Geek Gifts 2010: FloTV Personal Television

Get high-quality television in your shirt pocket via a smartphone or a specialty gadget known as the FloTV Personal Television.

I am old enough to remember a time when a person known as the TV-repairman would come to our home to fix our Zenith black-and-white television. Television of that era involved cathode-ray guns, vacuum tubes, and often what would generally be described as a large piece of furniture. Well, those days are long gone.

Today you can get high-quality television in your shirt pocket via a smartphone or a specialty gadget known as the FloTV Personal Television.


  • Product: FloTV Personal Television
  • Corporate ownership: Qualcomm
  • Product dimensions: 4.4 x 3 x 0.5 inches; 5.4 ounces
  • Display: 3.5-inch Touchscreen Display
  • Battery Life: Up to 5 hours of TV watching
  • Audio: Integrated speakers and headphone jack
  • Channels: Mobile versions of ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, CNN, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, Disney, ESPN, and more
  • Cost: $199 plus $14.99 monthly subscription
  • Additional vendor information

What I like

  • Size: The FloTV is well-sized. It is small enough to hold in the palm of your hand, but the display is large enough for reasonable television viewing.
  • Quality: The device is manufactured by HTC, maker of all kinds of smartphones, and is sturdily built to withstand minor bumps and knocks. In areas with strong reception, the display is crisp and very watchable, although a discerning eye will notice dropped frames from time to time.
  • Ease of use: The FloTV is the most TV-like gadget you can imagine -- turn it on, switch to a desired channel, and watch TV.
  • Strong financial backing: FloTV is part of Qualcomm, one of the larger communications companies around -- that is why you have been seeing all the commercials for it on broadcast television. The deep pockets should mean that the service will be around for awhile at least.

What I don't like

  • Lack of channels: One major knock against the FloTV right now is the noticeable lack of channels and viewing choices. In a world where people, especially younger people, are used to getting the entertainment they want, when they want it, and on the device they currently have access to, the device seems quaintly underserved.
  • Lack of coverage: The other major drawback is coverage. The signal for FloTV uses the freed-bandwidth formerly known as UHF. But the network infrastructure is very limited. Take a look at the coverage map that I pulled directly from the FloTV Web site, and you'll see that Louisville is in the signal area, but Lexington is not.
  • Slow response: The FloTV device is elegantly designed, but the CPU driving it is rather slow. Changing channels, for example, is so slow that I often doubled-touched the screen because I wasn't sure my first click actually registered.

Geek bottom line

The FloTV Personal Television is a good idea, especially when you consider that the main focus of Qualcomm is the service rather than the device itself. However, as a potential geek gift. it may be a generation away from the sweet spot of cutting edge and functional. That is not to say the FloTV does not work, but where it works is severely limited by coverage location. If you are not in a coverage area, the gadget is nothing more than a paperweight.

I would say the FloTV is only for the most adventurous of geeks -- the first adopters who get more enjoyment out of being on the cutting edge then using the gadget that put them there. If that matches someone on your gift-giving list, be sure to check out the coverage map to make sure the service is available.

Geek gift score (out of 5)

  • Fun factor: ***
  • Geek factor: ****
  • Value: ***
  • Overall: ***

Want more reviews of tech gadgets and gizmos? Download the PDF of TechRepublic's Geek Gift Guide 2010.