Monday, May 16, 2016

Google Chromecast (2015) Review

Google's original Chromecast launched in 2013 and since then, the hardware product evolved into and ecosystem with the rebranding of the Chromecast app into Google Cast. That shift in focus was due to the introduction of the 2nd generation Chromecast last year which introduced a new puck like design and also a second model dedicated to streaming audio.

In case you are unfamiliar with Google's Chromecast technology, it is a pretty simple concept. With the $35 Chromecast dongle, any television will automatically turn into a smart TV with the help of the Google Cast application on your Android or iOS device. The idea is pretty ingenious and frankly speaking, the process of streaming videos from your smartphone to a television is so simple and flawless.

So, here's my review of the 2nd generation Google Chromecast (2015)

Unboxing

At just $35 (or sometimes even lower depending on where you are looking), the Chromecast is a dirt cheap option to get videos from your smartphone to your TV without any wires. A word of advice, if you want to get the Chromecast in any other color than black, you will need to buy it directly from Google. Other vendors like BestBuy and Target only have it in black. And if you were wondering why I didn't mention Amazon?

Well, Amazon doesn't sell Chromecast due to competition between their own line of streaming sticks.

Google Chromecast (2015) Key Specifications

  • Marvell Armada 1500 Mini Plus 88DE3006 SoC
  • 512MB DDR3L RAM
  • 256MB memory
  • 1080P streaming
  • 802.11 ac Wi-Fi @ 2.4/5GHz
  • 5V/1A input
  • 51.9 x 51.9 x 13.49mm
  • 39.1g
  • Black, Coral, Lemonade
  • $35

Inside the box, you will get the Chromecast itself, some documentation and a pretty nice looking wall adapter along with a microUSB cable to power the device. Unlike the first generation Chromecast from 2013, the new 2nd generation Chromecast comes in a puck like design that has a HDMI lead coming out of it. The new design makes room for a new Wi-Fi modem that supports 802.11ac Wi-Fi and 5GHz connections. The new bendy HDMI cable also means that the Chromecast can be easily stored and hidden behind your TV more easily.

Configuring the Chromecast

Setting up the Chromecast is a fairly simple procedure. In the hardware side, all you need to do is to plug in the Chromecast into a vacant HDMI port on your TV and plug in the microUSB power. In most modern televisions, there is a built in USB port that is capable of supplying power to the Chromecast without the need to using the wall adapter provided.

Next, you will need to download the Google Cast application on your Android or iOS device. Launch the application and navigate your way to the 'Devices' tab and search for your Chromecast. Once your Chromecast has been found, your phone will be connected to the Chromecast's Wi-Fi network and after a couple of steps in configuring the Wi-Fi, device name and updating the software, you're pretty much done. The whole process shouldn't take more than 15 minutes.

If all goes well, you should see an introductory video showing how you can beam videos from your smartphone to the Chromecast. There are two ways you can do it, one is through the Google Cast application on your smartphone and the other way is through a Chrome extension.

Google Cast App

There isn't really much to talk about how to actually stream a video from your phone to the TV. As previously mentioned, everything about the Chromecast is designed to be simple and straight to the point. Basically, wherever you see the Google Cast icon, all you have to do is click on it and select the device you want to stream the video to and that's it.

Google Cast (Android)
Google Cast(iOS)

How the streaming works is that when you hit the Google Cast button, the Chromecast will launch the specific app (ie YouTube, Netflix, etc) to stream the video you requested. What this means is that the video is not directly streaming off your smartphone so you can rest assured that your battery will not drain. This is one of the improvements that the second generation Chromecast brings.

While video streaming is the feature of the Chromecast, you can also stream your (Android only) phone's display to the TV. Also, one thing to note is that Chromecast only supports streaming videos up to 1080P so, you will have to bear with the streaming quality if you have a 4K TV. Additionally, one thing I found out while streaming video through Chrome on Android is that you cannot close the background task while streaming.

Through the Google Cast app, you can change things like the wallpaper and device information
How the YouTube app looks like when streaming video. You can add videos to the queue or play/pause/fast forward
Chromecast streaming also works on Chrome. Once the streaming has begun, there will be a special screen which enables the usual video controls. It is also handy to know that you can toggle the volume even when your phone's screen is off. 

Google Chrome Extension


If you don't have a smartphone handy, there is a Chrome extension available through the Chrome Store that enables you to mirror tabs and stream videos to your Chromecast. Just keep in mind that while you can stream vides to the Chromecast from Google Chrome, you will still need the Google Cast app on your Android or iOS device to setup the Chromecast.

Google Cast Chrome Extension (free)

Just like on Android and iOS, the Google Cast button works just as expected. But the biggest difference is that the Google Cast Chrome extension (in most cases) works differently compared to the streaming on your smartphone. Opposed to launching a native app on Chromecast, the Chrome extension merely mirrors the videos to your TV.

The downside of that is that videos will stutter but the upside is that the Google Cast extension will be able to directly mirror your Chrome tab onto your TV. It doesn't need to be a video, anything that you can open on your Chrome tab can be display onto your TV.

There's two ways you can stream videos through Google Chrome, either through the Google Cast button on your browser which mirrors the entire tab or through the Google Cast button on supported services like YouTube.

Conclusion

The Chromecast is $35 well spent, while I might not end up using it every single day, it is convenient to be able to stream videos to a TV whenever possible. At $35, the Chromecast is more cost effective than other streaming sticks out there from Amazon or Roku. If I were to change something about the Chromecast it would be the software. I would like to see a Google Cast application on the Windows Store but that is not likely to happen since Google and Microsoft are on bad terms.

Overall, the Google Cast platform looks pretty promising. From being just a simple $35 dongle into a platform that can be embedded onto TVs, possibilities are endless. Looking forward to seeing what Google and developers have in terms of innovation for the Google Cast ecosystem.

Insider Talk 

I actually bought the Chromecast back in January and I was planning to do a review on it back then but the University router blocked the connection to the Chromecast. I didn't feel the need to buy a router to do this review so I abandoned the review. But the funny thing about this review is that I was totally not planning to do it at all. I was supposed to finalize the Surface Pro 4 review but I didn't feel like doing it so I ended up doing this review instead. 

The interesting thing about this article is that this is the first time in 2 years that I have wrote an article like spontaneously. This review took about half a day. The testing was like 4 hours and writing it took 2 hours or so. The articles I have written in the last two years mostly take a week to complete. Hoping to do more articles like this in the future, quick and dirty (well, not dirty, clean).

Right now, I have no plans to buy the Chromecast Audio because I just don't have the need for it but we'll see what Google has during I/O later this week.

dw