Chromecast Review

The new Chromecast is a more colorful, reliable streaming dongle

Broadcast television is great, but streaming is the future, and Google’s Chromecast is one of the easiest ways of getting video streams onto your existing non-smart TV.

The puck plugs into an HDMI port on the rear of your TV, is powered by micro-USB, and is controlled by your existing smart device.

Simply open up a compatible app, and tap the ‘Cast’ button to immediately see content streamed to the big screen.

The way Google’s Chromecast manages this is that rather than controlling the device directly with an included remote, you instead select content on a smart phone or tablet before ‘casting’ it to your television.

This means that rather than struggling to navigate a keyboard on your television’s screen you can instead quickly and easily find content using your phone’s keyboard.

This model is limited to 1080p resolution, but if you want a Chromecast that will be able to handle 4K, then check out our review of the newly-released Chromecast Ultra.

Chromecast: what is it?

The idea behind the Chromecast was to bring smart functionality to the series of “dumb” TVs that hit the market before smart TVs rose to popularity near the end of the last decade.

Like the original, the new Chromecast plugs directly into your TV’s HDMI port (make sure it has one of those before you buy it) and streams video from your mobile phone, tablet or PC.

Here’s the odd part: it doesn’t have a remote or a user-interface per se. Google’s little streamer will sit there like an electronic canine waiting for your other devices to tell it what to do.

It’s different in that way from its main competition – the Amazon Fire TV Stick and Roku Streaming Stick – the two devices that only came about after Chromecast’s debut. All of these devices can take streaming content from apps like Netflix, Sling TV, HBO Now and, in Amazon Fire TV’s case, Amazon Prime Video, and toss it onto your TV.

But more impressive than any individual external detail or snippet of code is its price. The new Chromecast only costs $35 (£30, AU$49), around $10 or £5 less than its closest competitor. At roughly the cost of two Blu-rays, it’s tough to turn down.
Chromecast vs. the competition

The Chromecast’s calling card is the ability to sync with your mobile phone, tablet and PC. Few devices work as seamlessly with your electronics as Chromecast does, and any that do require you to be bought into a particular family of products.

Chromecast 2 vs Amazon Fire TV Stick

Chromecast vs. Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick: Chromecast is by far the cheaper streaming stick and can outperform Amazon’s streaming device, thanks to its new-and-improved 802.11ac Wi-Fi antenna. Both Amazon products – $99 (£79, about AU$140) for the box and $39 (£35, about AU$56) for the stick – come with a remote, but also rely heavily on a subscription to Amazon Prime to function at their fullest potential.

That said, if you are an Amazon Prime subscriber you won’t be able to watch the service on Google’s streaming stick – Amazon’s mobile app doesn’t support Google Cast functionality.

Chromecast 2 vs Roku Streaming Stick

Chromecast vs. Roku 3 and Roku Streaming Stick: Here’s a story of David and the Goliath. The circular Chromecast does much of what the $99 (£79, about AU$140) Roku 3 does, though it depends more on your phone, tablet and PC to keep pace. Roku is known for having thousands of channels of content and universal search functionality that allows you to search multiple sources at once.

Google has adopted the latter into the latest version of its Chromecast app, but doesn’t have near the amount of channels Roku has. If you’re looking for full-size streaming device with access to any and every streaming service, Roku can’t be beat. If you’re looking for a simplistic solution to putting audio and video on your TV, however, Chromecast is the way to go.

Chromecast 2 vs new Apple TV

Chromecast vs. the new Apple TV: Apple TV, like Amazon’s streamer, favors its own ecosystem, at least in terms of hardware. On the software side of things, Apple opened up its app store to every developer for the first time in the history of its home entertainment device, making it a bit more well-rounded than the Chromecast. It also includes a new remote and an 802.11ac antenna, identical to the one found in the new Chromecast. That said, Apple TV costs a whopping $149 (about £96, AU$200).

Design

I expected the 2015 Chromecast iteration to be as accessible as its predecessor, an inconspicuous addition to our home entertainment setup that doesn’t require any additional hardware or lengthy installation process.

I was right about most of it, but “inconspicuous” might not be the best way to describe the new Chromecast’s color variations of Coral (Red) and Lemonade (Yellow). These colors highlight the top side of the disc that will hang from the HDMI port on the back of your TV. You’ll find the Chrome logo proudly emblazoned on top, and only one port along the bottom edge that connects to a micro-USB cable used for power.

Let’s talk about the disc itself. It’s on the smaller side – at 2.04 x 2.04 x 0.53 inches (51.9 x 51.9 x 13.49mm), it definitely fits in the palm of your hand – and the switch from a plastic stick to a hanging disc is a practical one, essentially performing the same function as the extender Google sold with the first Chromecast.

But that means the Chromecast now dangles from the back of your TV instead of resting firmly in its port. It doesn’t impact performance, nor has it ever come loose during testing, however, I could see it being a bit distracting for TVs with HDMI ports located on the side.

The last two important details on the design is the small reset button along the outer rim that corresponds to a status LED, and the magnetic back that allows the HDMI cable to stick for easy transportation. It’s a minor detail and you might not ever use it, but these are appreciated subtle nuances that won’t go unnoticed when you get one for yourself.

That said, I find the overall design itself to be polarizing. You’ll either appreciate the pragmatic change from a rigid stick to a hanging disc, or you’ll find it gaudy, odd and at least a little irritating. There’s no middle ground here.

Interface

Once you run the included five-foot power cable into your TV or wall outlet with the included adapter, it’ll be time to run through the new Chromecast’s quick and easy setup process.

The process takes all of five minutes, most of which are spent actually downloading the Chromecast app from either the Google Play Store or iOS App Store. (Though, you can also use a PC or Mac by going to Google’s “Getting Started” homepage.)

You’ll be asked to connect the Chromecast to your home wireless network (unless you have the Ethernet Adapter for Chromecast that came out in July 2015. Finally, you’ll be met with a settings screen that will let you to choose to enable Guest Mode and wallpapers.

When you’re not actively streaming something to the Chromecast, it will enter a screensaver mode that can display images from Google Photos, Facebook, Flickr, curated artwork, the weather and even headlines from top news sources.

Unlike the Amazon Fire TV Stick or Roku Streaming Stick, there’s no central hub for apps. Chromecast is either taking content from your phone, tablet or PC, or simply displays pretty pictures until it’s told to do otherwise.

That said, the Google Chromecast app – discussed at length on the next page – serves as the main spot for checking out what content is available to stream and which apps you already have installed that work with your new streaming dongle.

We liked

I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it 100 more, but the new wireless antenna is nothing short of astounding. It creates a near seamless streaming environment with less lag and less buffering time than almost anything – even full size set-top boxes – on the market.

And at an insanely low price point, it’s tough to pass up. Google did a great job pricing and positioning the Chromecast as the easiest and cheapest way to get apps like Netflix, YouTube, Tidal, Spotify and Pandora into your living room without breaking the bank.

Finally, the new Chromecast app promises to add tons of new functionality, like universal search and fast play, improving the way you’ll find content and cutting the time it takes to get the stream started.

We disliked

As a fellow editor pointed out in our early hands on review, we’re still looking for a native way to stream Amazon Instant Video from a phone or tablet to a Chromecast, or mirror iOS devices to the TV with it. It’s not wise to hold your breath for either, as Amazon and Apple obviously aren’t fans of the ultra-cheap Chromecast.

The other obvious downside is that the Chromecast doesn’t include a remote. It’s a tough fix, especially at this price point. But the option to use a good ol’ fashioned IR blaster would’ve been appreciated, even if it seems like overkill to the majority of tech-savvy streaming video fans. A few more apps, including more support for games, would be appreciated, too.

Final verdict

As much as I love the new Chromecast, it may not be worth replacing an existing old Chromecast if you already own one. That said, the new version is the most affordable choice for anyone who hasn’t bought into Google’s streaming platform yet.

Alternatively, you could also give yourself the excuse that you need to get a second one in the house, or have one in a bag for travel. After all, it packs up nicely in its new, smaller form factor. If you decide you can spare the small expense, you’ll not be disappointed for paying under 40 bucks for a streaming device of this quality.