Google Chromecast Review

Chromecast Banner

So, not too long ago I received a Chromecast and was excited to review it.

Then it got a firmware update.

Then it got some new app support.

Then it got another firmware updpate.

Then it got an official SDK.

Unboxing

Chromecast Box Chromecast Box

The Chromecast is a small device, and Google doesn’t waste any packaging. It’s a tidy and compact box that includes the Chromecast itself, a USB cable and charger, HDMI extender, and the incredibly simple directions for getting started. There is essentially no wasted space, and it’s not a pain to unpack. Despite the $35 price tag, right from the beginning you feel like you’re getting a quality product. Of course, presentation is nice, but it isn’t worth much if the product doesn’t live up to the presentation.

Chromecast Box Contents

The Hardware

The Chromecast looks simple, but I have a feeling a lot more went into the design than meets the eye. If Google didn’t spend a good amount of time and money on the Chromecast design, the industrial engineer who modeled it deserves a raise.

The Chromecast is sturdy but ergonomic. The curves on the sides feel good in the hand, which is actually pretty important when the device itself is all you have to grip to plug it in and remove it from your HDMI ports. It’s large enough to have a good wireless antenna in it, and small enough that it’s completely inconspicuous when it’s plugged in to a television or receiver.

The very back of the Chromecast has a micro USB port, the exact same one found on cell phones, and a button that can be used to turn it on or off if needed. The HDMI port is sturdy, and the matte finish means that it won’t be glinting in the screenglow if it sticks out a bit. Overall, the design is very simple, but well thought out. It doesn’t feel like a $35 device, which is always good.

Chromecast Front Chromecast Back

Getting Started

The Chromecast stands apart from other devices by being an interesting mix of wireless display and smart-TV box. When you plug the Chromecast in, you’ll be greeted with a screen telling you to connect to it. Essentially, it broadcasts its own little WiFi network which you connect to, and from there you can use your app or the Chromecast website to set up the device. Essentially, that is as simple as naming your Chromecast and giving it a wireless network to connect to, at which point it shuts down its own little network and turns from broadcasting to receiving. Overall, the process is simple enough, but the early firmware on the Chromecast has trouble connecting to secured networks, so be aware that you may need to temporarily connect it to an open WiFi network for it to update before trying to put it on a secure network.

Newer Chromecasts will probably have the newer firmware right out of the box.

There really isn’t much to say or much to show about the Chromecast setup, and that is mainly a good thing. The setup process is simple, and though visually it will probably get an overhaul at some point, I expect the basic steps to remain the same. Ease and simplicity are the name of the game, and the Chromecast excels at it.

How Chromecast Works

The Chromecast stands apart from other TV boxes by being the TV box equivalent of a “thin client”. The primary app will run on your device, whether it is a computer with Google Chrome or an iOS or Android device, and will broadcast a signal to the Chromecast that presents the media through your TV. The Chromecast doesn’t have a remote control, nor does it need it. The device that “casts” to it acts as the remote. Once nice thing, though, is that while the Chromecast is controlled by the device, the device does not need to be in constant contact with it. Once the Chromecast is instructed to start playing a YouTube video, for example, it can continue playing it even if the YouTube app is closed or the browser goes to a different website.

When it’s not in use, the Chromecast simply sits there looking pretty. It displays a slideshow of generally awesome images and its identity.

Screenshots

Because Chromecast displays on a TV, I took pictures of what shows in a variety of situations. I apologize for the relatively low quality of these images, but hopefully it’ll give you a good idea of what it looks and feels like to use the Chromecast.

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Apps and Uses

When the Chromecast debuted, there were a small selection of apps available, mostly due to the fact that it was released without an official developer kit. In other words, only select partners with Google were able to use the device, and no one else really could, even if they wanted to.

Now, that’s all changed. Google made good on their promise to release an official developer kit, and it’s now open for anyone to support. Joining the likes of Play Music, Netflix, YouTube, and Pandora (which were among the initial limited selection) is now an option for anyone.

In addition to apps being able to cast, the Google Chrome extension also allows for tabs, and in some cases, even your whole screen to be broadcast to a Chromecast. Unfortunately, there is some lag between what you see on your computer and what you see on the Chromecast, making it inadequate for use as a wireless way to mirror a movie or playing a video game on the big screen.

Conclusion

Rating the Chromecast is a little unusual. It’s not really a smart-TV box, it’s not a DVR, it’s not a wireless display dongle. It’s really a device in a class of its own. The app selection grows every week, and it costs just $35. To put it simply, it’s a device that does a lot with a very little. Since having my Chromecast, I have repeatedly used it to play music on my home theater system, play Netflix, show YouTube videos to friends, and share my desktop. I’ve been able to show pictures to my family on our TV, controlling the slideshow with my phone. I wanted to play Netflix on the TV in my room, and the Chromecast was cheaper than an HDMI cable of appropriate length, so I bought a second one. Whenever I identify a limitation in the device, I remember the cost, and realize that I can’t fairly dock it points. I give the Chromecast 10 Chromeballs out of 10.

If you don’t have one, buy one.

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