The thing I keep coming back to after an evening messing around with Samsung’s pricey-but-premium Q90 QLED TV and Q70 soundbar is the notion of locks and keys.
The capabilities of a TV and the content you watch on it. After all, it’s 2019. There’s no shortage of things you can put on a 75-inch TV like this. But it’s only when you put the kind of content it feels like the Q90 was designed to serve up that you can see its fuller potential unveiled.
Here’s what I watched on it
Annihilation, The Expanse, American Gods, Spider-Man: Into The Spiderverse, IT: Chapter 1 and Mortal Engines.
I also plugged in my Switch to see how the Q90’s upscaling fared when it came to the Nintendo handheld’s native 720p output. As part of this, I played a bit of Dragonball FighterZ, Splatoon 2 and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
Here’s what I liked about it
It’s hard to be too picky and complain all that much about a TV this nice, both in terms of physical design and picture quality. The setup I had for my hands-on with the Samsung Q90 (and the Q70 soundbar) was as close to the ideal as you’ll get. The viewing distance was ideal and the broadband connection was zippy-fast.
And when used to experience the kaleidoscopic action of Into the Spiderverse or the post-apocalyptic vistas of Mortal Engines, the Samsung Q90 QLED delivered the goods. The deep space sequences of The Expanse also looked really impressive, even in early episodes of the series - where the production values are sometimes-noticeably stretched. I picked up a lot of smaller visual details here that I missed the first time around - which was genuinely nifty.
That said - as someone who’s reviewed a fair few 4K TVs to date, I wasn’t especially blown away by the picture quality of the Q90. To be clear, the Q90 looks awesome in action - especially when you load up properly mastered 4K content. But after a few hours watching 4K content on the Q90, I’m reticent to go as far as to say that 4K content looks best on the Q90.
It wasn’t until I loaded up some of the HDR10+ mastered content available on Amazon Prime, specifically American Gods, that I really got a glimpse of what the Q90. Particularly during the show’s more scenic or surreal moments, the heightened color palette offered a real depth and vibrancy that was more than just noticeable - it was noticeably better to the experience I usually have watching the series week-to-week.
The full-array dimming on the Samsung Q90 is another highlight. Offering 480 zones of dimming, it delivers really strikingly deep and inky blacks. It’s not quite on the level of OLED but it does get the closest I’ve ever seen from a LCD-LED.
Whether or not you’ll have the same experience, whether or not there’s enough HDR10+ content out there and whether or not that experience alone is worth the price of admission feel like entirely separate questions.
Again, it’s about whether you have the right key and are able to unlock what the Q90 is capable of delivering on. And even if you don’t, the AI-powered upscaling built into the Quantum Processor inside the Q90 does a decent job of making up the difference. You’ll still notice that difference between native and upscaled content - but it does feel like it looks a little sharper than you remember it. There’s only so much upscaling can do when it comes to stuff like anti-aliasing.
Still, I can’t really say that the scenic landscapes of Breath of the Wild or the splatter-filled arenas of Splatoon 2 have really looked better elsewhere.
Even looking beyond the picture quality, there’s a lot of additional “experiential” things that I really dug about my hands-on with the Q90. A lot of these aren’t new - but they do still serve to set the tone nicely. I’m still a big fan of Samsung’s holy trinity of accessories: the One Connect Cable, the One Connect Box and the One Remote. There’s a holistic approach here that I really like. If you’re looking to buy a new TV, picture quality is obviously quite important - but it isn’t everything.
Smasung’s Tizen-powered Smart TV interface feels like it is the best it’s ever been. It’s intuitive in all the right ways and it all works more or less exactly how you expect it to. If you plug in a new HDMI source, the TV will automatically change to it. Ambient mode remains a neat novelty you can’t find elsewhere and the roster of streaming services built into the Q90 is surprisingly robust: SBS OnDemand, ABC iView, 9Now, 7Plus, TenPlay, Amazon Prime Video, Netflix and Stan are all present and accounted for.
There’s also supposed to be an Apple TV app coming later in the year but we weren’t able to mess with this during our time with the Samsung Q90.
Here’s what I didn’t like about it
Although Bixby weirdly works better on a QLED TV than it ever has on a smartphone, I did encounter some issues with it. Voice control was often accidentally triggered by audio output from the soundbar. Then, sometimes, I’d push the microphone button on the remote - and nothing would happen. It feels like some refinement is needed here.
I also worry how robust the voice controls will be able to be over time. Right now, all the usual commands work as you’d expect. You can lower or raise the volume, change the input and open Netflix.
However, it’s hard to really know how that level of capability will extend or change over time. It’s one thing for it to be effective now. Quite another for it to be effective when there are three or four other streaming services competing for your attention and money.
The absence of ChromeCast support - which would allow you to easily stream from the handful of streaming services not available on Tizen - leaves me wary. During our hands-on sessions with the Q90 we were also unable to work out how to install and test out how the TV's multi-assistant capabilities work.
Back at this year's CES, Samsung has announced that Bixby will soon play nice with rival smart assistants like Amazon Alexa and the Google Assistant when it came to its QLED TVs. From what we understand, you're able to setup and use multiple assistants concurrently - but we'll have to investigate further in our full review.
I also feel like adding generic info button on the One Remote wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Yeah, it’s meant to be simple and streamlined but, during my time with this TV, there were plenty of situations where I would have appreciated a way to just see whether the content I was watching had been upscaled or whether it was being streamed in proper 4K.
What about that soundbar?
Samsung Q70 soundbar is hard to fault. Like, I literally don’t know where I’d begin when it comes to ways in which it could be better. It was pretty intuitive to mess with it and find exactly the sound signature or output you’re looking for. And if I didn’t want to do that, the Automatic AI-powered optimisation made up the difference in strong form.
By contrast, the TV speaker in the Samsung Q90 itself lacks the projective qualities of the soundbar but it’s far from awful. You don’t get that surround-sound home cinema experience - but you don’t get a bad experience either.
The Samsung Q90 feels like a refinement and extension of everything that worked about its 2018 counterpart. It isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel but it probably shouldn’t be. If anything, it’s at its strongest when it comes to the areas that Samsung are usually are. There are no real surprises here. This story is one you’ve probably heard before.
If you’re a fanatic for picture quality, you’ll probably prefer one of LG’s OLEDs. But everyone else? They’ll probably have a great time with the Q90 - assuming they can stomach the premium price tag.
Most of the time, it looks awesome. Some of the time, it looks genuinely, jaw-droppingly incredible. It isn’t cheap but when the key fits into the lock and you get to see it at its best, I get the feeling that Samsung’s Q90 might just be a luxury that’s worth it.