How do you create a seamless bridge between your smartphone, laptop, desktop computer and HDTV? With Wi-Fi, of course.
Techies have been enjoying devices that talk to one another on their home networks for years now, but your average Jack and Jane, who have all their media files sitting on their desktop or worse — scattered across their hard drive in a maze of folders — probably don't even know that it's possible to connect all their devices together, let alone make it as headache-free as possible.
That's where Twonky comes in. It's an app for Android smartphones that promises to make accessing your media as effortless as possible. Quite a tall order — it'd be a dream come true if it could pull it off.
We first saw Twonky in a controlled setting set up by PacketVideo, the folks behind the app. It worked great. We easily beamed photos, videos and music from an Android smartphone to an HDTV, a laptop and music speakers all hooked up to a wireless network. It was as easy and effortless as Twonky promises it'll all be.
The Twonky Manager is a combination of two apps: Twonky Beam and Twonky Server, which worked together and pulled all the media files it detected on the network, then sorted them into appropriate folders. We didn't have to manually add anything — everything was automatic.
We were then able to control where we wanted to send each media file. For example, we sent some music from the phone to a networked speaker and, just as fast, picked a photo located on a laptop and beamed it over to the TV — all without lag or slowdown. (It's worth noting that like most streaming video there is a small buffering window, but generally, Vimeo videos defaulted to high-quality streams whereas we couldn't get YouTube running — an oddity considering how ubiquitous the latter is.)
Our experience at home was quite different from that in a controlled setting. Installation for Twonky Server was effortless on a PC. On a Mac, however, instead of installing as an app it installs a plugin within Firefox — automatically launching every time we opened the browser. Why is there no native app?
Our disappointment with the Mac installation turned out to be the least of our concerns. Twonky Server had trouble scanning for all the media that we connected to the wireless network (a netbook, MacBook and Samsung Galaxy S smartphone). Usually, resetting the network or devices fixes the problem, but it didn't. Connectivity was often sporadic with the Twonky Server either deciding it wanted to or didn't want to detect our Galaxy S and MacBook.
Another thing that bugged us about the Twonky Beam app for Android was its interface. It has a tired feel to it mostly because of a general lack of functionality. Why aren't there thumbnails for videos? How come long file names don't scroll so we can read them in full? It helps if we can see what we're selecting instead of just "Amazing Caves 1.mpg" and "Amazing Caves 2.mpg."
On a positive note, PacketVideo Chief Technical Officer Osama Alsaykh told us that streaming media from the Twonky app uses less than 15% of the smartphone's battery. We admit, we hardly saw any decrease in battery while constantly beaming videos from Vimeo, pictures from Facebook or music to an HDTV, then a laptop and then bringing it back to play on the smartphone. Vimeo's nice, but streaming YouTube from the Galaxy S to the HDTV would have been better — too bad it just kept buffering indefinitely.
We want to say Twonky is the easiest media streaming software we've ever used and that everything is fine and dandy, but we can't. Despite testing Twonky on two types of Internet connections with different speeds (FiOS and Optimum Online), media streaming was laggy and buggy at best.
The Twonky Beam app is Android-only, but the reps told us an iOS app is in development. That's good because with 15.4 million iPhones sold in the last quarter, it's a market that shouldn't be ignored. An iPad or Android tablet app that takes advantage of those device's larger screens would likely fix those quips we had with the interface.
Don't get us wrong, there's something usable in Twonky, it's just not functional enough for someone like my mom who isn't tech-savvy to operate. The software is cheap at only $20, so it's not a total loss if it doesn't work for you. We tried relentlessly to troubleshoot this thing, but if we can't get it going properly all the time, then how can Twonky expect plain old Jack to?