makes them shine – there’s also a great deal of subtlety and nuance within them, which adds to their sense of three-dimensionality and believability. Also impressive is how smoothly different shades blend into each other, making everything seem natural.
I also tested out a few 3D discs including Avatar and Thor, and the UE40ES7000 does a stand-up job. The bright, natural colours, crisp detail and smooth motion provide a solid foundation for the set to work its 3D magic, conveying a terrific sense of depth.
The image isn’t completely free from flaws, though. There’s some ghosting along the edge of certain objects, which can be a little distracting but won’t completely ruin your enjoyment.
Finally, we tried out some standard-definition material from Freeview and DVD, and the UE40ES7000 upscales the image beautifully. It brings clarity to detailed areas, retains the same warm, natural flavour as HD colours and keeps edges free from jaggies.
It comes as no surprise that the Samsung’s incredibly slender proportions don’t leave room for a powerful sound system, and as a result its sound is rather flat and lacking in depth. There’s a hint of bass, but nowhere near enough to make busy action scenes sound exciting.
But on the plus side, the smooth midrange and treble frequencies allow more sedate, speech-based movies and TV programmes to sound clear and audible, with no distortion, hiss or sibilance to spoil the show. What’s more, 3D Sound adds extra fullness and width to the stereo image.
The UE40ES7000 will no doubt be overshadowed by the swanky new F series sets, but there’s really no reason why it should. Its feature list is terrific, boasting most of the stuff found on this year’s sets, and with Samsung’s Evolution Kit, you can upgrade it anyway.
What’s more, it’s hugely attractive, easy to use (even with last year’s busier GUI) and delivers impressive picture quality, making this an ideal compromise if your budget doesn’t stretch to the brand-new models.
Screen size (inches)
1,920 x 1,080
3D HyperReal Engine
Freeview HD & Freesat HD
3D glasses supplied
800 Clear Motion Rate
20W (2 x 10W)
Energy efficiency class
Dimensions (with stand, W x H x D)
914.4 x 611.2 x 241.3mm
Dimensions (without stand, W x H x D)
914.4 x 545.7 x 29.7mm
1 (via adapter)
Digital audio output
SD card slot