So I have a confession to make – I didn’t hate the Nexus Q. While I didn’t necessarily love it and use it daily like a small minority of my peers did, I also didn’t immediately declare the product an unmitigated disaster like the vast majority of people. The fate of that product was so quickly decided that I hadn’t even begun writing my review when the whole thing was terminated. When I spoke with Googlers about Nexus Q, what was obvious to me was that the Q had begun as an audio-only product that later on had HDMI added, and that tiny bit of context made all the difference in understanding the choices behind it. I left the Nexus Q plugged into my AV Receiver up until the most recent set of Google Play apps killed functionality entirely.

Ultimately the price of the Nexus Q was its undoing ($299), not necessarily its functionality or even its somewhat awkward spherical form factor. The concept was relatively sound – a network-attached appliance that played back movies and music from Google’s servers directly, rather than streaming them from device to device on the same network. The Q ran Android 4.x atop an OMAP4460, literally the same platform as the then-flagship Galaxy Nexus, just sans cellular connectivity, which made it a logical choice.

The Nexus Q was killed off before other services could be added, but at a high level the Q’s functionality as a playback device rather than streaming endpoint carried onto its successor, the Chromecast.

The Chromecast is obviously everything the Q should’ve been. It’s a simple, small, $35 HDMI dongle, powered by USB, that’s designed to discreetly plug into the back of a TV. There’s been much talk about the power requirement of the Chromecast, USB is indeed required for operation, but just about every modern TV has USB ports on the side for attaching mass storage or powering accessories like this. In fact, the Chromecast’s form factor is already a popular one for Android-powered HDMI dongles and Miracast sinks, as well as a variety of other small appliances. I’ve confirmed with Google that MHL-HDMI is not in fact supported by the Chromecast, meaning it can’t be powered by a TV that includes the spec (which can deliver up to 500 mA at 5 V), straight HDMI can only supply 50 mA at 5V. I’ve yet to encounter a TV with MHL-HDMI myself, including on the 55-inch LCD TV I purchased just 3 months ago.

Inside the box for the Chromecast is the device itself, a relatively long microUSB cable, USB power supply, and HDMI extender. Funnily enough the USB power supply appears to be the exact same as the previous generation Motorola USB charger (5V, 850 mA), just with a different exterior – is this the first Motorola product out of Google proper?

The HDMI extender cable helps get the Chromecast behind a TV if you need to turn it 90 degrees or have an inset port with inadequate clearance like I do on my front-facing HDMI accessory port.

There’s not much to talk about regarding aesthetics of the Chromecast itself, it’s a dongle with a rounded bulge at one end, and HDMI port at the other. There’s a reset button on the side, microUSB port for power, and a status LED on top. On the bottom are regulatory markings. My only complaint about the Chromecast’s design is this status LED, which inexplicably is bright solid white whenever the device is on, making it distracting in a dark living room or bedroom. Nothing electrical tape can’t solve, but an inexplicably poor choice for a media center playback device given that bright LEDs are a known no-no.

The hardware is what it needs to be – small, simple, and conducive to the low price point. The Nexus Q was a solid bowling ball in comparison, primarily thanks to the analog audio amplifier and hardware it really didn’t need. By keeping unnecessary I/O to a minimum the Chromecast ends up being a nice and small streaming appliance.

Inside the Chromecast and Power
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  • sleekblackroads - Monday, July 29, 2013 - link

    Google really gets the message sometimes. Will be such an amazing product with a few tweaks and services!!!
  • diamondsw - Monday, July 29, 2013 - link

    Ah yes... the constant refrain of "just wait, it'll be amazing soon!". Not to pick on Google fans - Apple fans have said the same about the AppleTV for years ("it will have apps soon, because it just has to!").

    It's always best to buy based on what the product does *right now*. If it's solving an issue now, then buy it, and anything else that comes later is gravy. But if you buy something hoping it will improve later, you're more often than not throwing your money away.
  • CynicalPhred - Monday, July 29, 2013 - link

    Well sorry, I don't get it... This is basically a device that you have to push content to. You need to sit there with a PC, phone or tablet, choose the content on that and then send it to the Chromecast thus needing to run that device as well. I want something a little more independent. Some thing that can pull media from my various media servers or from the internet and which does that without forcing me to directly run a second device to do it.
  • Guspaz - Monday, July 29, 2013 - link

    Have you ever tried using Netflix with a TV remote? Being able to browse and select content to play with an iPad or iPhone and have it play on the TV without any effort sounds fantastic. That's a much better experience than using Netflix "independently".
  • Samus - Monday, July 29, 2013 - link

    exactly. death to the tv remote. most people always have their phones on them, anyway, so why wouldn't you want a larger, more responsive 4-5" screen to use over a T9 remote (or heaven forbid one of those awful Samsung "flip" QWERTY remotes that's about as responsive as a 96-year old behind the wheel of a towncar.
  • imutau - Monday, July 29, 2013 - link

    Actually the Roku remote is pretty sound for using Netflix. Apple TV's remote is similar too. Besides on screen keyboards (which every remote that does not include a native keyboard will suck eggs at) it works fine for me.

    The most awesome thing is that it's only $35! That's less than a new PS3 game and a 3rd of the price of a Rokum or Apple TV. For what it does it seems like a really great device.

    But as some have mentioned if you have something that does this already like a Roku (configured with PLEX) or Apple TV (hacked to run XBMC) there really isn't a need for this.

    Some draw backs is the fact it is only WIFI AND that it can only do 720p playback. Also that the only local content it seems to stream with any consistency is .mp4. Also it doesn't seem to as yet be able to stream local content from a wireless device like a phone or tablet.

    I am sure once it gets opened a bit more where it will be able to run more apps from the Play Store it sounds like it will be a really great device. But for now I am willing to wait.
  • MaulBall789 - Tuesday, July 30, 2013 - link

    @Guspaz, I already have a 42" Sony Google TV and through the Netflix app on my iPhone I can choose the program I want to watch and it will ask me if I want to view on my Google TV or iPhone. If I choose GTV it starts playing right away. Chromecast doesn't do anything to improve this, as far as I can tell, and so far only has Netflix and Youtube, same as the Google TV has had. That being said, I want to play around with this device to see what it's really capable of. Maybe I'm missing something.
  • rwei - Tuesday, July 30, 2013 - link

    I just plugged in an old laptop and spent my $35 on a Logitech K400 wireless keyboard/touchpad. And the Netflix experience is great with that, as well as any other source of content I can think of, including my NAS and shared drives, plus browsing, chat...

    Don't get me wrong, the Chromecast looks to be a great product serving an unmet need at a tantalizing price point. But it's not going to revolutionize content consumption...

    What might is the Xbox One when it comes out. All of the above capabilities and true, full-featured integration with my desktop and phone (cable too if I had that), plus a 10-ft UI that doesn't even require a remote much of the time.

    Assuming Microsoft executes on its promise, which it does do to an impressive degree sometimes while delivering real head-scratchers at others. Which will this be...?
  • Marthisdil - Tuesday, July 30, 2013 - link

    And I use my media pc with XBMC on it...using a Lenovo remote with trackpad/keyboard and I don't have to do anything special. Ever try typing out letters/numbers in a search box on a tv remote that doesn't have a full keyboard? it sucks.
  • darwinosx - Tuesday, July 30, 2013 - link

    Google wants you to use Chrome so they can collect more data about what you do and sell it to advertisers while turning it over to the NSA.

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