Google took the consumer electronics world in July by storm with the announcement of the Google Chromecast HDMI Streaming Media Player, a digital media dongle available at the unbelievably low price point of $35.
The arrival of the Chromecast was a big surprise for several reasons. I keep on top of all the tech rumor sites every day, and I hadn’t heard so much as a rumor that Google was working on a media dongle, much less one for $35. There’s also Google’s very checkered record when it comes to hardware releases, which included the “Nexus Q,” another media streaming device introduced in the summer of 2012 that was ultimately cancelled before release.
But the Chromecast was something different: A super-cheap streaming solution, controllable from a smartphone or tablet, and a product that was released the day it was announced. In addition, it offered “browser-casting” from the Google Chrome browser on a computer. That, and the low price point, led to the Chromecast’s instant popularity.
One morning the week it came out, I called several local Best Buys. Most had none available, except one had nine of them, from a new shipment. I went at lunch that day- two hours after the phone call- and they were all long gone.
After I ordered it online and waited about a month for the shipment, I’ve now been using the Chromecast for about three months, and the device has its pluses and minuses. But with the exception of its inclusion of YouTube- which is owned by Google, of course- there’s not a lot about the Chromecast that I prefer over my trusted Roku LT. I have kept the Roku in my living room, with the Chromecast finding a home attached to my living room TV.
Here’s how it works: The Chromecast is a tiny dongle that attaches to a TV’s HDMI port- it’s so tiny, in fact, that since the day I attached it to my TV I haven’t even looked at it. It connects to your home Wi-Fi network, and can be controlled from an iPhone or iPad. There’s a Chromecast app, but I’ve found I control the device mostly from within the Netflix and YouTube apps.
So what’s good about the Chromecast? It’s easy to use and the interface is excellent. It’s not buggy; it works, every time I try to use it. The small size and small price are to recommend too; it’s cheaper than the least expensive Roku device and most other competing streaming boxes, Apple TV included. When my kids roll into our room at 6 a.m. and demand a cartoon, dialing up a Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood episode on Netflix via the Chromecast is much easier than navigating those awful cable on-demand menus.
The drawbacks, though, are plentiful, starting with the woeful collection of apps. The Roku, for instance, offers access to hundreds of apps. Chromecast launched with only Netflix, Google Play Movies, TV and Music and YouTube, and has since added Hulu Plus and Pandora.
Sure, if the brief era of Smart TV has taught us anything, it’s that there are only a handful of TV apps that people actually use. But the Chromecast omits Amazon, HBO Go, Facebook, Twitter and Spotify, as well as every major sports app. It also doesn’t allow streaming of native content.
So overall, do I recommend the Chromecast? If Netflix and YouTube are the only streaming apps you care about- and yes, for many people, that’s the case- than it’s a good gateway for streaming. It’s also perfectly fine for a kitchen or bedroom TV. But if you’re interested in streaming everything there is to stream, and have no other options, go for the Roku instead.
Google Chromecast streaming dongle