After almost ten years, the Google Chromecast is finally worth buying.
Even though the Chromecast had sold over 55 million units, it started to lose ground to Roku and Amazon’s Fire TV back in 2017.
Similarly, Google’s own Android TV operating system was considered a great platform, but was confined to high-end devices like the NVIDIA Shield and Sony televisions.
Roku had become the clear winner and Android TV needed a good, but inexpensive streaming device to stay competitive. That’s where the new Chromecast with Google TV comes in.
Google took their popular Chromecast and added version of Android TV specifically designed for streaming. Then they made it only $50 to entice people away from Roku.
I think it’s working.
What is Chromecast with Google TV?
Over the years, there have been several different Chromecast generations.
This latest version replaces the Chromecast Ultra.
Let’s be honest. The Chromecast Ultra was never as big a hit as Google hoped it would be.
The basic Chromecast, which is still around, retails for $30 and you can usually find it on sale for under $20. The Chromecast Ultra, however, was almost double the price.
That’s expensive for a streaming device without any apps or a remote control.
I’m glad to see that Google finally fixed those glaring issues – even if it was about five years too late.
The Chromecast Lineup
There are still two versions of the Chromecast on sale, just in case you’re one of the dozen-or-so people that hasn’t already bought one.
The basic Chromecast (between $20-$30) will allow you to cast content from supported apps from your smartphone to your television. If you have one of the dozens of recent televisions with Chromecast Built-In, it’ll work the same as well.
The new addition to the lineup is the Chromecast with Google TV.
Although it’s considerably more expensive than the basic Chromecast, you’re adding a remote control and a brand new operating system: Google TV.
The new Chromecast is available in three different colors: Snow (aka white), Sky (aka blue) and Sunrise (aka salmon pink).
Before you get too excited, remember that the only part of the new Google Chromecast you’re going to see is the remote control. The rest remains hidden behind your television.
First, let’s take a look at Google TV in some more detail.
Google TV Launcher: Is Google TV Android TV?
There’s going to be a lot of people wondering what the difference is between Google TV and Android TV.
From what we can tell, Google TV is just a launcher that sits on top of Android TV version 10. After all, why reinvent the wheel, right?
Let me explain.
On Android TV, your apps are arranged in rows along the home screen. If you want to watch something on Netflix, you click into that app to browse their content.
By contrast, Google TV puts the content front and center, letting you browse right from the home screen.
You start out on the “For You” tab which aggregates recommendations from across several streaming platforms, based on your viewing habits. If you want, you can narrow that down even further by going to the Movies or Shows tabs.
Although you’ll still get recommendations from streaming services you don’t subscribe to, there’s a handy padlock icon to show you that content is currently locked.
As with Amazon Prime Video, there’s a mixture of free content and content available to rent or buy. Unlike Amazon though, it’s easy to tell which is which without clicking into the title.
Finally, we have the Library tab.
This tab automatically populates with movies synced with your Google Play Account. For me, that included all of my Movies Anywhere and VUDU movies.
Chromecast with Google TV Specs
Google is notoriously tight-lipped about what hardware goes into their devices.
- CPU: Quad-core Amlogic S905D3 ARM-A55 processor @ 1.9GHz
- GPU: Mali-G31
- Memory: 2 GB RAM
- Storage: 8 GB flash (4 GB available)
- Video Output: HDMI 2.1 up to 4K HDR @ 60 fps with ALLM support
- Video: 4K H.265/H.264 with Dolby Vision, HDR10, HDR10+ support
- Audio: Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby Atmos (pass-through)
- Connectivity: 802.11ac Wi-Fi 5 (2.4 GHz / 5 GHz), Bluetooth
Although these specs don’t look like much, it’s important to remember that Google optimized the new Chromecast to work with their Google TV operating system.
As soon as you boot it up and start streaming, you’ll realize that the Chromecast with Google TV is punching above it’s weight class.
Setting up your Chromecast with Google TV
One thing that Google has done amazingly well is the initial setup process.
Once you link your Smartphone to your Chromecast through the Google Home app, the setup process automatically copies over some important information and links some of your accounts.
You can still choose to enter your information on screen using the remote control. However, since there’s no easy way to use Chromecast without a Google account, that just makes the process longer.
There are a couple of points in the setup process where you’ll have to give Google some additional permissions in order to get the most out of your Chromecast.
The first is allowing Google to search for content across all of your TV apps.
This is at the core of Google TV, so if you don’t allow this permission, the new Chromecast loses a lot of it’s advantages.
The second is choosing what initial apps and services you want on your new Chromecast. Android TV has a similar step in it’s setup process, but it felt like this was much more detailed.
The setup process took about 30 minutes to complete, but you’re hands-off for most of it. There’s a mandatory software update, which needs to download and install before you can even get to the home screen.
Chromecast Remote Control
Hands down, the best addition to the new Chromecast with Google TV is the remote control. Pun intended.
But as much as I like having a remote control for my Chromecast, I don’t like this remote control.
I’ll start with the good parts first though.
Volume controls are on the upper right-hand side, exactly where your index finger would sit. The circular D-pad is contoured perfectly so your thumb naturally finds the center point. It’s easy to go from pressing up on the D-pad to hitting the back button without straining your thumb.
In short…the button layout is perfect.
There are three special buttons as well. The two on the bottom will take you directly to YouTube and Netflix. The contrasting button in the upper-right will launch the Google Assistant.
But like I said, it’s not all good.
The satin finish is so smooth that it’s tough to get a grip on it when I’m picking it up. I wish it had some sort of rubberized or textured part to grab on to.
I also found the remote to be very small – almost uncomfortably small.
When I do manage to pick it up, it feels like it’s getting lost in the palm of my hand.
Although, for the sake of transparency, my wife absolutely loved this remote. We both thought is reminded us of an Apple product. Everything is as simple as it needs to be, and no more.
First Impressions & Performance
Once the setup and initial updates are finished, the new Chromecast with Google TV is a breeze to navigate around.
As I mentioned before, the main selling point is that Google takes your viewing habits and ratings and then recommends similar content across all your streaming services.
The more you watch, the better the recommendations get.
Movies and TV shows are separated into their own tabs. Each allows for similar recommendations at the top of the screen.
One thing I noticed is that Google’s recommendations don’t care whether you’ve already seen the movie before. It’s still going to recommend it to you. For example, in the image above, these are all great recommendations for me, but I’d already watched them all.
Again, this is something I expect to get better over time as Google develops its own database of your viewing habits.
Google TV’s ‘content first’ layout will take some getting used to. I can understand why they went this direction. After all, Amazon has been using a similar approach with Fire OS for years.
Even though I prefer Android TV’s ‘app first’ layout, I can definitely see how many people would love this new interface.
There are a couple of additional features in the new Chromecast that are worth mentioning.
Most streaming devices have screensavers. That’s nothing new.
If you use Google Photos, you can change your screensaver so a slideshow of your memories with just a simple setting change. There’s also an ‘art gallery’ mode that will display famous paintings when your screensaver turns on.
You can also enable the local weather straight from the settings menu as well. Hopefully this feature will make it’s way into Android TV so you won’t need a separate weather app anymore.
The Verdict: Is The Chromecast With Google TV Worth It?
In a word: absolutely!
I’ve always thought that the original Chromecast was a great idea that just didn’t have enough behind it. It’s great to be able to cast a video or webpage to your television. The trouble is that I only needed to do it once or twice a month.
Usually, it was easier to just search for the video on my Android TV instead.
Fast forward to the new Chromecast with Google TV.
It solves that problem and finally becomes a streaming device that’s worth buying.
For $50 you get 4K Netflix, YouTube and Amazon Prime Video. You get a content-focused launcher sitting on top of Android TV that adapts to your viewing habits. You even get some cool additional features like built-in screensavers and weather information.
Let me put it this way: if you need a good alternative to the NVIDIA Shield TV, the new Chromecast with Google TV is worth a look.