Review: Chromecast with Google TV
I reviewed the new Chromecast with Google TV for my weekly gig on All About Android (embedded video further down). My unit came in white, or “Snow”, but it’s also available in Sky—a cozy light blue—or Sunrise, a flush blush pink. Some might wonder why you want something that’s color-coordinated if it’s installed on the back of the TV via HDMI. I think if aesthetics matter to you, you’re going to prefer one over the other. And for what it’s worth, unless you’ve got a giant TV or impressive cable management skills, people will see the dongle.
I have mine installed on a 32-inch TV in the family room since the main living room TV already has the Xiaomi MiBox connected to it. It is very obviously there. I have seen folks post about adding a USB-C hub to it to add functionality. I like where your thinking is, but it does look funny if you do that. The Ethernet adapter that Google is offering won’t seem as silly. I don’t think this is the kind of device to buy if what you want is a full-blown TV set up like the MiBox or the Nvidia Shield, which included additional USB ports for external storage. The new Chromecast does have 4GB of available storage.
The remote for the Chromecast with Google TV is perhaps the most exciting part of this product. There’s a back button, an Assistant button, Home, and Mute, in addition to two shortcut buttons. The Power button turns off the Chromecast. After recording the TWiT segment, I was able to go back into the settings and recalibrate the remote’s infrared connection with my TV. That last button is the input button, which works with your TV’s inputs and let you cycle out to standalone Chromecast mode.
Okay, the last thing is the volume rocker. It’s on the side, separate from the mute button. I’m having a hard time explaining why, but the fact that it’s not on the main face of the remote irks me. This design feels like a throwback to Daydream VR. I’m sure there was some attempt at making this fit into Google’s existing industrial design paradigm. But to me, a long time Google user, it feels like a way to recycle manufacturing IP. I’ve had to teach every person who uses this where the volume is. Other set-top boxes borrow this configuration for their respective remotes. I never said I liked it on those devices, either.
Now, let’s go to the actual Google TV interface. I didn’t have screenshots to show you on TWiT because that’s a whole ordeal that involves a capture card, and it’s times like this I miss being in the studio. You’re getting something similar to Android TV as it stands now, but with a stronger emphasis on specific content. Rather than separate the content by streaming app, as you would see on Android TV, Google TV will separate them by genre. Only a few rows in between will be, like, “now trending” on a particular app. The idea is to get you content that refers to what you’re into and what you’ve queried. There is some editorializing within the suggestion engine. For the most part, you’ll get an experience that’s curated just like Netflix and Disney+. But this helps Google TV feels more thematic and less chaotic than Android TV.
There are a couple of things I’m still learning about Google TV. I’m trying to get the algorithm to stop suggesting I watch sports and cable news on YouTube TV when I’ve explicitly hidden those channels. I’m trying to learn how the “watch list” works and the long term benefit of that element. I like that some apps let you log in from the phone without having to type in the password—I share a Netflix account with my best friend, and I can never remember her password. But I was logged in on my phone, and when I went in to cast, it recognized the Chromecast in the family room immediately and asked to connect. Those are nice little touches.
The Assistant functionality is probably the most controversial part of the Chromecast with Google TV. But that’s a core part of the Google ecosystem, and you’re encouraged to make use of it. I liked it for calling up family photo albums, but I already have too many smart speakers and displays to test the efficacy of making commands through the remote. I will say that just in recent days, I’ve noticed the Assistant is faster to respond than on the MiBox, where it’d often crash on me before I could even say a command.
The Chromecast with Google TV is a great little dongle for getting a full-blown interface for streaming content. I much prefer the “caveman” way of using an IR remote rather than casting directly from my phone. I’m glad to have converted to this from the regular Chromecast. I think the new Google TV interface’s real test will be on the big set-top box players, like the Nvidia Shield. But in this case, it’s just a nice-to-have that I think will finally rival the Roku and Apple TV. And it’s only $50.