An old saying goes that you should go where your customers are. Comcast recognizes that it is dropping cable customers, but wins thousands of broadband users, and turns towards streaming. This is one of the reasons why the Xfinity Flex streaming box is provided free of charge to its Internet-only customers – provided they also rent a cable modem from the company. While the Flex has a number of great features like voice search and built-in smart home controls, it needs a lot more apps before it can compete with Roku and the Amazon Fire Stick as either one best streaming devices,
Xfinity Flex price and availability
The Xfinity Flex became available in autumn 2019. Comcast Internet customers who rent a Comcast cable modem but do not receive a cable television service can receive a Flex free of charge. Additional boxes cost $ 5 each, and a household can have up to three.
The Xfinity Flex is a small, square box that is about the same height as the Apple TV, but takes up about twice as much space. On the back you will find an HDMI port, USB-C for the power supply and an Ethernet socket if you want to connect the device to your router instead of using Wi-Fi.
The top of this gray box has a subtle design of small, indented triangles, and the sides of the flex are beveled. While the design of the Flex isn't as eye-catching as the glossy black Apple TV or Amazon Fire TV Cube, it does add some visual interest to something you probably won't see as often.
The Flex uses the same X1 remote control as the current cable boxes from Xfinity. It's not as minimalist as something you'd get from Roku or Apple TV – this remote has a number pad, for example – but Comcast may find it cheaper to use the same remote.
There are volume and channel rockers at the top, including buttons for media playback, a D-pad below and a number pad below. There's even a record button, but it doesn't matter.
I have nothing against the extra buttons; What I care about is how stiff they are. Pressing the membrane buttons on the X1 remote was a lot more laborious than any other remote control I've used.
Getting the Flex up and running was easier than starting other streaming devices I used. After I connected it, the Flex automatically found and connected to my home WiFi network without any input. I was expecting at least to enter my password. After that it was just a question of registering with my respective streaming apps.
Pressing the Xfinity button on the remote control calls up the main Flex start page. The top two thirds contain thumbnails of shows or films that are currently playing and on which channels. For example, one day when I turned on the box, MovieMax HD Quantum of Solace, HBO HD Les Misérables and Epix 2 HD had no strings attached (hard pass for all three).
Below these lines are a number of symbols: Free for me, Live TV, New, Music and Today. Most of them are pretty self-explanatory, but Today is a unique addition to a streaming box. Select this option and you'll get a series of short video clips of the day's events, broken down by category: News, Sports, Entertainment, Late Night Highlights and New & Trending on YouTube.
At the bottom of the homepage you will find content sorted by additional categories (genres, popular apps and more). At the bottom are symbols for search, account, settings and help. I believe that of these options, search and help should be at the top of the page.
For those who don't want to scroll through lists of shows, Xfinity's voice search is very handy. Press and hold the microphone button on the remote control and you can search by title, actor, genre and more. The Flex searches all installed apps. In the results screen you can also filter the results by video quality (SD or HD), regardless of whether it is free or whether a video description or SAP is available. Voice search worked well, but the results were not without quirks. For example, "Westerns" isn't listed as a genre, and for some reason, Fifty Shades of Gray is listed as a romantic comedy.
Apps and content
While Netflix, Amazon Prime and the premium cable channels (HBO, Showtime, Epix) are available, the biggest flaw of the Flex is the extremely limited number of apps and content partners. For example, there is no Disney Plus, no Sling TV, no AT&T TV Now and no Spotify. As of January 2020, Hulu is listed as "Coming Soon" and CBS All Access will be available later in 2020. The only service that Flex will be ahead of most other streaming devices is Peacock. NBC's new streaming service will be available on Flex on April 15, but will not be broadcast to other streaming devices until June.
While the Flex is a new device, the lack of some of the largest streaming services has a significant disadvantage over the Roku and Amazon streaming boxes.
Xfinitys Flex has not completely lost its cable roots. Press the Guide button on the remote control and you get a conventional channel guide, but only for premium cable services (HBO, Showtime, Epix). The guide shows the channels whether you subscribe or not. I wish the guide (and the Flex) could also include local radio channels, much like you can do with Amazon Fire TV and Amazon Recast.
The Flex supports HDR 10 from all streaming services and Dolby Vision when streaming Netflix.
Smart home control
The Xfinity xFi app offers some pretty good controls for those who use cable modems. With these features, you can monitor and control who is on your network and protect yourself from Internet threats.
You can access some of these functions via the Flex interface. If you have an Xfinity home security system, you can receive alerts on your TV and view feeds from Xfinity security cameras. It is an attractive additional function for those who have or want to have a home security system. However, Amazon's Fire devices allow you to view feeds from a much wider selection of security cameras and video doorbells.
The Xfinity Flex got off to a good start. It's easy to set up, has excellent voice search, and allows you to monitor your smart home devices and home security system. Ultimately, however, a streaming box is only as good as the content that you can stream through it. While Xfinity's device has Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, the Flex lags far behind the thousands of apps available on Roku and Amazon devices that cost just $ 30. But you can't argue with free.