I’m feeling bipolar toward the new Chromecast TV from Google. It’s an outside-the-box gadget that still manages to deliver the same old experience. It’s brilliant but backwards. It’s easy to use at times but a bit of a pain at others. I’m split; there’s a lot to like and plenty of room for improvement.
Chromecast TV is a small dongle that plugs into your TV’s HDMI port. Aside from the colorful dongle itself there’s a power cord (which is nice and long and comes with a velcro wrap for easy cord control) and a short HDMI cord.
Setup is an absolute breeze. Without reading any instructions, I was up and running within a couple of minutes. Once it’s plugged in, you download the Chromecast app (yes it works with iOS and iPhones) and follow the setup instructions. You’ll teach the Chromecast TV your home network’s password and that’s about it.
Heading into the Chromecast experience I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. In the past I had used the Apple TV and several Roku devices. Those devices were my reference point which meant I expected an interface with apps, search, games… you know, an experience of some sort.
But that’s not how the Chromecast works. It operates off of your device; as in completely off your device. In my case that meant an iPhone 6s. So my iPhone became the remote and the interface.
With Chromecast you don’t browse for content on your TV. Your find content you want to play through various apps on your phone. There’s no unifying app, even, to pull everything together. The Chromecast app itself basically informes you what apps work with the Chromecast TV and, aside from some piddly other features, doens’t do much else.
So if you want to watch something on Netflix you’ll have to open the Netflix app. Same goes for content on PBS, Plex, Crackle, etc. It’s usable, but it’s not ideal. If you’re using a phone with only 16 GBs of onboard storage, you might find yourself limited by the amount of apps you can actually download and use in conjunction with the TV (especially if you take a lot of photos or videos).
The splintered app experience is frustrating because different apps have different control schemes. Netflix, which probably has the best controls of the apps I tried, lets you rewind 30 seconds and has large pause, play and stop buttons. PBS, on the other hand, has such embarrasingly minimal controls that I got frustrated quickly and often.
So when Google says you’ll use your phone as a remote that IS true, but not in the sense most people would expect, which is kind of misleading. There isn’t one screen where you can play/pause, fast-forward/rewind, browse for content, etc. And that’s basically a big bummer.
But the actual watching experience is really nice. “Casting” content from apps works seamlessly and quickly. And I love the fact that I can open an app, hit the cast button and my TV turns on and plays the content straightaway. All-in-all the actual viewing experience is great. The quality seemed just barely worse than if I had streamed the same thing on the Apple TV (2nd Gen). I was very happy with the picture — especially for pulling content from my phone.
Have you ever been playing music on your phone, opened your camera app to take a photo or video and been mad when the music pauses? There are no issues like that with the Chromecast. It works whether or not your in the app you’re casting from or not. So you can surf around on your phone while you’re casting no problem.
But here come several negatives at you in rapid fire: using your phone to cast content from uses up it’s battery. Not only that, but if your phone is low on battery… you might not be able to finish the show you are watching when it runs out — or you’ll have to mess with finding your charger (which for me is upstairs in my bedroom, not down by the TV).
Another rather frustrating issue with the Chromecast TV using your phone to play content: volume control. Yes, you can use your TV’s actual remote to adjust the volume, but you can also use your phone. So if your phone’s volume is set too low or too high you will either not be able to hear good enough when casting content to the TV or you could potentially get blown away when a show starts. There’s no good balance. This is one of those things that isn’t a deal-killer all by itself, but, like the proverbial death by a thousand cuts, it wears on your patience after awhile.
There were times when some apps (again PBS was a particularly nasty offender here) would not let me control what I was watching if I left the app for awhile and returned. I could press the buttons but nothing happened
Finally, I don’t dig the Chromecast app as a program guide. It tries to tell me what’s on but it is just an inherently sucky experience. Again, the ecosystem is just too fragmented. I don’t like openeing a bunch of different apps for different content.
The content search function in the Chromecast app actually works pretty well. It’s fast, you can use your voice (if you don’t mind potentially being recorded for all time) and shows content from enough apps that you’ll probably be able to discover a way to watch whatever you’re looking for (as long as you don’t mind downloading another app, signing up for another account and possibly forking over some money).
There’s a “Discover Apps” section within the Chromecast app to help you find apps you might want to cast content from, but I find that the recommendations are really terrible. If you scroll all the way down you can find a list of ALL compatible apps. That’s the view that I wish was default. It’s a bit more helpful.
The best thing about the Chromecast TV is simply it’s price. It’s cheap. And honestly, for what it is it’s pretty cool. It does allow you to stream just about anything, even if the experience turns out to be less than slick in the end.
I wouldn’t want to use this instead of the new Apple TV. I would rather use this over many Roku devices (but possibly not the Roku 4 as I haven’t yet tested it.
Would I recommend the Chromecast TV? It’s not for everyone, but I think a lot of people will love it. It’s a great way to add a streaming device to TVs other than your main set, for one thing. Once you get content up on the big screen the viewing experience is definitely acceptable. If you can get past the fact that you’ll need a bunch of different apps to watch a decent range of content on, and if you don’t mind putting up with different control schemes for different apps, the Chromecast is a capable streaming device. It’s pretty easy to forgive it’s shortcomings considering the price. Buy it if you’re an avid Google fan, on a budget or enjoy colorful dongles hanging off the backside of your TV.