Have you ever sat down to watch something on your phone and thought, “Man, I wish I had a bigger screen to watch this on.” I’m willing to bet that many of us have. For years, there hasn’t been a very elegant or cheap solution to this problem. Sure, you could get a micro-USB to HDMI adapter and plug your phone into your TV, but that’s neither cheap or elegant. You could have a Smart TV or Blu-Ray player that has a Netflix app, but that’s all stuck in your TV; it’s not portable and certainly isn’t cheap. The same can be said for consoles like as the Xbox 360 or PS3.
Behold the Chromecast, Google’s answer to your big screen woes. While it is just a simple HDMI dongle, it packs big useability. And in fact, it’s probably the most useful living room accessory I’ve come across so far. Note that I didn’t say that it was the accessory with the most bells and whistles, but that it’s the most useful accessory. Because in truth, the Chromecast can’t do a huge amount of things. But the things that it can do are by far some of the most useful.
For a week now, I’ve been toying with my Chromecast. Tearing down all of the walls of untruth, I actually wondered if I was making a good purchase when I was checking out at my local Best Buy. I didn’t think that it was going to be all that useful and would only be used on special occasions. Boy, was I wrong.
Dead useful for a number of things: Seeing as it’s just a small HDMI dongle that can fit in the palm of your hand, you wouldn’t expect the Chromecast to do a whole lot. But when it comes to viewing content on a bigger screen, the Chromecast is the easiest way to do it. While Netflix is available on pretty much any and every device under the sun, it can often be a pain to use. With the Chromecast, you can simply start it on your phone and then send it to Chromecast with a single button at any time. The same goes for anything else that’s supported, and it makes it incredibly easy to watch a movie with friends or start some music playing during a party.
But one of the most interesting features is that you can send what you’re doing in Chrome straight to your TV. In fact, I’m doing that while I write this. This is a really easy way to throw content up onto a bigger screen. And it’s not just screen sharing, either. To make it better for content, the search bar and pointer are both hidden from view while casting. All you can see is the webpage.
Irresistible pricetag: At $35, there’s next to no reason not to buy the Chromecast. Even without the Netflix promotion, it’s dirt cheap and offers so much bang for the buck. And when compared to some of its competitors such as Apple TV, the Chromecast is a steal at $35.
Fairly portable: While the portability factor of the Chromecast isn’t just grab-and-go, it’s pretty close to that. As most HDMI ports don’t provide the power for it, it either requires a USB port to power it or you can use the USB adapter that’s included in the box to just plug it into the wall. So no, you can’t just grab the Chromecast and throw it in your bag, but it’s portable enough to the point where it would be quite easy to take it to a friend’s house or something.
You can still use your phone while streaming: This is one of the biggest advantages that differentiates the Chromecast from other things like screen sharing devices. You can still use your phone like you normally would even if you’re streaming something to the Chromecast. For example, as soon as something on Netflix loads on your TV, you can use your phone to check Facebook, take pictures or whatever you want. The app chooses how your phone is used in the process. With Netflix, it serves as a remote to control whatever you’re watching.
Seamless set-up: While you’d expect a device like the Chromecast to require a fair amount of set-up, the Chromecast requires almost none. It walks you through the entire (short) process: download the app from, sign in to your Wi-Fi network and connect to the Chromecast. Boom, you’re ready to go. That’s all it requires.
Lack of app support: This is the biggest problem the Chromecast currently faces. It’s a great device, but there are only about four or five apps that currently support it. At this point, you’re limited to Netflix, YouTube, Play Music, Play Movies and TV. (Unless you count Google Chrome, but that only works on a desktop). We know that Pandora support is already in the works, and presumably, other apps are as well. Google has made the development kit open, so it shouldn’t be too difficult for developers to update their apps to include support for the Chromecast.
Streaming Google Chrome is barely functional: While streaming what you’re doing on Google Chrome is a really cool idea, it’s terrible at the moment. I understand that it’s in beta and that you need a fast machine and fast Wi-Fi network to run it, but it’s still horrendous. To be clear, I’m running on a 2012 HP Envy 15 with a 2.2GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor, so the computer is no slouch. My Wi-Fi network averages 40-45Mbps on the download and 5-10Mbps on the upload, so it wouldn’t be considered slow by most.
And yet, streaming Google Chrome is a painful process. A lot of text is tiny up on the big screen, and the entire process is sluggish and choppy. There was a noticeable delay between the computer and TV and, at times, the entire process would freeze up for over ten seconds. Not at all a pleasurable experience. I imagine that some of these issues will be fixed in software updates, but for now, streaming Google Chrome is just a pain.
The Final Word
The Chromecast is, simply put, the most useful living room accessory to date. It gives you tremendous power in an extremely compact package. While it’s not quite perfect, it excels at certain things that are both useful and functional. Further support will come with time and is already on the way. An OTA update for the Chromecast is already slated to roll out over the next few days, which shows that Google is serious about keeping the device as useful as possible. Developers will also hop on board as time goes on, and there will be more options as to what you can use the Chromecast for. At just $35, the Chromecast is about the best deal out there. If you haven’t yet ordered or picked one up, I urge you to do so. You won’t regret it.