Google Chromecast full review
Along with new Nexus phones, Google has launched two new Chromecast devices. At the same price we take a look at whether you should upgrade or choose the Chromecast 2 over rivals such as Roku. Here's our Chromecast 2 review. See also: Best media streamers 2015.
Google Chromecast 2 review: Price and competition
Google has kept the price of the Chromecast the same at £30 – the new Chromecast Audio is also this price. That's a decent price for a media streamer with most fully fledged boxes costing £50 and upwards. Newly launched rivals like the Apple TV cost £130 so going with Google can represent a huge saving.
The Chromecast 2 is a bit of a bargain but there is competition around this price point. The Amazon Fire TV Stick is £34 and the Roku Streaming Stick is £39 so price alone doesn't make the Chromecast 2 a winner.
At the time of writing a tempting reason to go for the Chromecast 2 is that buying it from the Google Play Store means you get £20 credit to spend on content. Google also has an ongoing Chromecast Offers scheme where customers get things like free film rentals.
See also: Chromecast vs Chromecast 2.
Google Chromecast 2 review: Design and build
The Chromecast looks dramatically different to the original with Google opting for a hockey puck style round body. This may be partly to differentiate it from the original but it also lends itself to a new Wi-Fi architecture which we'll talk about later.
It has a basic plastic build featuring the Chrome logo and strangely, the Chromecast comes in different colours. You can choose black, red (Coral) or yellow (Lemonade) despite the fact that this device is highly likely to be out-of-view since it plugs into the back of your TV or whatever display you're using.
Pointless colours aside, the design makes more sense with a flexible cable attached. With the original USB stick style shape, the Chromecast wouldn't plug into a great deal of TVs without using an extension cable. Now things are simpler and there's even a magnet to hold the main body onto the HDMI plug.
Google Chromecast 2 review: Hardware, specs and new features
As mentioned earlier, the round design of the Chromecast 2 houses a new Wi-Fi antenna. With the original limited to 11b/g/n single-band, its successor features the up-to-date 11ac standard - should you have a router with matching specs - and supports dual-band (2.4- and 5GHz).
We did initially have an issue in the first few days with the new Chromecast taking a long time to register with our devices with which we were trying to cast - but this appeared to be solved fairly quickly and hasn't returned.
If you've just bought a shiny new Ultra HD TV then you might be saddened to read that the Chromecast 2 only supports 1080p output through the HDMI port. We, like you, would have obviously liked 4K resolution but we can hardly knock the device too much for this.
Few devices do support 4K output and it only costs £30. Luckily there is still a relatively small amount of Ultra HD content out there and by the time its far more the norm, Google may well have launched a new model with support.
In terms of hardware, the Wi-Fi is the main upgrade on the Chromecast 2. It still requires power via Micro-USB and still works with a wide range of devices – Android 4.1 and above, iOS 7 and above, Windows 7 and above, Mac OS 10.7 and above and, of course, Chrome OS. Features like screen mirroring work with 'most' Android devices.
A new feature called 'Fast Play' aims to make the experience better – up to 80 percent faster according to Google. In a nut shell, it predicts what you're going to do next and gets it ready to avoid any time waiting for things to load. It might get Netflix ready while you're choosing what to watch or start preloading the next episode of a series. This is all well and good but the feature won't arrive until next year so we can't comment on it yet.
Google hasn't changed the Chromecast formula so you still don't get a physical remote control. Instead you need to use a device, namely your phone or tablet, to choose what the Chromecast is going to do. See how to set up and use a Google Chromecast.
This remains a downside of the Chromecast as every time we've reviewed a rival with a traditional remote and user interface, things are just much simpler and easier. You notice the difference when you, to give two examples, want to browse content as a group or want to just quickly pause whatever is playing.
However, there is a new Chromecast app which helps things a bit. It allows you to see your devices (handy if you have more than one Chromecast), but more importantly helps you discover what apps support casting.
It does this via two sections. What's On shows you which installed apps (split into visual and audio) will work with the Chromecast. There's also a Get Apps section which highlights apps which you don't have.
For its affordable price, there is a lot of content on offer including big names such as BBC iPlayer, Netflix, Sky Now TV, BT Sport, Blinkbox and, of course, Google's own like YouTube and Google Play Movies. You can keep up with the list of supported apps here.
All 4 (formally 4oD) has just been added but there are still some gaps which need filling in the portfolio. If you enjoy watching things on ITVPlayer and Amazon Prime Instant Video then you'll frustrated at not being able to cast these to your TV via the Chromecast.
See also: Amazon Prime Instant Video vs Netflix.
The best selection around belong to Roku which offers a range of devices including a Chromecast-like Streaming Stick. It's more expensive at £49 RRP (£39 on Amazon) but the extra content and remote control currently make it worth the extra.
Google Chromecast: Specs
- HDMI output 1080p
- Micro-USB for power
- 802.11 b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi (2.4 GHz/5 GHz)
- Android 4.1 and higher
- iOS 7.0 and higher
- Windows 7 and higher
- Mac OS 10.7 and higher
- Chrome OS (on a Chromebook running Chrome 28 & higher)
- Black, Coral, Lemonade
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