Sometimes if feels like there’s nothing out there that’s been able to topple the Apple TV 4K, and other streaming boxes have been forced to settle for second-best in the market. In that respect, the latest Chromecast with Google TV from Google (naturally) is probably their strongest effort yet and justifies much of its $50 price tag as a standalone streaming box / stick. The much-wanted addition of a real remote and implementation of Google TV certainly helps, are these inclusions enough to make it competitive against Roku at least?
Finally, A Remote
The physical appearance of the Chromecast has always favored simplicity to go with its ease of use, and that continues with this iteration. This smallish design is just a smidge larger than before but now in an oval shape with three colors to choose from: snow white, sunrise pink, or sky blue. The remote matches the clean aesthetic with the button icons more-or-less identifiable. Beyond that, the external setup is same as it ever was, plug the dongle into an available HDMI on your TV or receiver, with power provided through USB-C cable and wall adapter.
The addition of an actual remote is really the most progressive thing about this version as previous Chromecasts have relied almost exclusively on bringing your own smartphone or tablet. In theory, this was somewhat innovative and attempted to give you complete control with a device you already had, though in execution this was wishful thinking due to input response and pairing issues. Having a dedicated remote solves these problems while at the same time allows users to comfortably access their data quickly at – pun intended – the touch of a button. Or buttons.
Aside from the directional pad that looks like a scroll wheel (but isn’t) there are dedicated Google Assistant, Netflix and YouTube buttons; along with home and back buttons on the face, and volume rocker on the side.
A Proper TV Streamer
Clearly, the Chromecast has been overhauled from the last time I bothered to review one and much better for adhering to living room TV norms, rather than being some quirky smartphone-controlled curiosity. A few smart TV owners may already be familiar with Google TV (i.e. Android TV) and this Chromecast benefits with a interface that most people will immediately find comfortable and jump into. The main menu is a layout combination that borrows aesthetics from Amazon Fire TV and Apple TV, with prominent rows of shows and movies from what’s new or recommended from all apps and the channels you frequently access.
It is easy especially when you connect with the Google Home app (iOS or Android). In fact, a lot of the tedious chore involving usernames and passwords a keyboard is done away with if you tied your Netflix, Disney+ and Spotify login to your Google account, which greatly sped up the process. The Home app either recognized login information or gave me codes to activate on a web browser, though pairing can be hit-or-miss if for lesser-known channels. Screen mirroring through Android screen casting is another perk that if nothing else gives you nice alternative from being glued a smaller phone screen.
Like most respectable streaming device currently available, the 2020 Chromecast supports displays or home theater arrangements equipped with both Dolby Vision active HDR and Atmos spatial surround sound, along with generic HDR10. At this point these really aren’t features as much as they are expectations for AV, but app support remains a mixed bag. I can’t necessarily fault the Chromecast since it just has it built in while third-party developers have to incorporate it into their apps. At least popular favorites such as Netflix (Dolby Vision/Atmos) and Disney+ (4K/HDR10+) include some form of it and will prompt you when a proper signal is received. Google has stated users can expect updates for these additions eventually.
Another note is that Stadia, Google’s own game streaming platform, is not officially supported at the time of this writing. However, there’s a workaround this glaring omission by sideloading the APK yourself, which makes you wonder why Google just didn’t bother to save you the trouble at launch. Either way, Google is promising to include their capable game streaming service sometime next year, which is a plus if you’re hoping to add gaming to your available options.
If you don’t know already, Google wants you to tie the Chromecast experience to the Assistant for fluid integration. Compared to the likes of Siri or Alexa, responsiveness is quick and competent when commands are kept simple and searching can be summoned at any time by holding down the button on the remote.
But like all things your mileage will vary depending on the spoken task. Where Google Assistant gets high marks is how seamless the action is for YouTube and YouTube TV content, where you can just say the name of a station or subject and the Assistant will just send you there, even switching apps on the fly. However, the same level of praise cannot be said when looking for specific movies, for instance take something like “Star Trek: The Next Generation” which is available on all major platforms from Hulu to Amazon Prime Video, the Assistant took me to the YouTube TV app, which is an annoying preference the Chromecast can’t seem to break.
You’d think the system would be smart enough to pick up on whatever app I continually watch my shows on, instead of trying to get me rent or purchase it on another app.
Conclusion: The Best Chromecast Yet
So what device should you buy if you’re still on the fence about a smart streaming device? Even with the glut of options available elsewhere, there’s no doubt that the Chromecast with Google TV has come a long, long way from Google’s OG casting device of yesterday. It’s really the little things that help sweeten the deal. Those living mostly in Google’s world will be happiest here as being tied to YouTube and the Google ecosystem is its biggest strength with other apps second. The Chromecast still isn’t as intuitive like the Apple TV 4K or idiot-proof like the various Roku devices, but it does integrate well enough for less demanding watchers – and casting from your phone (as an option) is still a neat extra to brag about.