There have been more than enough leaks, rumors and speculative thoughts around the upcoming media streaming dongle Google plans to release in the next few weeks that I’m not here to attempt to add to that. In fact, I’ll link you to the latest XDA article about this mystery dongle that covers most of what you need to know at this point. We’re looking at a rounded, more egg-shaped version of the Chromecast 3 that comes with a remote and will reportedly run Android TV with an updated interface focused on media content, not apps. In a nutshell, that’s what is happening, here.
With the rise in popularity of content streaming devices from both Roku and Amazon, it is time for Google to make the move to compete in this space in a better, more-refined way. I say ‘better’ because it is not as if Google hasn’t been competing in this space already. Chromecasts are a basic commodity at this point and nearly all media streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, YouTube TV, HBO Max, etc. all come with Chromecast support out of the box. Multiple televisions are built with the tech baked in, too. That means whether you are on the web or in the app for any of these services, you have the ability to quickly cast your show up to the big screen with just a couple key presses.
As we’ve talked about prior, this works very well for many people and for me, it is the only way our household consumes media at this point. There is a Chromecast on each TV and when someone want to watch something, they get a device and cast it. For us, it works great. But I’ve been in some of my family members’ houses over the past few years who have a Chromecast, but still have issue wrapping their heads around the idea of watching television sans remote. So much so that some family members have opted for a Chromecast in one input and a Roku player in another just so they can navigate with a remote when they are ready to watch something.
At first, I just chalked this all up to old habits and figured with the rise in popularity of the very-affordable Chromecast, more people would get on board with the idea that big-screen viewing could be largely handled by small screen devices. As it turns out, however, people want that remote. And, if I’m honest, I have to admit that if I had a remote to quickly scroll through some content, select a show, and begin watching, I would do so.
It is precisely at this intersection that Google is about to drop a new Chromecast with some very new tricks up its sleeve. You see, for the most part, an Android TV box like the Shield TV can behave very much like a Chromecast. It even has the same ambient mode when left alone for a bit and other than a few times where it wasn’t recognized by other Google Assistant speakers, I ran with that setup in our living room without too much issue for months.
Since my go-to is casting from my phone, the handful of times the Android TV didn’t wake up or wasn’t’ ready for my casting session was enough to put me off the whole idea and I ended up putting my Chromecast back into play. Additionally, I didn’t love the Android TV UI for getting to my shows. It’s come a long way since inception, for sure, but for a streaming device it felt way to app-centric and not nearly media-centric enough to be the primary player on the largest screen in the house. With all that in mind, it was fully sidelined and the Chromecast Ultra with its Stadia abilities has been my living room driver since November 2019.
The right merger
This new dongle, however, looks to fix all those shortcomings and likely produce the perfect media streaming solution not just for me, but for a ton of users. If reports are correct, we’re basically looking at a Chromecast Ultra with some Android TV smarts inside. Things look low-power, so the simple USB connection behind the TV should still power it up and that means one less cable to wrangle behind the entertainment center. It looks small like the Chromecast Ultra, so no worries about finding a new place for a box on the table, either. If it is a Chromecast first, then streaming, casting, and Stadia will all behave just as they do with the Ultra.
But then we get to the tasteful additions: app support, a simple UI, and a remote. If Google positions this as a new Chromecast with a remote, I think it will sell like crazy. To be honest, most consumers don’t need to know anything about it running Android TV or how the Android TV interface is getting changed to focus on content instead of apps. Chromecast has quite a bit of brand recognition after all these years, so Google needs to do little to make people aware of the brand. Instead, this can simply be the Chromecast with a remote. Android TV is the vehicle that powers the UI for that remote to work and basically everything else just falls into place.
For me, that means a simpler way to show my family members how to use a Chromecast, navigating with a remote instead of fully relying on a phone. But it also means you get an all-encompassing streaming dongle that doesn’t need an external device to function, but will work really well with anyone who does happen to have one around. Now, your streaming device has a UI and a way to watch your stuff, but it can also accept video casting and screen mirroring from all sorts of devices like laptops, tablets, and phones (both iOS and Android). It really does make for the best all-around streaming dongle I could think of.
As a matter of fact, it almost feels odd that Google didn’t do this sooner. I know casting is the cleanest, simplest form of smart TV setup, but the added accessibility that a remote control and on-screen UI offer cannot be understated, either. Sure, Apple TV, Roku, and Amazon Fire TV have remotes and on-screen UI, but they don’t have the popular and widely-used Chromecast built in. With this new dongle, Google is set to bring a device to market that does it all and does it all at a very, very attractive price. Reports say that we should expect a sub-$80 price point and for a dongle that does all this one will do, I think that is completely reasonable, and I think it will sell like crazy. At this point in the game, I think Google has crafted a piece of hardware that will dominate the competition, and I can’t wait to finally see it in the flesh.
Featured image credit: XDA Developers