Chromecast with Google TV Review: Roku Should Be Worried

Evaluation:
8/10
?

1 – Absolute hot garbage
2 – Sorta warm garbage
3 – Strongly imperfect design
4 – A few advantages, many disadvantages
5 – Acceptably imperfect
6 – Good enough to buy on sale
7 – Excellent, but not the best in its class
8 – Fantastic, with some footnotes
9 – shut up and take my money
10 – Absolute Conception Nirvana

Price: $ 50

Chromecast with Google TV and remote control Justin duino

For years, when friends and family asked me ‘which streaming gadget should I buy’ my response was ‘get a Roku’. Assuming your TV’s built-in smart interface isn’t right for you, this is the best option when it comes to price and compatibility. Or at least it was: Google’s redesigned “Chromecast with Google TV” is a serious contender for the best stick, dongle, box, streaming stuff in its price range.

This is what we like

Cheap
Remote control your TV
Good home screen
Solid performance

And what we don’t do

Hard to tell which service you are using
No space for games or Stadia compatibility
Remote layout could be better

It’s not perfect: Google’s new interface may not be right for you if you’re only using one or two services. And while it’s based on Android TV (the Google TV interface, formerly Android TV, which replaced Google TV? – whatever it’s called now), its usefulness for games and other extended tools is limited. This thing will not be dethrone the NVIDIA SHIELD as our pick for the best full-featured streaming device.

But at $ 50, you don’t have to. The new Chromecast sacrifices a bit of ease of use for a lot of additional capabilities over the old model, with some smartly designed softkeys for today’s user that cuts the cord and is spread over more than the old model. streaming subscriptions than he remembers.

New material

First, the Chromecast looked like an oversized USB flash drive, then like a hockey puck. Now he looks like one of those plastic coin purse, but in a choice of matte white or soothing pastel blue or pink. What the gadget looks like never really mattered as it spends all of its time hiding behind your TV, and it still is.

Chromecast with Google TV plugged into powerJustin duino

The biggest change for the user is the new interface borrowed from Android TV and the resulting remote control (matching the color of the dongle) to control everything. Chromecast now works, well, pretty much exactly like any other streaming set-top box – controlling and managing content from your phone is no longer necessary. But if you are on your phone, you can still stream video and music content to the gadget.

The new Chromecast includes the technical capabilities of the Chromecast Ultra: 4K resolution, 60 frames per second video, and HDR support. Plus, its more flexible powers mean it works with Bluetooth accessories (like game controllers!) And includes a bit of local storage. Four gigabytes, to be exact, which is a bit of a letdown if you expected to play games.

Chromecast Home Screen

Oh, and another consideration: that extra figurative power means the Chromecast needs a little bit of extra literal power. It can no longer run on just 7.5 watts from your TV’s diagnostic USB port. You will now need to plug it in with a standard USB wall wart charger. It’s a problem if the surge protector behind your TV is a bit full.

With more options

But can it handle all of the same things as the latest Chromecast? All this and more. Thanks to Android TV under the hood, almost all major video streaming services are supported, with the notable exception of Apple TV +. For services that don’t offer an Android TV app – and again, they’re pretty rare, like even CollegeHumor’s Dropout TV premium service does – you can rely on your phone’s Chromecast functionality.

During the setup process, Google will guess which services you are already using when you sign in with your Google Account. This can be more or less precise, depending on the size of your Chrome / Android user. Sadly, there’s no automatic connection, so I found myself using the remote’s D-pad to connect to Netflix – never a fun experience. It’s a point against that in ease of use compared to the old Chromecast setup. It is interesting to note that Android TV remote app does not work with the new model, which makes entering the password much more cumbersome.

Chromecast Movies Page

Once you get to the home screen, you might be surprised at the layout. Google TV’s new interface looks more like a video service on its own than a traditional streaming gadget – it offers algorithmic prediction shows and movies based on what you’ve watched and what’s popular. Select a show or movie, and it will take you straight to the video. Basically, you never see the app it’s running on. The search is a bit more contextual, showing you which movie or TV show is airing on which service and how much you’ll need to pay if it’s a rental.

Chromecast Apps Page

You can find the apps themselves, with their familiar TV interfaces and menus, if you delve a bit. But it’s clear the Chromecast would rather you spend most of your time without watching on its home screens, which are divided into the main tote, movies, shows, apps (which includes games), and library section. On the latter, you’ll find a collection of content you own on Google / YouTube / Play Movies / whatever the name is this week, as well as your personal watchlist.

The Watchlist is my favorite feature of the new Chromecast. It really allows the Interservice Unified Film and TV Show List to shine, because you can add whatever you want to your watchlist and it’s all in one place. No need to remember which show or movie is available on which service, just head over to your list to pick up where you left off.

Chromecast Watchlist

The interface doesn’t try very hard to tell you what service you’re actually using right now, which can be annoying for some people. But I found it refreshing to focus almost entirely on content rather than content delivery. The interface is also a lot faster than I’m used to: I don’t know what hardware the little dongle uses, but it makes my Roku-powered TV look like it’s covered in molasses.

I would have liked there to have been an option to hide content from services that I don’t use or are not interested in. I understand a lot of people are looking for Lovecraft Country, but since I’m not paying for HBO Max, that’s not an option for me right now, and won’t be for a while at least. You don’t need to add it to my home screen.

There is an option at the bottom of the settings menu to activate “Application only mode”. This only gives you the home screen with links to your installed services and apps … but it disables everything else. And I mean everything. In App-only mode, you can’t watch TV shows or movies only, you can’t view or edit your watchlist, you can’t even do a voice search of the Assistant. It’s possible that Google could add functionality here, but at the time of writing this article turning on App-only mode disables so many features that it’s not worth using.

Better control

I was pleasantly surprised during the process of setting up the new Chromecast when it asked me what type of TV I was using. You see, in addition to the RF wireless connection between the remote and the dongle, standard with most of these devices, the Chromecast remote has a semi-universal IR blaster. In a minute or two, the process allowed me to control the power, volume and input of my TCL TV.

Chromecast remote setup screen

Assuming the Chromecast is the only thing you use your TV for, or even swap it out only for a game console or Blu-ray player, that’s fine. That means you can put your original TV remote control somewhere in a drawer, and Bob is your uncle. (Why your uncle has anything to do with this, I have no idea.)

This is a major advantage in terms of usability over previous generations of Chromecast and standalone Android TV devices. Unfortunately, it is not as powerful as a standard universal remote control. There is no way to navigate or select menus on the TV with the Chromecast remote, so when I switched to live TV to watch football I needed my standard TV remote to change channels. . I suspect Google is hoping you pay for YouTube TV where that wouldn’t be true, but I gave it up after the last price increase. A truly universal remote control is therefore unfortunately out of the question.

Chromecast with Google TV remoteJustin duino

The remote also has a microphone and a dedicated Google Assistant button, usefully contrasting with the others. Hold it down and you can give voice commands to the Chromecast. You can do the obvious and find or start video content, but it’s also compatible with all of the Google Assistant features you can do with your phone or a Nest smart speaker. That’s good, but I’ve found the main interface to be intuitive enough that I don’t need to use it.

There are some odd choices about the layout of the remote. Mute is a button in the middle of the remote, away from the volume buttons on the side, and there’s no dedicated play / pause. When watching videos, you have to double tap the center of the D-pad to pause… or you can hold down the “Assistant” button and say “Pause,” which takes about 10 times longer. But overall, the remote is still a much improved experience.

By the way, YouTube and Netflix buttons can be remapped, but you’ll need to use a third-party app and familiarize yourself with the settings. It’s really something that should be built in, but it makes sense that it is not.

Don’t rely on gambling

With the new dongle running Android TV underneath, I was intrigued by the ability to run games on the new Chromecast. It is possible, but not ideal. While you can pair Bluetooth game controllers fairly easily in the settings menu, the Chromecast doesn’t have a lot of power – it struggled to keep fairly simple 3D games like Hungry Shark Evolution at a decent refresh rate. With just 4GB of storage (and no way to expand it), it won’t hold much either.

Applications menu.

I did however find an ideal use for the new Chromecast as a game streamer. NVIDIA GeForce Now was as enjoyable as ever, although intense multiplayer games like Rocket League suffer from the lack of a wired connection option. (An Ethernet adapter is available for pre-order for 20 $ more.) Which infuriates that Stadia, apparently Google’s flagship gaming option, isn’t supported on this new Chromecast at launch. And this despite the fact that it works with the Chromecast Ultra, which is still the only way to play Stadia on a real TV.

The Chromecast can run a lot of Android TV apps as well, but beyond the usual video and audio services, I couldn’t find any reason to do so.

A new competitor

The new Chromecast outperforms the old Chromecast Ultra, but not as incredibly powerful as SHIELD. But it still delivers an impressive mix of utility and value, especially if you use multiple streaming services and / or rely heavily on YouTube for your content.

Chromecast with Google TV unboxingJustin duino

With Roku becoming less of a universal datum for service support, and therefore less of an automatic recommendation for a budget streamer, the Chromecast is making a serious case. If you need a little bit more functionality than your current smart TV setup, for example, the ability to play a game streaming or view your smarthome security camera with a voice command, it’s a solid choice.

Google could (and could) improve the Chromecast even further, with more options for filtering content on home screens and support for Stadia. But even in its slightly raw form, it’s still a good enough upgrade over the old Chromecast to be easy to recommend.

This is what we like

Cheap
Remote control your TV
Good home screen
Solid performance

And what we don’t do

Hard to tell which service you are using
No space for games or Stadia compatibility
Remote layout could be better

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