The Chromecast is one of the more exciting products to come out of Google in a long time. It feels like it’s been awhile since Google has done something truly Googly, like releasing a $35 media streaming stick that could end up totally disrupting an industry swelling with confusing, expensive products full of features consumers don’t want or need. On paper, the Chromecast looks amazing. So what exactly does it do, and how does it feel in real life?
Let’s talk, for a moment, about what the Chromecast isn’t and how it functions. It isn’t a stand-alone streaming box like Google TV. There are no apps built in. There is no remote. If all you owned was a TV and a Chromecast, you wouldn’t even be able to use the thing. Chromecast is a wireless tool for connecting your smartphone, tablet or PC to your television.
The way it works is relatively simple. You send data from one of those devices to the Chromecast, and Chromecast displays that data however it was designed to be displayed. For example, if you open the Netflix app for Android and select your Chromecast as the playback device, it doesn’t just mirror your phone’s display. The developers behind Netflix have designed a special custom experience for playing videos on your Chromecast that allows your phone to function as a remote and allows you to use other apps on your phone or turn off your display while videos keep playing.
In Google Chrome, tabs that are sent to your Chromecast don’t have the address bar present or anything like that. Only the content is beamed over, keeping things clean and looking good. Everything that can be Chromecasted right now, YouTube, Play Music and other Google Play media, has a custom Chromecast experience. Pandroa is crafting a Chromecast accessible app right now, and presumably, other developers are as well.
That’s the most exciting thing about Chromecast. It isn’t just another device mirroring tool. Developers can choose how their apps will work in Chromecast. I imagine within a short time, there will be some really cool things out there. Google has already released a Chromecast development kit. Small developers are all over Twitter and Google+, excited to receive invites to use the Chromecast APIs to see what they can come up with. Hopefully Google can tempt the larger players as well.
Back on track here. So, what’s it like to install and use Chromecast? I’m going to get this out of the way right off the bat: the Chromecast was the easiest piece of living room entertainment equipment I have ever had to install. As soon as you open the box, instructions on how to setup the Chromecast are right in your face. Plug in the Chromecast, plug in the power cord (either using an adapter or USB port on your television), visit a website, install an app and you’re good to go.
It may sound like a lot of steps, but every one of them was painless. I already had the Chromecast extension installed, so I was good to use Chrome without any other work, and YouTube, Play Music and Netflix already had a Chromecast button in their respective apps waiting for me. That’s all there is to it. No extra work. No updates. No connection errors. Nothing. Within a couple minutes, I went from opening the box to watching Netflix.
I’ve been testing a handful of content, every way I can, and everything works perfect. I had high hopes for Chromecast, but at $35, I was not expecting a whole lot. My first impressions are that it’s worth a lot more than $35, and just about anyone could set this thing up and use it.
If what you’ve heard is that Chromecast is great for watching Netflix, YouTube, and using Chrome on your TV, then Chromecast is every bit as good as it sounds. If you’re on the fence about buying one, at $35, I would highly recommend it. Google still has a lot of work to do, but convincing companies to add a Chromecast button to existing apps should be a lot easier than getting them to build a Google TV app.
The Chromecast is the successor to the Nexus Q, but it’s what the Q should have been all along. I’m glad to see Google is back on track here, ready to take the living room by storm. For $35, what Chromecast does right this moment is great. For $35, what it could end up doing in the future is simply amazing.