If you’re stuck at home, bored, and happen to use Comcast Internet, here’s something to consider, the Xfinity Flex.
This new kid on the streamer block is free, including the shipping, so it’s safe for me to recommend it. (You need to pay $5 for a second unit.) And no, it’s not one of those there-is-no-such-thing-as-a-free-lunch deals — there’s no catch.
So you can expect some excellent, tangible value from it, especially during this crazy time. I think of it as a consolation prize for the overpriced cable Internet plan I’ve been enduring for years.
That said, get it — you have nothing to lose and maybe a lot to gain. But if you’re worried that this Flex would make you change your opinion on Comcast, no, it’s not that good, either.
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Xfinity Flex: Not your typical streamer
The Flex is not something like a Roku or any other generic streamer, but it’s a media streamer still.
What is the Xfinity Flex?
Comcast first announced the Xfinity Flex in early 2019 and made it a free add-on to its Internet-only plans last September. And now it seems to be such a timely offering.
The media streamer is a little flat square box that measures 5.25″ x 5.25″ x 1″ and weighs less than a pound. It lets you watch content, be it live TV, recorded shows, or full feature movies, via the Internet, using a big screen TV.
On the back, the Flex has two HDMI ports. One is an HDMI Input, which you can use to host another video source — chances are you will never use this port. The other, labeled HDMI TV, is the one you use to connect it to a display.
The streamer has a Fast Ethernet (10/100) port — it’s not a Gigabit one — to connect to a router or switch via a network cable. If wiring is not an option, you can use the stream via its built-in 2×2 Wi-Fi 5 (867 Mbps) Wi-Fi adapter.
The Flex has a USB-C port for power and comes with a small power adapter. You can use this adapter also to charge almost any gadgets that use USB-C, such as my Pixel XL and 3 XL.
As for video and audio, the Xfinity Flex features videos up to 4K HDR. It supports Dolby Atmos with 5.1 surround sound or 2.0 stereo. There’s no audio out, though, so if you have external speakers, you’ll need to hook them to the TV instead.
Xfinity Flex’s detail photos
No storage or local media support
The Xfinity has no built-in storage space or the support for an external drive to host any content locally. That’s not a huge deal — most modern streamers don’t.
What is a downer is the fact it doesn’t sport local streaming servers. So if you have a Plex or Synology NAS server at home, you can’t use the Flex with it.
Easy hardware setup
The Flex comes with an HDMI cable, a power adapter, and a remote out of the box. Connect it to any display with an HDMI port and audio-out, turn it on, hook it up to the Internet, and you’re game.
Considering most new Smart TVs have a built-in networking capability and an embedded streamer, the Flex is especially great for the older generations of HDTV — those without the “smart” notion or with one that’s too dated to be useful.
But, again, the Flex will work with any TV with an HDMI port and turn into an Xfinity Flex TV.
Nice remote, excellent search
The Flex’s remote is great among its type.
First of all, it comes in the right physical size, not too big, not too small — you won’t lose it too easily like the case of the Amazon Fire Stick. The keys have a decent tactile response, albeit a bit stiff, and a good layout. By the time I finished with the setup process, I could use it with my eyes closed.
But if you have to look at it, the back-light is helpful at night. There’s also a mic button that allows you to enter a search with verbal commands. Chances are you won’t need to use the keys often.
The search function works very well, by the way. It can search across all of your installed apps and then allows you to further filter the results via quality (HD, 4K, etc.)
The remote is omnidirectional — you can use it without having to point it to the Flex itself or even be in the light of sight. It has a great range, too, easily longer than 15 feet in my trial.
Finally, you can program the Xfinity Flex’s remote to control your TV, including source switching, on/off, and volume. Since that worked with my 15-year-old Samsung Plasma TV, it’s safe to say it’ll work with any TV.
Straight forward registration, Comcast hardware integration
You’ll first need to register the Flex with your Comcast account to get started with the streaming.
If you use a Comcast Internet gateway, the Flex can detect it by itself and get connected right away. If not, you’ll have to enter some information, such as part of a registered phone number. It was painless.
In my case, the hardest part was when I needed to enter the Wi-Fi password. Unfortunately, you can’t use voice for this. (Make sure you set your Wi-Fi password to be something easy to enter.)
Wi-Fi vs. Network port: You can use either the network port or Wi-Fi at a time. To switch from one to another, you need to plug or unplug the network cable and then restart the Flex. You can not switch between the two when the device is on.
By the way, the Flex is well integrated within the Comcast xFi system. You can use it to manage your account, other xFi hardware, and viewing messages and notifications on the screen.
Comcast Internet required
While the Flex is free, it only works with Comcast Internet. If you use it with a broadband connection of a different provider, your TV will go blank and remains that way.
In other words, if you have a Comcast outage in your area, you can not use your backup mobile hotspot from Verizon or Sprint to watch your shows. Nor can you lend your Flex to your friend who uses a different Internet service. I tried the former out, and it didn’t work at all.
Limited apps and user accessibility, no YouTube TV, good rotating free content
The Xfinity Flex comes built-in with popular streaming apps, including Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime, and some premium cable channels, including Epix, HBO, and Showtime. It also has a slew of other free services, such as YouTube, Peacock, Tubi, Pluto, and so on.
By the way, the Xinitty Flex doesn’t allow for YouTube TV, and you can’t add or remove many popular apps by yourself, either. In short, Comcast controls what you get to do with the Flex. This is by far the biggest shortcoming of the device.
This unlikely is going to change in the future, but as time goes by, chances are Flex will have more app and streaming options as Comcast gains more partnerships.
In short, the Flex seems to be an involving product. But for now, it’s very limited in terms of what you can do with it.
“Free for me”
The Flex has a Free to me section where it offers lots of free content. For example, all of the premium services mentioned above are available free one way or another. Either for a limited time or some certain shows/features. Also, the Peacock network is always free.
The bottom line is at any given time, you can count on having something of quality for yourself or your kids to watch. Just don’t expect to have precisely what you want, when you want it. For that, you need a subscription to a particular service.
I’ve used the Xfinity Flex for a week now and watched more movies on it than I thought I would. It made the basement where I’ve been hiding from my kids now and then more tolerable. The fact that the content was available for free, for only a short period, made it more enticing somehow.
That said, if you already have a streamer or each of your TV and had subscribed for all streaming services, there’s no need to get this device. And that’s fine — you won’t miss out on anything — since you can’t count on the Flex to deliver what you want when you want it anyway.
However, if you have an old large TV that still delivers great picture quality and want to make use of it right now, the Xfinity Flex is an excellent fit. It will turn that dated screen into one with modern features and allow you to try out the flavors of multiple streaming services for free.
Who knows, you might even start thinking Comcast Internet isn’t all that bad. Or that’s how being locked in at home can really mess with one’s brain.