If you can't be bothered with 3D, but still want a feature-rich TV with plenty of style then the 46-inch UE46ES5500 is the model in Samsung's current range that fits the bill.
At around £680, it's pricier than the budget UE46EH5300 we looked at yesterday, but not by all that much. For the extra outlay you get a much slimmer and more stylish looking set with slightly better picture quality and the same excellent smart TV features.
User interface and EPG
The ES5500 may lack the voice and motion control features of the ES8000 and ES7000 ranges, but as I didn't find them all that useful when I tested them, I don't think this is much of a loss. In pretty much all other respects, the user interface is exactly the same as what you get on those TVs, which is all the more surprising when you take into account just how much cheaper it is.
There's no doubt about it -- the menu system used here looks absolutely gorgeous. It's bursting at the seams with colourful graphics, cute icons and neat animations.
The core of the menu system is the homescreen, which gives you control over most of the TV's settings and features. It's the place to go when you want to adjust picture controls, change inputs, access the media player and launch apps.
The classy presentation makes it pretty easy to use, but it can still take a while to get your head around all the features it puts at your disposal -- mainly because there are just so many of them. It might have been better to split some of them off into sub-menus though.
The EPG is also very impressive. Its bright and cheery layout makes it a pleasure to browse. An integrated thumbnail video window in the top left-hand corner lets you keep track of what you're watching, while also checking what's coming up soon on other channels.
Once small issue I wish Samsung would fix is that when you hit the 'Info' button on the remote to call up the programme description, it only shows you one line of the summary -- if you want to read the whole summary you have to open the full EPG.
Design and connections
Whereas the EH5300 was shockingly fat, the ES5500 is much slimmer and more in line with what we'd expect to see from a Samsung LED set. Its chassis is quite slim at just 30mm deep and the bezel around the screen is narrow too at 17mm.
The chassis is mostly made from glossy black plastic, but at the edge of the bezel there's a transparent lip. This may be something of an old Samsung design signature, but it still looks quite attractive to the eye, so I'm not complaining. The stand is fixed, so you can't just swivel the TV around on its base to adjust the viewing angle -- you have to physically move the whole set.
I do like the TV's remote, though. It's long and slender, but the slightly rubberised buttons feel comfortable under your fingertips and the layout is good too, so all the key features are within easy reach.
Unfortunately, when it comes to connections the ES5500 follows the lead of the high-end models in Samsung's range and only comes with three HDMI ports. This is slightly annoying, as pretty much every other brand on the market offers four HDMI ports on their larger screened TVs.
Another issue is that the TV doesn't have Wi-Fi built in. If you want to add Wi-Fi you'll have to purchase the USB dongle, which is overpriced at around £30 to £40. By all means reduce the price of the TV by not including Wi-Fi, but there's no need to rip people off if they want to add the feature later, especially as a PC Wi-Fi dongle now costs around £10.
Nevertheless, the TV does have two USB ports and one of these outputs 1A of power so you can run most USB drives off it without having to use an additional external power supply. The TV also has a set of component inputs as well as a full sized Scart socket and an optical digital audio output, so you can feed surround sound from the Freeview HD tuner to an external amp.
There's also a LAN port for hooking the TV up to a router to make use of its smart TV platform. It's worth noting that all the outputs bar one HDMI port are positioned on the rear, facing out the back of the TV, which could be a bit if an issue if you were planning to mount it on a wall.
Samsung leads the pack when it comes to smart TV platforms, so it's no surprise to find this TV comes with a plethora of premium apps installed. These include stalwarts like BBC iPlayer, Acetrax, Netflix and Lovefilm. You can now also get ITV Player -- which isn't currently available on other manufacturers' smart TVs -- as well as some extra movie rental services, including Knowhow, Curzon on Demand and BFIplayer.
There are also BBC News and BBC Sport apps, as well as a number of weather-forecasting apps and some simple games.
The glaring omission is 4oD, but as no other TV manufacturer has support for this yet, I can't complain too much about its absence here.
As with most of Samsung's other TVs, this one also has a full Web browser. It does a good job of rendering pages accurately, but it's painfully slow to use via the TV's remote. Also, it's a bit hit and miss as to whether it'll play embedded video on websites.
If you want to play your own videos, view photos or listen to music, you need to make use of the AllShare Play app. It's able to play files either locally from USB keys and drives, or by streaming media across your home network from a PC or networked hard drive.
As with all recent Samsung TVs however, it refused to play MKV files from network devices, even though it does play them locally from USB drives. This is slightly bizarre, not to mention annoying, as streaming does work for Xvid and MP4 files.
Sound quality is not normally a strength of slimline LED TVs, but surprisingly the UE46ES55000 bucks this trend. It's got quite a bit of bass on tap, which helps to make movie soundtracks and music channels sound thicker and meatier than they usually do on LED models. Dialogue is also tight and focused and its high-end frequencies are reasonably well controlled, so it doesn't sound as brittle in this range as many of its slim-line competitors do.
Samsung has also added two SRS sound-processing modes to the audio menu. TruSurround HD aims to spread out the stereo image a bit more, while TruDialog seeks to push dialogue higher in the mix to make it easier to decipher. Both actually work quite well here, although it does depend on which source you're using them with, so it's best not to just turn them on and leave them on, but instead use them with some discretion.
Out of the box, the pictures from the UE46ES5500 don't seem particularly impressive. Thankfully though, most of this is down to Samsung's rubbish picture presets. They drive the panel too hard, making it look like its backlighting is coming courtesy of a 1,000 burning suns and that colours have been lifted straight from a child's colouring book.
This is annoying, as most people never bother tweaking their TV's picture settings, but just flick to a preset they think looks okay and leave it there for the life of the TV. But a few quick tweaks really does wonders for this set's image quality. Turning down the backlight a tad, toning down some of the processing and adjusting the contrast makes this set's pictures look deeper and more subtle.
In fact, the TV puts in a strong performance on the contrast front, which helps movies in particular to look quite rich and cinematic. Colour performance is reasonably strong too, as it's able to deliver bright and vivid hues along with more subtle tonal variations in colour with relative ease, especially when dealing with HD sources.
The TV does have a few weaknesses though. Like the cheaper UE46EH5300 model, its motion handling isn't great, so you sometimes get a loss of resolution during camera pans or tracking shots. The only tool the TV has to help deal with this is its LED Motion Plus setting, but it just doesn't alleviate some of the symptoms and also dims the picture significantly, as it simply inserts black frames in between normal ones.
Skin tones have a tendency to look slightly artificial and plasticky too, even if you play around with the dedicated flesh tone setting. And lastly its handling of standard-definition sources isn't as accomplished as competitors' models at a similar price, such as those from Panasonic and Sony, so upscaled pictures tend to look either a bit soft or overly noisy.
A little extra oomph in the picture department would have made the UE46ES5300 a pretty unbeatable package, but the motion blur and upscaling issues put paid to that. Nevertheless, it's still a brilliant offering from Samsung, thanks to its modern styling, excellent online features, good sound quality and relatively modest price tag.