Streaming made simple for everyone

User-friendly • simple remote • Easy-to-use and fast new UI • Google Assistant integration makes searching for content a breeze

No Ethernet port • Remote could use playback buttons

The new Chromecast with Google TV fixes some of the biggest problems with prior Chromecasts by adding a remote control and a new user interface, making it an affordable top-tier streaming device.

Google’s Chromecast product line has given tech-savvy folks an easy way to watch whatever they want on their TVs for years, but it’s been difficult to recommend to people like your parents. That changes now.

With everyone stuck inside for the foreseeable future due to a combination of the global pandemic and winter weather, quality streaming hardware will go a long way towards keeping us entertained. The new Chromecast with Google TV doesn’t have a catchy name, but it does bring Google’s television dongle more in line with the competition while surpassing it in some ways. 

By adding a remote and a real user interface, the Chromecast with Google TV is now less unique than it was before. But sometimes that’s for the best. For just $50, it’s hard to find a better 4K and HDR-compatible streaming device this year.

The Good: Snappy and intuitive UI, easy-to-use remote, smart Assistant integration

The new Google TV UI is excellent.

The new Google TV UI is excellent.

In the event you’ve been using a Roku, Fire Stick, or Apple TV for the past several years, let’s catch up on what a Chromecast usually does and how this new one is different. 

Chromecasts up until now have been extremely light on hardware and software demands. In other words, older models were little fellas you plugged into an HDMI port and a power outlet, and controlled entirely with your phone because there was no remote or UI.

That approach works for tons of people, but it made the Chromecast a difficult thing to buy for people who are used to the old ways of controlling a TV. So while Google retained all of its traditional casting capabilities for the new Chromecast, the new Google TV UI and remote are legitimate game-changers.

Chromecast remote

Let’s start with the remote. It’s not anything revolutionary, but this is a good thing. Apple tried to reinvent the wheel with its Apple TV remote and I’m fairly confident not a soul on this planet enjoys using it. Instead of the bizarre touch panel Apple gave us, Google included a simple directional pad, a select button, a home button, and volume controls for basic usability. There are also dedicated buttons for YouTube and Netflix, a power button, a button for switching inputs on your TV, and perhaps most importantly, a Google Assistant toggle with an accompanying microphone.

This dongle is made to disappear behind your TV.

This dongle is made to disappear behind your TV.

Image: alex perry / mashable

I’ll get to the new UI in a second, but that Assistant button is one of the many things that make the new Chromecast really sing. If you don’t want to bother with casting or navigating a UI, just say the thing you want to do into the microphone and the Chromecast makes it happen. This could be anything from playing a specific show on Netflix to displaying a connected Nest Cam or weather forecast on the TV. Speaking of which, the new Chromecast can also link up with your other Google Nest devices to play music from connected smart speakers as well as adjust the temperature on your smart thermostat.

I genuinely dislike talking to devices via voice assistants, no matter which brand it is. Maybe it makes some people feel like they live in Star Trek, but it just makes me feel like a doofus. Despite that, I came to really appreciate the Assistant features on the Chromecast because sometimes it’s an easier solution than manually searching for a movie. It’s not new for the streaming device space (There are voice remotes for Roku, Apple TV, and Fire Stick devices, too), but it’s greatly appreciated.

As an aside, the remote can be programmed to control your TV’s volume, power, and inputs. This only takes a minute or so to set up if you want to do it, and I didn’t run into any major issues to report in doing so.

YouTube TV subscribers get an additional tab on the home screen just for that.

YouTube TV subscribers get an additional tab on the home screen just for that.

Google TV

For those who want a more traditional streaming experience, the Google TV UI delivers a mostly excellent one. It’ll look familiar to anyone who’s used a modern streaming device, with tabs along the top of the screen for movies, shows, and apps. By default, you’ll be taken to a “For You” tab that has several categories (like “Horror” or “Cop Comedies”) for content organized into horizontal rows. Some of them are handpicked by Google while others are generated for you based on things you’ve been watching. 

It’s all spectacularly clean and efficient. Every show or movie has the service it calls home listed right underneath it, and selecting it will take you straight to the content page in its respective app. My favorite inclusion is a “Continue Watching” section near the top that pulls from all of your streaming apps. I’d been watching The Last Dance on Netflix and The Nice Guys on HBO Max, and didn’t finish either one. Yet both of them are still listed there on the home screen, ready to start playing right where I left off.

YouTube TV subscribers will also get an additional tab just for live TV, complete with a channel guide so they don’t have to open the YouTube TV app at all to find something to watch. 

Overall, the most impressive thing about the new Google TV experience is how breezy everything is. Going from an app back to the home screen or from one app to another via voice command happens almost instantly. It’ll even suspend what you were doing for a bit. So if you’re streaming a game through the ESPN app and need to check the weather or look for something on the home screen, re-opening ESPN will take you right back to the game instead of making you scroll through the app again.

It feels strange to heap praise on the new Chromecast for including things that we would accept as bare necessities in other streaming devices, but here we are. Google went above and beyond with its new Chromecast, producing a user experience that presents very little in the way of annoyance. My favorite streaming box last year was Roku’s Smart Soundbar and I wouldn’t hesitate to replace it with the new Chromecast. And yes, it will make a great holiday gift for people who wouldn’t have been able to use the older Chromecasts.

The Bad: No Ethernet port, remote could be slightly better

The remote is mostly effective, but playback buttons would've made it better.

The remote is mostly effective, but playback buttons would’ve made it better.

Image: alex perry / mashable

I didn’t encounter too many hurdles during my time with the new Chromecast and Google TV. It’s largely a seamless and satisfying experience. Having said that, I want to call Google out for not including Ethernet support out of the box.

WiFi is a miracle technology that changed the world, but it’s also famously unreliable in a way that drives just about everyone up the walls when it stops working. You will always, and I mean always, get a better experience using a hard-wired connection. The Chromecast Ultra came with an Ethernet port on the power adapter, but the Chromecast with Google TV can’t connect directly to a router without an optional $20 add-on

Come on, Google. 

Stadia cloud gaming support also isn’t coming until the first half of 2021. But when it arrives, those who love Stadia will probably need to get that add-on to secure the best experience.

I’ll also briefly point out that the remote’s lack of buttons might be good for simplicity, but it does eat into usability just a tiny bit. I think basic playback buttons (fast forward, play/pause, rewind) would’ve been nice to have without making the remote too big or cumbersome. As it is, you have to use the directional buttons and the select button for playback, which feels more natural in some streaming apps than others. 

The Verdict

Google knocked it out of the park with the Chromecast with Google TV. It’s too early to say if the recommendation engine in the For You tab is worth its salt, but even if it’s not, navigating the UI by hand or by voice is so quick that it almost doesn’t matter. Smart integration with YouTube TV and Google’s other Nest products means that people who have already bought into Google’s ecosystem shouldn’t think twice before picking one of these up if they’re tired of their current streaming hardware.

The only reason someone who’s interested in the new Chromecast should turn away is if they rely on Ethernet for streaming. Spending an extra $20 for the appropriate adapter will fix that problem, but that’s not an insignificant amount of money for a lot of people. Thankfully, that and the lack of dedicated playback controls on the remote are the only real blemishes on the new Chromecast with Google TV.

It could have a more catchy name, too, I guess. Regardless, it’s hard to think of a reason why this isn’t the best Chromecast Google has made to date.

source.

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