Is the Safaricom BigBox Really Worth it?

Safaricom’s intent to enter the digital broadcasting arena put everyone on the edge. We all expected them to offer an amazing deal that will change our TVs as we know them. Even though this is still a possibility, the maiden run of the Safaricom set top box has been a great let down.

ProsCons
The FTA Channel list is as impressive as any otherIt is slow and most of the apps keep on hanging
You can record to memory card/USB stick (you can also do this to Bamba)If you have no bundles, you can still watch FTA channels
If you have a true LTE/4G connections, things will be fasterIts internet connectivity depends on the current broadband connection
It runs on Android Jelly BeansYou will drop connection often if you broadband signal is poor
Heavy downloads/use overwhelms it

We all expected a powerful decoder that will deliver impressive internet connections that rival Zuku’s efforts and an STB that will let us enjoy our local channels in peace. I must admit it is an amazing TV DVB T2 decoder. You will get all your FTA channels provided you install your aerial well.

If all you want is the internet, the apps and the Video on Demand service, you might be in for a great disappointment. It all begins with the device’s hardware specifications.

What is in the Safaricom BigBox

At the heart of the ‘game changing’ Safaricom set top box is an Android device with only 1GB of RAM and 4GB internal storage. While 1GB of RAM is commendable, I wouldn’t expect much of a performance from that contraption especially that it would be impossible for the thing to carry an impressive processor at such a price tag (KSh 10,000). As for the 4GB of internal storage, you can expand it to 32GB by using a memory card or flash drive.

Other than this, you will get an inbuilt router (this is why the set top box can connect to a LAN network with the RJ-45 or create a Wi-Fi hotspot.) To finish up the internet package is a 3G/4G modem that will connect you to the normal Safaricom broadband network.

Connectivity

At the rear, you will find an HDMI port useful in high-definition ports, two USB ports, a Terrestrial Antennae port, an RJ-45 port to connect to your LAN and the normal RCA ports.

What it ought to do

With this globally inferior yet imposing catalog, Safaricom hopes to take the Kenyan digital TV market by storm. Since the FTA part of the decoder works just fine, a cheaper version of the BigBox would have been Bamba’s worthy opponents. This isn’t what Safaricom had in mind.

To them, the BigBox is something that lets you browse the web, Tweet, Instagram, access complete internet and even play games on the big screen. Even though I still don’t understand why I would like to scroll through my Instagram timeline on the big screen, I believe that the idea of creating a Wi-Fi hotspot with the decoder is neat.

Since its internet bundles are cheaper and come with free YouTube access, the decoder is theoretically a great bargain.

What it actually does

At the end of the day, what you care about is what the decoder can do. For a start, Safaricom thinks that everyone is a genius with an internet connection. You won’t find any manual in the pack (this is great news to people who want to set ‘the BigBox’ installation stalls.) Once you have the thing up and running, you will have to make do with the long boot process in comparison to other decoders. This isn’t much of a bother if you can wait for a DsTV decoder to scan for channels after a power blackout with an EPL game on stoppage time.

When it finally boots, you will can launch the YouTube app. If you are lucky, it might work. I wasn’t. If you choose to go the browser way, you will have to bear with the slow launch speed (well, this is expected, I didn’t think much of its processing power) before you could test your broadband connection.

If your connection is good enough, you can access the internet via the Wi-Fi the set top box creates. If you rely on ‘network hotspots’ like the kitchen or balcony to access the web with your smartphone, you will have little to smile about. You will keep on getting an annoying ‘Connection failure’ message.

Is it worth your money?

Well, this is a complex question. If you want an FTA decoder, and still feel that you might need some reliable internet connection, then the Safaricom set top box might be a good idea. If all you want is something to let you watch the news and a couple of other FTA channels, it would make no sense to pay Ksh10,000.

With Safaricom planning to roll out 4G connectivity, many will argue that the decoder will soon be effective. Though viable an argument, the fact that multiple decoders in an area will overload the broadband infrastructure still brings in the typical broadband bottleneck.

Moreover, the simplistic but ‘intimidating’ approach of selling data bundles rather than bandwidth oriented internet connection makes it less likable. Upcountry dwellers will have little or no need for this unless Safaricom gives nationwide true 3G speeds (which they rarely do).

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