Review of the Chromecast with Google TV: Google Gets it Right
The History of Chromecast and Google TV
For years, Google has been attempting to get into the living rooms of streaming consumers, but with little success. Google TV initially started in 2010 as a smart platform for third-party set top boxes and TV manufacturers. It never caught on as devices were expensive and the experience was generally slow and clunky, and it ended in 2014.
Within the Google TV timeframe, Google attempted to create its own TV devices called the Nexus Player and the Nexus Q. The Nexus Player used the same Google TV software, but never caught for the same reasons above. The Nexus Q was a device that wasn't controlled with a remote, but with an Android smartphone. The Q didn't sell well as it didn't support many apps, and required specific Android phones for it to function, but it found a niche of users that appreciated its unique no-remote functionality, and spherical design.
Google listened to the Q's criticism and in 2013 released the Chromecast: a similar device that didn't come with a remote but was in a stick form factor to hide behind your TV, and supported a wider variety of services and devices. The best part was the $35 price, compared to its cheapest competition at $50. For years, this was the Chromecast's claim to fame. It may not be as intuitive to use considering you need another device to control it, but the price was attractive. The Chromecast sold far greater than the Nexus devices, but the Roku and Fire TV were still leaders. As years went on, Google released updated Chromecasts and found a larger niche of users, which hasn't led to sales success compared to the competitors. Meanwhile the competitors caught up to Google's $30 pricing.
During the Chromecast's life, Google still maintained a TV service now called Android TV, being used by third-party streaming device companies and TV manufacturers. The most popular use of Android TV is on Fire TV devices, but it can also be found on several lesser-known streaming devices, and several TV brands like Sony, TCL, and Element.
I personally got interested in Android TV upon the release of the TiVo Stream 4K. Beyond TiVo's software customizations and famous peanut remote, the Google Play Store was what I was mostly interested in. Around the same time the Stream 4K was released, HBO Max and Peacock were as well. The issue with the initial release of those streaming services was the lack of Roku and Fire TV support. I had noticed over the years that carriage disputes occurred often with Fire TV and Roku, but I rarely heard anything about issues with the Apple TV or Android TV. Since I have no interest in paying $180 for an Apple TV, the $50 TiVo Stream 4K was my choice. I then switched to a TVision Hub for the TVision remote shortcuts, but then I started to take a look at the Chromecast with Google TV. With Google TV being the new name for Android TV with a fresh new look, I considered the fact that if what I want is Google, I should probably buy a Google device. So, I did.
Here's Where I Talk About the Chromecast with Google TV
I bought two for the two main TVs, one in the Sky color (blue), and one in Sunrise (pink), because snow (white) is boring. One cool thing about all three of the colors is the batteries included for the remote match the color, which is a nice touch.
I'll start with the remote, which is very minimal and reminds me of the Apple TV remote layout. The remote feels almost too light, and is a little too slippery in the hand, which makes controlling the volume on the right side of the remote challenging. Button presses are fine; the directional and volume keys are the same plastic material as the rest of the remote, but the other buttons are rubber but are just as slippery, so there's not much difference.
Unlike the Roku and Fire TV, there is no dedicated pause, rewind, or fast forward buttons; those are controlled by the directional keys, and is very easy to get used to. Aside from the TV buttons, you just get back, home, Google Assistant, Netflix, and YouTube buttons.
Pressing and holding the home button results in a sidebar appearing with shortcuts to your account profile, settings, ambient mode (basically a screen saver), and notifications, which I have never encountered a notification with Google TV. On Android TV, pressing and holding the home button resulted in a menu showing all your apps, which I greatly prefer. Pressing and holding the Google Assistant button is how you activate the voice recognition, while pressing the button quickly will pop the Google Assistant menu up for quick searches. Pressing the holding the YouTube button allows the user to choose which YouTube app opens, like YouTube TV or YouTube Music. Pressing and holding the back and Netflix buttons don't do anything, but there is an app that allows the user to remap any of the buttons, but it is not an official Google app, so be careful with that.
The Chromecast with Google TV has a refreshed interface that feels a lot like the Pixel UI. It's much easier on the eyes, but if you dive deep into the settings of the device, you'll quickly find older menu designs, so Google needs to do a bit of deeper cleaning there. The home interface features tabs for different categories. The For You tab is where you'll find your apps and recommended shows and movies based on what you watch and the services you have. If you have YouTube TV, you'll see a Live tab that shows top picks and a program guide. In the future, the Live tab will also appear like it does on Fire TV by implementing other live services, but that is not the case at the moment. there are also tabs for Movies and Shows, as well as the Apps tab for the Google Play Store, and the Library tab shows content you've either rented or bought, and titles you've added to your watchlist on Google searches or in the Google TV. You can also set up different profiles for different Google accounts for YouTube, YouTube TV, and YouTube Music. The interface is similar to what you can find on the updated Fire TV home, and although I haven't used the new Fire TV home, they don't appear that different to my eyes.
Performance is quicker than on the TVision Hub and TiVo Stream 4K, and the only issue I have found on my Sky device is the WiFi will shut itself off occasionally, but this doesn't happen on the Sunrise one. Beyond that, the Chromecast with Google TV is a joy to use, and I honestly don't have that much else to say on performance. It works great.