When Google decided to enter the streaming TV market with its $35 Chromecast dongle, it offered one of the cheapest, easiest ways to stream Netflix, Hulu, YouTube and other services on the big screen.
The device came at a time when Apple’s streaming hardware offered just a few services, Roku’s platform was still maturing and Amazon was a new entry into the market with its Fire TV line of Android-powered gear. All three of its competitors had shortcomings that Chromecast sought to fix: Instead of having to learn a new remote control, or limit yourself to a few apps, Chromecast worked with hundreds of apps already installed on phones and tablets — just open the app, hit a button and you’re watching TV on your TV.
It was a runaway success: Within three years, more than 55 million Chromecasts had been sold, making it one of the most-popular ways to stream Internet content in the living room (or bedroom or office — it’s cheap price meant it wasn’t uncommon for one person to buy multiple devices).
Fast forward to 2020 and the ability to stream Internet TV is basically everywhere: Smart TVs that offered half-baked apps just seven years ago have improved to the point where most people don’t mind launching Netflix or Amazon Prime from their TVs own smart operating system. Some TVs even come with Google Cast, the protocol that made Chromecast work, built right in.
Google didn’t ignore this trend. Instead, the company decided to adapt, and now we have the Chromecast with Google TV, a new $50 streaming device that incorporates Google’s Android TV operating system — which it now calls Google TV — and couples it with a handy Google Assistant-powered remote control, letting people finally ditch their phones and tablets.
So, should you buy one? I’ll try to help you answer that question in a new feature on The Desk called “Get It or Skip It,” which offers three reasons why you should get the Chromecast with Google TV and three reasons why you might want to go with something else.
…if you like the features of a Chromecast but want a remote control.
One of the biggest selling points of the new Chromecast with Google TV is the inclusion of a Google Assistant-powered voice remote. There’s nothing particularly special about the remote — it offers many of the same features you’d find on other remotes sold with competing streaming devices from Roku, Amazon and Apple. Like the Roku and Amazon remotes, it’s just as easy to use and it offers basic power, volume and mute controls for most TV sets (bonus: It also allows you to change your TV’s input).
One of the most-overlooked features of the Chromecast with Google TV: It’s still a Chromecast, with Google Cast built right into the device. That means users have the flexibility of downloading apps from the Google Play Store or using their phones or tablets (or letting guests take over the big screen for a few hours).
..if you have trouble finding something to watch.
The re-designed Android TV interface, which Google is now calling Google TV, now offers recommendations on TV shows and movies from partner apps like Netflix, Showtime and HBO Max. Instead of endlessly scrolling through an app for something to watch, Google TV analyzes a viewer’s previous watch history and offers suggestions on other movies and TV shows they might like. If you’re a subscriber to YouTube TV, Google TV will also recommend content airing on live channels. The Google TV interface will roll out to other Android TV-powered devices in the future, but for now it’s exclusive to the Chromecast with Google TV.
…if you use Roku or Amazon Fire TV and you feel like you’re missing out.
Roku and Amazon Fire TV users were left in the cold when AT&T and Comcast launched two much-anticipated apps earlier this year: HBO Max and Peacock. By the time Roku gained access to Peacock and Amazon Fire TV inked an agreement for HBO Max, users had already accused the two companies of behaving like traditional cable and satellite companies, putting profits and deals over the user experience of its customers and holding content hostage to the almighty dollar.
Google’s Android TV platform has largely been insulated from this criticism, largely because of how Android TV works: Anyone can build an app for Android TV and distribute it in the Google Play Store or anywhere else online. That means when a new app comes to market, there’s a very high chance it’ll be offered on Android TV, which is now called Google TV, on day one.
As of today, Chromecast with Google TV supports both Peacock and HBO Max, and users can feel confident that it will support other apps that are coming in the future. Even if you prefer to use Roku or Amazon Fire TV as your main device, the Chromecast with Google TV is a great secondary streamer to help fill the gap when certain apps aren’t available on Roku or Amazon Fire TV.
…if you use Google Stadia for gaming.
While the Chromecast with Google TV is a great device with a feature-packed yet simple-to-use remote, it doesn’t support the wireless controller used for Google’s Stadia gaming service, which is only compatible with the Chromecast Ultra for now.
…if you prefer Apple’s AirPlay or subscribe to channels in the Apple TV Plus app.
The Chromecast with Google TV doesn’t have access to the Apple TV Plus app, so if you subscribe to a lot of premium TV services through it (like the Showtime-CBS All Access deal that was too tempting to pass up), you’re going to be disappointed when you can’t access the movies and shows on this device. It also doesn’t offer access to Apple’s AirPlay feature, which might be a deal-breaker for iPhone and iPad users who prefer to cast content that way. That said, Apple device users can still cast TV shows and movies through Google Cast-enabled apps, as long as developers have enabled the feature.
[Editor’s note, April 2022: The Chromecast with Google TV now supports the Apple TV app, which includes access to movies and TV shows rented through iTunes as well as Apple’s premium streaming TV service Apple TV Plus.]
…if you prefer simplicity over flexibility and choice.
The Chromecast with Google TV does a lot — and it might be a little overwhelming for some people, especially those who struggle with new technology. Those users might find the original Chromecast or the grid-based layout of Roku a bit easier to navigate.
At $50, the Chromecast with Google TV offers a lot without many compromises: Access to all the most-popular apps, a Google Assistant-powered voice remote and a new discovery feature that makes it easier to find new movies and TV shows. Though it is missing the Apple TV app, it offers just about everything else — including both HBO Max and Peacock, which is something Roku and Amazon Fire TV can’t claim as of now. Users of either platform will be satisfied with a Chromecast with Google TV as their secondary streamer, and might even be tempted to make the switch full-time. It’s just that good.