Google Chromecast Review
Companies have been making devices to bring internet content to your television for a while now. We’ve seen the Apple TV, Google TV, Roku and even devices that run the full Android operating system. Of course, television manufacturers such as Samsung, are also creating smart TVs that have the internet and all of the streaming applications built in.
The list of options for making your TV web-connected continues to grow and the latest option to hit the market is the Google Chromecast. This $35 dongle plugs directly into one of your TV’s HDMI ports and uses its own internet connection to stream content to your TV. The best part? It is completely controlled by your smartphone, tablet or PC.
Google Chromecast Unboxing
For being such an affordable device, the Chomecast is packaged very well. Google obviously spent some effort designing the box for the Chromecast and it kind of surprised me. My first Nexus phone from Google wasn’t packaged as nicely as this cheap little dongle is.
An outer sleeve covers the inner box, which opens up like a book cover to reveal the setup instructions on one side and the Chromecast itself on the other. The Chromecast is secured in a plastic tray. Removing the tray reveals the Chromecast’s accessories, which include a USB power cable, wall adapter and an HDMI extension cable.
Depending on your TV, you may not need the wall adapter or extension cable. The USB power cable is required however, even though Google’s marketing of the device sort of suggests otherwise. The power cable should be plenty long for any setup you might have and it is nice that they threw in a strip of hook and loop fastener for cable management.
Google Chromecast Design & Hardware
There isn’t much to the Google Chromecast, it is a small device that looks just like a USB dongle, except with a full size HDMI plug on the end instead of a USB connector. It measures 72mm x 35mm x 12mm and weighs in at just 34 grams.
Other than the HDMI connector, the Chromecast has a micro USB port for power and a single button which can be used for performing a Factory Data Reset (FDR). The Chromecast app will also allow users to perform a FDR if needed.
I’m not sure what hardware is powering the device internally, but I do know that the Chromecast supports 2.4GHz 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi networks. Like I said, there really isn’t much to the Google Chromecast, making this the shortest hardware section of any review I’ve ever written.
Setting up the Google Chromecast
The Google Chromecast comes with setup instructions, but they really aren’t needed. The device is so simple to setup that I’m sure pretty much anyone will easily be able to figure it on their own. But I will go ahead and explain how I set the Chromecast up for use on my particular TV.
My TV has a free USB in port, so I decided to use it for powering the Chromecast. Using a USB port is the best option if one is available on your TV. It will cause the Chromecast to turn on and off with your TV automatically. Using the included wall adapter will keep the Chromecast on even while your TV is off and you’ll have to physically unplug the cable to power down the device.
I plugged my Google Chromecast into a cheap, remote controlled, 2-port HDMI switcher. I did it this way to make sure the Chromecast will work with an HDMI switcher and because I have more HDMI equipped devices than my TV has ports. I went ahead and used the optional HDMI extension cable to get the Chromecast further away from the switcher.
At this point, I installed the Chromecast app on my Android phone and turned on the TV. Once the TV is powered on, you’ll see the Chromecast’s LED turn Red and flash. From the Android app on my Nexus 4, I entered my Wi-Fi network password and renamed the Chromecast. Then the LED turned White and my Chromecast was ready for use. Total setup time from start to finish was less than 5 minutes.
Google Chromecast Software & Performance
The Google Chromecast app is currently only available for Android, iOS users can still use their device with the Chromecast, but you’ll need to use the browser to get everything setup. Speaking of browsers, there is also an extension for the Chrome browser which will allow you to use the Chromecast with your PC. However, the feature is currently still in beta.
The Chromecast app itself is mostly used for setting up and modifying the Chromecasts settings. It will also allow users to reboot or reset their Chromecast. Other than that, most of the magic happens within the various streaming apps themselves.
Once you have installed the Chromecast app and gotten everything set up correctly, you will find a new button in certain applications. This is the cast button and it currently appears in YouTube, Netflix, Google Play Music and Google Play Movies.
The cast button only shows up when your device is connected to the same network as your Google Chromecast. Simply start some streaming media and press the cast button. It will open a new window that asks which device you’d like to play the content on. Selecting your Chromecast will make the content appear on your Television’s screen and media controls for the content will appear in the drop down notification pane and on your device’s lock screen.
Once content is playing from the Chromecast, you can do whatever you want with your smartphone or tablet – even turn them off- and the content will continue to play. That is because no streaming is going on from your mobile device. The Google Chromecast has its own internet connection and your smartphone or tablet is only used for controlling what the Chromecast is playing. Basically, when you go to watch a video, your device is giving the Chromecast a link to the content you want to play. The Chromecast then pulls that content from the cloud and sends it to your TV.
How well does the Chromecast perform? In my opinion, very well. I have owned a Chromecast since the day after it was announced and I’ve seen it buffer maybe 3 or 4 times. Its Wi-Fi connection performs better than that of my Nexus 4, which buffers during YouTube and Netflix video playback fairly often. The only issue I’ve had with the Chromecast has been while using the Chrome browser extension, but I recently figured out how to solve that problem and cover how to fix it in this post.
Google has released a SDK for the Chromecast, which will allow developers to add support and different uses for the Chromecast in the future. So far, we have heard Pandora, HBO, Vimeo and Plex express an interest in supporting the Chromecast. Which will make the device even more useful than it currently is.
The Google Chromecast has changed how we use our TV. It was easy to setup, works great with little to no buffering and it will only get better in the future. In my opinion, the Chromecast is the best $35 gadget purchase I’ve ever made. Technically, the Chromecast only cost me around $11 once you figure in the Netflix savings I was able to take advantage of.
If I had to name one thing I don’t like about the Chromecast, it would be the fact that it has gotten my kids addicted to watching YouTube videos of people playing Minecraft. Other than that small annoyance, the Chromecast has been a great addition to our living room.
Bottom line, if you own a HD TV, you should consider picking one of these up. I can’t imagine any reason why anyone would be dissatisfied with the Google Chromecast.