Chromecast (2015) Review: Smaller, Faster, And Totally Worth It

Chromecast (2015) Review: Smaller, Faster, and Still Totally Worth It

Two years ago the Google god in the sky gave unto us a $50 dollar media-streaming dongle, and lo, it was good. Pretty good anyway, and it got better with software updates, but it still has lagging tendencies. Well, it's 2015 baby, so what's the new Chromecast got? Less lag! And... that's pretty much it. But honestly, that might be enough.

What Is It?

It's an HDMI dongle that plugs into your TV and lets you stream video and audio from hundreds of sources including Netflix, HBO Go, Hulu Plus, Pandora, and many others, including some games. It's also only $50 (we think, AU pricing is still yet to be confirmed). You control it via your phone, tablet, or computer, and yes it works with both Android and iOS.

The new version adds dual-band (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz), which cuts down on lag and buffering. Basically, it's faster.

Chromecast (2015) Review: Smaller, Faster, and Still Totally Worth It

It's a cute, little, 2-inch diameter plastic disc with a built-in HDMI cable. The original version looked like a large USB drive and had a rigid male HDMI connection at one end. That utilitarian approach made it so it didn't fit too nicely in some TVs. Google included a short adaptor cord with it, but this integrated design is way better. The back of the disc is magnetized, so the end of the HDMI cable will stick to it should you be...walking around? Waiving it in the air? I don't really know why you need it, but it's kind of cool.

On the blunt end of the disc (opposite the HDMI cable) is a micro USB port, which you'll need to have plugged in to power the device. The puck comes in three colours: Black, "Lemonade," and "Coral" which, fine. Sure. Whatever. But these things are going to be hidden behind 99 per cent of the TVs they're attached to so...

Using It

It's basically exactly like using the original Chromecast, except faster. You first connect it to your home wifi network (which you accomplish via the Chromecast app on your phone), and it only takes a couple minutes. From there, any of the apps/services you have that are Chromecast-enabled will have a little icon show up. You just tap it, and the video is beamed over to your TV. On your laptop, once you install the Chromecast extension in your browser, that same icon appears when you're watching YouTube, Hulu, Netflix, etc. It's simple enough that some of my less tech-savvy relatives got the hang of it within 20 minutes, which honestly really says a lot.

One thing that's new is the Chromecast app. Originally it was just for pairing devices but now it acts as a hub of sorts. It also leverages all of Google's search-smarts and becomes a fully functional and thoughtfully laid-out content hub.

Chromecast (2015) Review: Smaller, Faster, and Still Totally Worth It

Not only does it show you recommended content available to cast in the apps you have on your phone, but if you search for, say, Minority Report, it will let you choose whether you want the movie or the TV show. Pick which one you want, and then it will show you all of your options for watching. It will show you if it's free on Netflix, two bucks on Google Play, or available on an app you haven't yet installed. It's fast and very convenient.

Chromecast (2015) Review: Smaller, Faster, and Still Totally Worth It

At the launch event I got to try gaming on the new Chromecast with the Mario Kart-esque Angry Birds Drive. We enabled multiplayer mode, created a game, joined, and then the TV became a split-screen race with our phones acting as a remote steering wheel (think Nintendo Wii's wheel). We were on a super congested network, and so framerates weren't as smooth as you'd hope, but the latency was low enough that I could steer through turns and around obstacles without a problem.

So while the new app is a big deal, it also works with the original version of Chromecast, so really, there's only one reason to consider upgrading: Speed. While it was impossible to do any standardised benchmarking because of network fluctuations, I can report anecdotally. After several days of testing on different wifi networks and using different services I can confidently state that the new Chromecast is quicker than the original. I wouldn't say it's like night and day, but I would say that it's definitely noticeable. You select a video, and it starts playing faster, plain and simple. Sometimes I'd say it was twice as quick, sometimes it was just a 20 per cent speed bump. But the main thing is it was definitely never slower.

Chromecast (2015) Review: Smaller, Faster, and Still Totally Worth It

It's quicker than the old version and the new app is great. The built-in HDMI cable is a nice touch. Really, though, it just works really well, it's easy to use, however, Google still doesn't have a remote control for Chromecast, which makes it the only streamer I can think of that doesn't have one.

You have to use your phone, tablet, or computer, which can be a pain in the arse, especially if you have to enter a password first. Amazon Instant Video doesn't work with Chromecast, and while that's Amazon's fault not Google's, you still lose. Ditto iTunes, but I don't think anyone expected that, right?

The app still trips up here and there, especially when it passes you over to a third-party app like HBO Go (though that may be HBO's buggy Android app), and screen-casting websites from your PC can be hit or miss.

Chromecast (2015) Review: Smaller, Faster, and Still Totally Worth It

Should You Buy It?

If you don't already have a Chromecast, then yeah, you should. The new Chromecast is so cheap for a device as capable and simple to use as this. But if you already have the original, is it worth upgrading? I'd say that depends on how your current system is performing. If you're finding the lag and buffering annoying, then yes, it's is worth it. If your system seems to run pretty smoothly, then you probably don't need to bother.

Personally, I'm buying the new one and giving my old one to a friend. Win-win.

[Chromecast]


Comments

    This is still unavailable in Australia with no plans for a release here, right?

      The initial set of countries isn't very big, aside from US/Canada it only includes European countries. It'll be released here eventually, just delayed like the original Chromecast was.

        Yeah, I just wish they'd give us some kind of indication of the date. I was planning to buy a second Chromecast to plug into our other TV this week. Then I see they've released this new one, so I'm thinking I'll wait for it, but I've got no idea how long that's going to be.

          Yeah, it'd be nice. The first Chromecast took 10 months to get an Australian release, hopefully it doesn't take that long this time.

            You can grey import for a similarish price to what it will cost when it releases here. I had a friend do that. I managed to get one when Amazon messed up the country restrictions for one day. Thankfully it shipped before they worked it out.

              Yep, that's always an option, though I assume you lose the ability to make warranty claims by doing that. Or easily, at least.

                Possibly but I don't really think it's something you are going to need to warranty claim. They are fairly basic bits of tech.

    If I have a smart TV and a PS4 does that do anything extra?

      Depends if your smart TV is any good. Most aren't. As for your PS4, yeah, you can probably use that for most things. I really like being able to just hit go on my phone though and it starts going.

        Plus I've got a few movies on my Google account and the Chromecast is my only real option for playing them on the TV instead of the phone or tablet. I don't have a smart TV and the PS4 browser is too shit to play video in and there's no Google Play app for PS4 to let me play my Google videos that way.

    Sick of the wifi dramas with these Chromecasts. Yeah, it works most of the time but when something becomes unreliable, I tend to keep trying for a few months and if things don't sort themselves out, I look for alternatives. Buying two Roku 3's next month for my two TVs, so I can connect with Ethernet.

    If I only had Wifi option, I think I'd still go with a Roku moving forward because they can do their own navigation to start streams rather than relying on the desktop or mobile device.

    Chromecast is definitely a good budget option though. It worked most of the time.. so no major complaints.. just can't rely it on it to always be a great experience.

      Apparently you can use a USB Ethernet adaptor with a chromecast, provided it has the right chipset (the device doesn't have the entire Linux driver suite on board).

      Google sells one on their US store here:

      https://store.google.com/product/_ethernet_adapter_for_chromecast

      ... but it will work with other adaptors with an ASIX AX88xx chip inside. You will also need a USB OTG splitter cable (one that will let you plug in the Ethernet adaptor, while still being able to power the Chromecast).

      Do you have lots of wifi congestion where you live?
      Everyone I know claims they are flawless but they are all in detached houses. If that is your problem, the 5ghz would probably sort it out in the new one.

        Yes, in an apartment. I've used multiple apps to try and isolate a less congested channel but it never works completely. We'll be moving to a new house, detached, this month.. so maybe I can wait to see if it improves.

    Still doesn't do US Netflix without a special router. Pass.

      Works fine for me using Getflix. Nothing special about my router as far as I'm aware.

      EDIT:
      Should clarify that it works fine using Getflix when streaming from my wife's iPhone or iPad. The Android phone/tablet version of the Getflix app is hard-coded to use Google's DNS, but I get around that using Getflix's DNS-over-VPN service. It requires a little extra setup work, but once it's set up I just have to remember to connect to that first before I start the Netflix app, then it works fine.

      Last edited 03/11/15 3:21 pm

        There are 4 Google DNS servers that you can block at your router level and then it will work. Never tried the DNS over VPN and not sure how involved it is but this is set and forget.

          Hmm I tried that and it didn't work. But I only had 2 of them... do you know where I can find a list of all 4? Or are you including the 2 IPv4 AND 2 IPv6 ones? Not sure if IPv6 would be an issue. Might take another look at it.

            Listed here.
            https://getflix.zendesk.com/hc/en-gb/articles/202281524-Block-Public-DNS-Overview

      You don't need a special router, just not a shitty telstra one with no settings.

    The original's wireless performance is terrible, making it essentially useless unless it's in the same room as my router. It's a shame really as it's a great price for hooking something up to a 2nd TV.

    but why does the new model still require wifi connectivity? why can't it just talk to the phone directly, what if i want to just stream content from my phone and i dont have wifi.
    and a usb input to play video off usb.
    just seems like other media palyers do such a better job...

    Last edited 03/11/15 3:37 pm

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