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30 April 2020

FIRST USE: Xfinity Flex Video Streamer

by Steven B. Combs, Ph.D.
tags: firstuse - hdmi - streaming - video - xfinity - flex - cord-cutter

In my last blog post, I shared my YouTube OPEN THE BOX video for the Xfinity Flex video streaming device. This blog post and companion video serves as a follow-up for those interested in this streamer. In the video, I take a first-look at the devices’s menus and features. In addition, this companion blog post shares additional information not included in the video along with some final thoughts and questions.

Xfinity offered the device for free as part of my Xfinity cable account. The first device is free and a second is $5 per month. Being the penny-pincher I am, I only requested the single device. If I ever cancel my service, I have to turn the device back in. I do not own this “free” device. After you read my review, you will not be shocked to learn that my Flex may go back to Xfinity sooner, rather than later. I’m not sure I want to be financially accountable for a device that I won’t use regularly.

Flex and accessories

YouTube Video: FIRST USE: Xfinity Flex

Before reading the remainder of this post, watch the video below.

 

In the video, I demonstrate the following:

I present my thoughts about the device in this post as a series of lists. You can use the table of contents above to jump to a specific area.

Hardware and Start Up

  1. The streaming box is rugged, has a modern look, and is well designed.
  2. There were no surprises or gotcha’s during the first start up.
  3. Device startup was quick.
  4. Connection to home Wi-Fi as part of the initial startup process was without issue.
  5. Xfinity already tied my account to the device and no log on was necessary.

Remote Control

  1. On initial startup, the remote functions in IR mode. Make sure to point the remote at the Flex until Bluetooth pairing is complete.
  2. The setup prompt you to activate the Bluetooth functionality of the remote.
  3. During the setup, you will configure the IR features to control a television and sound system. You select those devices from a list in the Flex user interface and then fat-finger smash some keys and a code when prompted. Not sure why those codes can’t be sent to the remote since it has a Bluetooth connection to the Flex.
  4. The remote includes voice search (more on that later).
  5. The remote has a build quality superior to other streaming devices.
  6. When you lift the remote, the backlight turns on to assist in use in dark environments.
  7. Reminder, use the Xfinity button to go home (I struggle with this during the video).
  8. Batteries included!
  9. Controls on the remote include standard TV/DVR buttons at the top; with a record button? I assume this is the same remote used on their X1 voice enabled DVR. Below the TV controls are standard streamer box controls.

User Interface

  1. The user interface was clean and modern.
  2. If you use other streaming devices, there is a small learning curve.
  3. There are occasional hiccups when moving through areas but overall the experience is pretty snappy.
  4. The user interface does its best to expose free content but it gets a bit confusing as it jumps through various services to find those resources.

Video Services

  1. First thing you will notice is that the applications provided are curated by Xfinity. There is no app store and the apps are preinstalled or loaded on demand (I can’t tell).
  2. An update after, I recorded my video, activated the Peacock channel. The Peacock includes some interesting programming with new originals to come. A Battlestar Galactica reboot might cause me to keep this thing longer than I originally intimated.
  3. Video starts quickly (my Flex was only a few feet away from my Google Wi-Fi access point).
  4. Video quality was similar to all the other devices I use. No complaints.
  5. Cord-cutters who want traditional live TV will be disappointed. In order to get live TV on the Flex, you have to have Xfinity cable service. This makes the device almost useless to cord-cutters because you won’t find YouTube TV, Hulu, or Sling applications.
  6. Xumo and Pluto TV are highlighted in the Live TV area. I believe Pluto TV is now a part of the larger Xfinity/Comcast conglomerate (don’t quote me on that one).
  7. Movies information includes Rotten Tomatoes information and ratings.
  8. Flex allows you to rent or purchase films and television (I don’t recommend because this locks you into the Xfinity eco-system which does not translate well to other streaming platforms).
  9. Bonus surprise: Includes some HBO content such as the entire Game of Thrones series.

Music Services

  1. In the video I struggle to locate music with the voice search (more later).
  2. Amazon Prime Music was one of the music services. That just seems odd. Like all other curated app selections on this device.
  3. If you have a YouTube Music account, use the YouTube channel on the Flex to listen to your favorite music.
  4. Includes VEVO and music through their streaming partners; XUMO and Pluto TV.
  5. Hard focus on pop and hip-hop. These are not my genres of choice and I found it difficult to find music that meet my rock and hard rock tastes.
  6. Some music services are simply music “related” video and not actual music tracks.

Tools Menu

  1. Provides an option to view billing.
  2. Use the device to check outages.
  3. Handy option to check data-usage. The data you stream on this device DOES count against you. Not cool Xfinity!

Settings Menu

  1. Integrates with other Xfinity devices such as X1, home security, and caller ID integration.
  2. No option to easily check for updates or determine what OS is being used but the About page does include general information and firmware version.
  3. The Flex updates itself during the early morning hours.
  4. Other settings include; naming the device, changing the brightness of the power LED, and general locale settings.
  5. Includes the ability to pair a set of Bluetooth headphones.
  6. The Remote settings pane is one of the most well thought out. It includes model number, large battery display, and multiple screens to help get the most out of the voice remote, “Which ain’t much.”
  7. Device includes PIN and other rudimentary parental settings but nothing as extensive as other platforms.
  1. Search, via text entry, on this device is painful since the remote does not have a keyboard. It’s a “click, click, click” process through an ordered list of alphanumeric characters. Ouch! Luckily, search will begin to display results after a couple of characters.
  2. Searches for content across all applications and does this probably better than any other device I use.
  3. Voice search is atrocious. If you just want an exercise in frustration, be my guest and use it. Think voice controls from the early 2000s. This is not Google Assistant or Alexa. While the Flex includes a weather screen, you can’t ask the device to, “Show me the weather.”

Final Thoughts

The big question I keep asking myself is, “Who is this device for?” It surely isn’t for me or any other technology savvy individual. Anyone who has used another popular streaming device will be disappointed by the Flex. Still, as an Xfinity customer, there are features I wish I had on other devices such as account review, across application search, and bandwidth usage. I mentioned several times in the video (probably too many times), that I don’t see this as a primary device. That role will go to my Roku Ultra, Mi Box S, and nVidia Shield TV.

My guess is this device is for that hardcore Xfinity customer who simply wants a way to stream Netflix and other online services without the research or decision making that comes with other streamers. Xfinity customers who are on rental plans for other Xfinity devices such as home security, router, phone, and online access may see this as a natural extension of those devices. That’s a costly proposition and it seems to me that the Flex really is Xfinity’s last gasp effort to retain a certain demographic of customer as more Americans continue to explore a pure cord-cutter experience.

What’d I miss? Are you an Xfinity Flex convert or fan? Leave a comment below or on the YouTube page and share your experiences or thoughts. You contribution will make this post even more valuable for those considering a Flex. I might not be the right demographic.

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