When you gaze upon the hardware of the new Chromecast with Google TV (Chromecast from here on out in this review) it is easy to see the basic influence of its predecessors. A circular-ish dongle with an HDMI cable protruding from one end and a spot for power in the other. As a matter of fact, it looks a lot like they simply took the 3rd-gen Chromecast, flattened it out a bit, and rounded off the edges to make the new Chromecast.
All similarities aside, however, this familiar-feeling dongle does quite a bit more for $49 than any of its 4 older versions ever imagined, and it does two specific things we want to focus on today that really set this Chromecast apart from the rest. Those two things – the inclusion of a remote and a proper user interface – also happen to make this the Chromecast for just about anyone out there looking for a streaming media solution.
Before we get into those things, a quick caveat. When deciding how it was we wanted to talk about the new Chromecast, we chose to go a bit of a different way than many others. This isn’t a walk-through of the entire interface nor is it a master class on all the ways you can tweak and manipulate this $49 dongle (much of that stuff deserves its own post). Instead, we wanted to clarify why we think this Chromecast is absolutely the one to buy for yourself and for others this shopping season, and that really has little to do with the minutia of how to change settings and has far more to do with how this Chromecast slots itself into your living room setup. We covered more details about the physical qualities of the device and smaller details of the interface in our unboxing and in a handful of posts already, so check those out if you’re looking for that sort of detail. Now, on to the bigger picture stuff!
About that remote
As you probably know by now, the new Chromecast comes with a remote in the box. This is by far the most requested hardware upgrade from users over the years with the Chromecast, and I’m beginning to understand why. For me and my family, we’ve moved all our habits over to the standard Chromecast way of life. All our TVs have a Chromecast attached and everyone is basically trainied to simply grab a device and cast the content you want to see.
While this works just fine for my household, what I’ve found through the years is it doesn’t work nearly as well for others. After gifting Chromecasts to family members through the years, I’ve discovered that most people will use the Chromecast when they need to get something from their phone to a larger screen, but when it’s time to kick back and watch some content, they reach for their device that has a remote. Whether that’s a Amazon Fire Stick, Apple TV, or a Roku, the Chromecast takes a backseat for most people due to the lack of a remote.
The new Chromecast fixes all this with the included remote and, you know what? I kinda get it, now. I have to eat a bit of crow and admit that I am absolutely loving life with a remote. Being able to just sit down and grab one remote and start watching content is freeing. I don’t have to search for other remotes, I don’t have to find my phone or snag my Chromebook: I just need to find that small, white remote and get started.
On that remote, provided you go through the setup when you first get set up, you have the ability to navigate the UI with the 4-way direction pad, select items with the center button, and then further navigate with the home and back buttons that do exactly what you expect. The dedicated YouTube and Netflix buttons get you to those services quickly and the power, source select, and volume buttons control the necessary bits of your home theater with ease. Finally, the Google Assistant button can get your apps installed or take you to specific content with just a simple voice command.
All in all, I’ve not needed any other piece of hardware in my hands to watch TV since setting up the new Chromecast. I grab the remote and browse to what I need or simple tell Google to do it for me. Being able to easily pause has been nice (with the standard Chromecast you have to find the device you originally cast from and hope the connection is still there) and fast-forward with this setup has been night-and-day better that doing the same action on my phone screen with the old, standard Chromecast setup. Breezing through shows and football games has been such a simple, enjoyable experience.
Don’t get me wrong: the standard Chromecast functions all still work, too. You can cast content just like you’ve always done and you can even put the Chromecast into speaker groups just like a normal, old-fashioned Chromecast. Additionally, if you leave it sitting for a few minutes, you’ll also get the Chromecast’s backdrop feature (now called Ambient Mode) with great photos, the weather, and the time all displayed in a screensaver-like format. It is at once a full-fledged Chromecast experience with a remote to get you through all the interface bits, and it is fantastic to use. One other bonus is the fact that if you begin playback via casting from a phone, tablet or laptop, you can still control that playback with the remote. It’s so nice!
Speaking of that UI
The second thing that makes the new Chromecast the Chromecast for everyone is the UI. Google has chosen to utilize Android TV at the base of what the new Chromecast delivers and then they’ve skinned it all with the new Google TV interface. Google TV has taken the place of Play Movies & TV on your phone and is now the new face of streaming media for Chromecast users. Google says this new interface will come to other Android TV boxes later, so it seems they are all-in on this setup for now.
And, honestly, that is just fine for me. Google TV focuses in on content, not apps, and it delivers all of it in a unique and useful way. From the home screen, you can bounce around the ‘For You’ page that pulls in content from all sorts of places to recommend to you based on your viewing habits, but you can also look through your movies, shows, live TV and DVR as well. These recommendations come from all providers, so if you see a movie or show you’d like to watch, Google TV will tell you all the places you can find it and whether or not you need a subscription to watch. If you’d rather not see these recommendations, you can turn them off in the settings, but I for one love getting prompts on a show or movie that I’d simply forgotten about and having the opportunity to see all the places I could choose to watch it.
This is such a departure from what it was like to watch content with a standard Chromecast and I simply love it. But this isn’t just about streaming content, either. While you can’t directly access the Google Play Store, you can get games and other apps that work with Android TV by asking the Google Assistant to find them for you. Want a file manager or Red Ball 4? Just ask Google and it will be installed. The uninstall process is pretty simple, too, and you’ll want that in your back pocket as this dongle only has about 4GB of usable storage. Remember, it’s not built to be a gaming device or a full-fledged Android experience. It is built to stream content.
One group who needs to think twice
I’ve kept saying this is the Chromecast for everyone, but there is a step that needs to happen before that is technically true. You see, Google hasn’t made Stadia fully functional for this new Chromecast just yet, and that’s a pretty big bummer. Yeah, you can side-load the app and it kinda works, but it is pretty janky in our own testing. GeForce NOW works well, but there’s some lag with the inputs that needs to get sorted out, so streaming games just aren’t quite ready for this new dongle right now.
Google is working on a fix for Stadia and I’m sure Nvidia will get GeForce NOW cleaned up too, but for the time being, if you are buying a Chromecast for cloud gaming, this one isn’t the one for you. At least not just yet. We expect Stadia to be properly implemented in early 2021 and I’d put money on the fact that GeForce NOW will be ready to roll by then as well, but it needs to be clarified that when I say this is the Chromecast for everyone, there is a small contingent of users that still need to aim for the Chromecast Ultra for the time being.
All in all, it comes down to Google adding a remote, a UI and keeping the price insanely low for such a great experience that leads me to say this Chromecast isn’t just the best Chromecast you can buy: it is the one that nearly everyone who uses it will love. That means you should get one for yourself and look at getting this device for those you love as we enter the holiday season. At $49, it performs so far above what you pay and does it so seamlessly that it is a no-brainer to recommend. I can confidently say that if you aren’t in the camp that needs a Chromecast for Stadia right now, there is little to dislike in the new streaming dongle from Google. It is so much fun to use and such a massive improvement to the Chromecasts that have come before that I’m beyond thrilled to be able to so-easily say you should buy one. Seriously, go get one and see for yourself.