Hands on: Chromecast with Google TV

Google Chromecast 2020
Chromecast with Google TV

New platform, new shape, old tricks from Google

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14 December 2020 | 0

Google Chromecast 2020

There are a handful of devices I would put on a Christmas gift list that fit the bill of ‘affordable and genuinely useful’. Familiar favourites are Amazon’s Fire Stick and Echo Dot, a Roku box and, of course, the standard bearer for media streaming: the Chromecast.

The 2020 model promises 4K picture, greater integration with its own remote control, better integration with Google Assistant, and the new Google TV interface. This isn’t a facelift, it’s almost a complete reboot. The only thing stopping it from becoming an outright Apple TV or Roku competitor is the puny 4Gb of internal storage. With such significant changes the question is not whether you should own a Chromecast, but should you own ‘this’ version over previous generations.

 

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Let’s get to it. Straight out of the box I was concerned about Google’s design and materials choices. My trusty second generation Chromecast introduced the circular black dongle design that hangs out the back of a HDMI port and is connected by mini-USB to a plus with an integrated Ethernet port. It fit the design and colour of my black Samsung and the power cable was discrete enough to vanish into the unit underneath.

This version ditches the circular form factor for a flat pebble shape connecting at one end to a HDMI and the other to a USB-C power adapter (no Ethernet but no loss). It’s also white. That’s the first stumbling block. Gone are the days of a discrete black charging cable. I’m not a fan of this development and hope a black version will be made available soon. Maybe this is Google mirroring the success Apple had with insisting on white headphones, drawing the right amount of attention to themselves to identify a product usually kept away from view. Nice thinking Google, but I’m not a fan.

Next up is the remote control. It fits easily in the palm of the hand, though a little light for my taste. Its main control is a scroll wheel that isn’t actually a scroll wheel because it’s not touch sensitive in the way generations of iPods had taught me to expect. You can use it to turn on your TV and there are dedicated buttons for Google Assistant, Netflix and YouTube that are very useful. You can control the volume by two buttons on the right. Again, it’s white, which looks odd against my other black remotes. For all the work done on getting the design right, the materials and lack of heft make it feel cheap.

Set up is done via the Google Home app. I used mine to pair up our review unit with our Wi-Fi network but the process took multiple attempts to get right. I’m willing to give the Chromecast the benefit of the doubt here as broadband connectivity can be flaky where I live, but its cousin the Nest Audio took a fraction of the time to set up over the same network.

On to the user interface. The worst thing about my second generation Chromecast is its poor response and general flakiness. Casting from an app could take multiple efforts, and once a connection has been enabled it is near impossible to pause and rewind without having to shut down and reopen whatever app I’m using and start over.

I’m happy to say that problem has been solved in this edition and it largely comes down to the Google TV platform. Yes you can still stream from your device to the Chromecast, but the most popular apps like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+ and Spotify are pre-loaded, so content comes direct, with more control and stability.

The user experience is much improved over standard mobile apps as well. Content is easy to find and on opening the home screen you are presented with a selection of content from its set of preloaded apps. Pausing, fast forwarding and rewinding are smooth, as is the switch between apps. I still found performance issues from apps sent from my phone like All 4 and Mubi but nothing that would want to make me go back. Google TV is definitely a tick in the win column.

Lastly, the subject of price. A third generation Chromecast will set you back about €50 and probably even less now that old stock is priced to sell. The latest edition comes in at about €72. That’s a significant difference and if you found yourself stuck for a last minute gift, you can still do very well with a third, or even second generation model. You will be limited in functionality and performance but the Chromecast concept is strong enough to overcome those concerns. If you can afford it, and don’t mind your front room looking like an iPod ad circa 2005, then the latest edition is worth the spend. Yes, ‘this’ is the Chromecast you have been looking for.

Niall Kitson

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