Google’s latest Chromecast streaming media dongle is a bit different. Instead of just streaming or “casting” content from your mobile or computer like its predecessors, the new device acts more like a modern smart TV.
With a full interface and a remote, the new Chromecast with Google TV costs £59.99 and sits above the basic £30 Chromecast. You can still Google Cast to the new device, but the new flat plastic dongle is more than just a simple receiver, running the full Android TV software similar to the Nvidia Shield or smart TVs from Sony and others.
Processor: quad-core ARM
Connectivity: wifi ac, Bluetooth, HDMI 2.0b (HDCP2.2)
Software: Android TV (Android 10)
Format support: up to 4K @ 60Hz, Dolby Vision, HDR10, HDR10+; Dolby Atmos, Digital and Digital Plus
Dimensions: 162 x 61 x 12.5mm
Google TV is the modern and much-improved interface for the Android TV operating system. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
Once plugged in, the new Chromecast is set up using the Google Home app on an Android, iPhone or iPad in about five minutes. Scan the QR code on your TV, log in with the required Google account, and choose some apps to install. You can also add additional Google accounts for limited multi-user support such as the ability to access more than one account in apps such as YouTube.
The interface is fairly simple. Individual apps for your media services work like they do on most smart TVs, navigated with the remote’s direction pad, select and back buttons.
Most of the TV apps you’d expect are available, including Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, Disney+, BT Sport, YouTube and the UK catchup services, such as BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub and My5. The big outliers are All 4, BritBox and Apple TV, which are not available. You can still cast All 4 and BritBox from a phone to the dongle, but those looking to watch Apple TV+ or their iTunes library are out of luck. Also strangely not available yet is Google’s Stadia game-streaming service.
Google TV also tries to bring content out of the apps and into the main interface, learning what you like as you watch, and suggesting more of what you might want to see. The first “for you” pane has personalised picks, a list of your installed apps, plus popular movies and TV shows across various genres and types curated by algorithm. Press and hold select on any movie or show thumbnail and you can see where it is available, watch a trailer, add it to a watchlist, mark it as already seen and like or dislike it.
It also pulls in trends from Google such as most-searched movies, topics such as “Tom Hanks” and videos from YouTube.
Tabs for Movies and Shows narrow the recommendations down by type. The Apps tab shows you all your apps plus a store front for finding new ones for Android TV. Lastly, the Library tab shows you any movies or TV shows you’ve purchased from the Google Play Store.
The remote has a small microphone which is only active when you’re holding the dedicated Google Assistant button to issue voice commands or searches. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
There’s also a search tab, but the interface is entirely geared up for using voice to search with the remote. Press and hold the Google Assistant button while speaking and it will either find what you want or perform the desired action.
You can ask for an app, movie or TV show, or a combination of terms such as “Timeless on Netflix” to launch straight into it. You can also search via movie element, such as actor or director. Ask for Steven Spielberg movies and it’ll show any from your subscription services, Google Play Movies and also apps such as BBC iPlayer. You can even narrow it down by production studio or actor, but ask it for “Steven Spielberg movies with Tom Hanks” and it’ll suggest The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons – proving Google isn’t infallible.
It can occasionally show you things from the Google Play Store that are available from one of your subscription services too, something logging out and logging back into Netflix and other services appeared to cure.
Beyond search, Assistant can control playback such as “skip 15 minutes” and do some of the things the voice assistant is capable of on a smartphone, tablet or smart display. That includes streaming the feeds from compatible smart cameras, turn lights on and off, look up the weather, showing events from your calendar and other bits.
The remote can also be configured to control your TV or sound system and has its own power, input select and mute buttons plus a small volume rocker on the side, which I found a bit fiddly to use.
The streaming stick supports the latest 4K and HDR formats, including Dolby Vision when used with a compatible TV. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
The Chromecast with Google TV generally performs well when actively streaming content. Apps launch fairly quickly, movies start streaming in high quality immediately on start and the dongle supports all the latest video and audio formats, including 4K UHD, HDR10 and HDR10+, Dolby Vision and the various Dolby surround sound technologies including the latest Atmos.
The dongle applies the appropriate HDR format for your TV over the whole interface and all content – similar to the Apple TV. But the sound and HDR format you actually get on the movie or TV show is still dependent on the streaming app and content you’re using.
While the interface is slick and modern, when you’re returning to the home screen from an app or video it can occasionally be a bit slow. Sometimes the interface appears in silhouette with blank boxes and a loading animation, waiting for the thumbnails for the various services, content and apps to appear.
Navigating within apps such as Netflix is also not quite as fast as it could be. It’s not slow, per se, but you can certainly click the navigation buttons quicker than the interface moves. I found myself waiting for it to catch up a couple of times when I was in a hurry, which can’t be said for the more expensive Nvidia Shield or Apple TV 4K.
The dongle is designed to plug into your TV and hidden away out of view. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
The Chromecast with Google TV is made with 46% post-consumer recycled plastic in its mechanical parts. The remote takes standard AAA batteries, of which two non-rechargeable types are included.
The use of more sustainable materials is part of Google’s commitment to include recycled or renewable materials in at least 50% of plastic used in its products launching from 2025. The company publishes environmental impact reports for some of its products, including the Chromecast with Google TV. Google will recycle all its devices free of charge.
You have to hold the Assistant button on the remote for longer than you’d expect after you stop speaking or it will miss the last word you said.
You can show your pictures from Google Photos as a screensaver when not actively using the Chromecast, or just ask for your photos from Google Assistant.
There’s no support for any non-Dolby audio formats such as DTS.
The Chromecast with Google TV costs £59.99, but is frequently discounted, and comes in three colours.
For comparison, the Chromecast costs £30, the Nvidia Shield costs £149.99, the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K costs £49.99 and the Apple TV 4K costs £179.99.
The Chromecast with Google TV gets most things right, reinvigorating Google’s smart TV system with a modern interface, useful voice search and enhanced Assistant features.
It might have Chromecast in the name, but the new dongle is far more than a simple cast receiver. Having a remote to control playback without having to reach for your phone is certainly an upgrade.
The lack of the All 4, BritBox and Apple TV apps disappoints, while the dongle isn’t always the fastest available, but it is fairly cheap and is made of recycled plastic.
The Chromecast with Google TV is a useful, good-value smart TV upgrade that’s a big step up from the basic cast receiver.
Pros: modern interface, good voice search, Google Assistant, most streaming apps available, Google Cast support, HDR10/10+, Dolby Vision, Dolby Atmos, recycled material.
Cons: interface can be a little slow at times, no All 4, no BritBox, no Apple TV, no Stadia, remote can be fiddly.
Apps on the new Chromecast behave similarly to those on other platforms. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
This article originally appeared on https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2021/jan/29/chromecast-with-google-review-tv-android-tv-smart-tv