Review: Chromecast with Google TV boosts your streaming options
Google has released a new Chromecast that is also really its first proper Android TV media streaming device – though at the same time Android TV has been rebranded as Google TV. Despite these potentially confusing developments, the new Chromecast with Google TV is a really well made piece of hardware that is really simple to use.
At a glance:
- Polished Google TV software
- Well-crafted hardware
- Brings all your apps together
Google's Chromecasts have been enabling users to get music and movies up on their TV screens for years: the super-easy, affordable dongles let you cast streams from a phone, tablet or laptop and watch them on a bigger display. This device can still do all of that, but it does a whole lot more too.
It's a Chromecast but it also has its own storage, its own operating system and its own remote. Unlike the existing Chromecasts, you can use it independently without any other device, which makes it more like the Nvidia Shield TV streaming box.
The Nvidia Shield TV runs Android TV, and so does this new Chromecast but it has a Google TV software layer on top. Google TV isn't replacing Android TV – although you'll probably see the former term eventually replace the latter – it's running on top of it, like the software skins from Samsung or OnePlus run on top of Android.
Google says Google TV will eventually get pushed out to any Android TV device makers who want to make use of it, but for now it's only on this Chromecast. That hopefully explains the rather convoluted name this new gadget has.
Let's start with Google TV, which is a pleasure to use. As with the plainer Android TV interface that it runs on top of, you get all of your apps (Netflix, Spotify, Plex and the rest) arranged in rows, as well as options to check out recommended content and to pick up where you left off with films and shows.
Besides bringing with it a more modern-looking interface, Google TV also tries to make it easier to use multiple streaming services together. Search for something, for example, and you get results from Netflix, Prime Video, YouTube, Disney Plus and pretty much every popular video streaming app except Apple TV Plus.
This is exactly what the Apple TV app tries to do on iPhones, iPads, Macs and Apple TVs as well, so it's no surprise that Google TV is coming in app form as well – it'll replace the Google Play Movies & TV app in the next few months. Both Google and Apple want you to do all your searching and sorting through their interfaces, even if you're watching content in other apps.
So far, we really like Google TV. It's helpful to see search results for movies and shows pop up from across multiple services, and of course you can browse by genre and other categories too. If something is available on more than one platform, or if it can be bought to keep digitally as well as streamed, you'll be given a choice of options.
The watchlist is a cool feature that lets you bookmark titles you want to watch across multiple services – this is actually synced to your Google account, so (as long as you're signed into Google) you can type "my watchlist" into the Google search engine to see what you're planning to watch. You can also add entries from the web.
All the same apps are available through Google TV as they are on Android TV, so as well as popular video streaming services you've also got music and audio apps, games and utilities to make use of. If there's an app you want to make use of on the big screen, chances are its available.
Then there's the hardware. It's simple and it's plastic, but it's well built and feels well crafted. The Chromecast with Google TV takes in a power cable at one end and outputs an HDMI signal at the other, while the battery-powered remote makes browsing through the Google TV interface very straightforward indeed.
Managing playback and opening apps on your phone to beam them over to a Chromecast has never been a major problem – and remember that this new model can still do that too – but having a separate remote adds a whole new level of convenience. If your TV supports the HDMI-CEC standard (most modern ones do), you can use the remote to power on your TV and to control the volume too.
There's a dedicated Google Assistant button on board the remote, and you can use it to issue voice commands to your TV: it's helpful for finding specific titles, running searches and launching apps, and you can ask the usual questions about the weather forecast or the latest sports scores too.
Overall it's an impressive package, and as Google TV gets better over time – across multiple devices – it should get more impressive still. Google has taken what made the Chromecast so good and added plenty of usefulness on top, and it immediately becomes one of the best streaming devices around, competing directly with the likes of the Roku and Amazon Fire TV sticks.
Chromecast with Google TV is available in white, pink or pale blue for US$49.99, which is a very appealing price for what you're getting. As successful as the Chromecast has been, it was due an upgrade, and this new model is a superb one.
Product page: Chromecast with Google TV
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