There are many ways you can enjoy a smart TV experience, and chances are that you have already settled on a platform that works for you. For the majority of people, for instance, the OS bundled in their TVs is just fine, and it helps them skip a lot of other steps, such as getting a TV streaming box, which is also an added cost. However, and this is for the local case, the smart TV experience we get here is good at best, bearing in mind that the TVs sitting on our consoles are of the affordable kind. This also means that the TVs are equipped with modest specs.
Take, for example, the cheapest Android TV in the market that costs, say KES 25000. At that price, you can get a competent 43-incher running at 1080p, but the experience will deteriorate over time. Basically, what manufacturers don’t tell you is that they have kept prices low by using entry-level specs, and that includes the chipset. I have had my fair share of these issues, where a TV performs well for the first three months but gets painfully slow afterward.
I am not trying to make a case for TV streaming boxes, but the said issue can largely be addressed by buying a good streaming box (Android TV or Firestick, among others). The other solution is to just buy a more expensive and capable TV, and most of us, do not have such budgets to spend on a TV. Still, you can choose to go the Samsung or LG way: both run in-house software (Tizen and webOS) that are lightweight enough to not tax your system in terms of resource requirements. The two tellys, however, are pricey because let’s be honest, they are selling you the brand name, but they have an array of other benefits too such as the lightweight software, terrific customer support, and longevity.
Circling back to what this story is about, let’s talk about the Chromecast with Google TV. I got a unit from my good friends at Essential Kenya. They sell it for KES 9500 or thereabouts, which is still higher than what you would buy it in the West, but remember, you will have to import it and we all know that exercise is not smooth. And it takes a darn long time. So, to cover for the trouble, you might as well pay the amount and get the device immediately.
To note, the Chromecast with Google TV is, as its name suggests, a streaming device for those who are on the Android/Google aisle of things. It is powered by Google TV, and not Android TV. It is also, a Chromecast, which means it is not a box but rather a dongle that you hook up to one of your TV’s HDMI sockets, and then to a power outlet.
But wait, wait… Google TV and not Android TV? Glad you asked. The two platforms do mostly the same thing, but there are some key differences. Google TV, for instance, has a robust child profile, which makes a lot of sense because we use TVs with children in the house, and we should therefore protect them from adult content. Android TV doesn’t do that well, because parental controls affect everybody since it does not have a child profile. You can also add a bunch of adult profiles on Google TVs, but on Android TV, multiple users need to log in with a separate account.
Also, if you have a lot of smart home devices, you are going to love Google TV because it supports them, and heck, you can even control them via voice using your Google TV remote. You cannot exactly do the same thing on Android TV. My personal favourite is the interface: Google TV is cleaner, looks modern, and is easy to navigate. Contrastingly, Android TV looks kind of old now, although it is what most people can access via their TVs and streaming boxes (some manufacturers such as TCL have however started shipping their modern TVs with Google TV so that is a plus).
Essentially, that is what the Chromecast with Google TV is all about. I can end this assessment here and tell you to go buy it but that will be an injustice to you, so we are going to have to talk more.
First, the interface/UI is just a clear winner for me. It is glorious. Google Assistant works excellently, and if you like shouting commands to your TV, you are going to love the Chromecast. The device also supports a ton of streaming platforms, but since we are limited to Netflix and Showmax and YouTube, the other services do not make a lot of sense to us thanks to that Geo-lock thing. Another benefit is the remote, which is simple, all cute with its little volume buttons on the side. The volume buttons also work with supported TVs or sound systems: it linked up to my Vizio soundbar fairly quick, and this has since made its (soundbar) remote useless to me, unless I am powering the system.
On the negative side of things, I wish the Chromecast was cheaper in Kenya. The volume buttons, as I have come to learn, are not supported by all sound systems, which might be a bummer to some. The remote is also slippery and tiny, but that is something you can get used to fairly quickly.
In The Box
The Chromecast (with Google TV) comes in a very simple box with essentials:
- The Chromecast itself
- Very long HDMI cable
- Power adapter (not sure if this is available for all markets)
- A sexy remote
It is that simple really, and with modern packaging nowadays, I wasn’t expecting much.
To note, the device was released sometime back in 2020, and Google hasn’t updated it because there really is no need to. But I am certain a successor is in the works and we might see it as soon as when Google hosts I/O.
A device released in 2020 is still good to me, because I have been using the Mi Box 3 since nearly four years ago, so this is a much-needed upgrade.
The box can give you the basic specs of the device, and what streaming services it supports (they are many and I doubt it doesn’t support your favourite video on demand platform save for Apple TV+, of course). Here are the rest of them for your memory:
Resolution: 4K at 60 fps
Ports: HDMI, USB C
HDR: Yes, including HDR10, HDR10+, Dolby Vision
Audio: Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, and Dolby Atmos
Modest, right? But there is more, so read on…
Setting up the Chromecast is fairly straightforward. Just hook it to one of your TVs; HDMI outlets, then connect the USB C cable to the device, and then to a power plug provided. Note, the device won’t boot up if you connect it to a USB C port on your TV (if your TV has one) because it requires more power that can only be derived from a wall socket.
The software side of the set-up process is also easy. This is because the system will guide you. You will need to download the Home app for this function, and the rest of the steps are all about adding your account or accounts, agreeing to terms and conditions, and downloading apps (which you can choose before the device takes you home).
The only issue with the procedure is that it is not fast. You will take at least twenty minutes to get things in order. On my side, for instance, I spent up to an hour trying to get all my apps in order. Side-loading apps, for instance, is not as easy as allowing the system to install them from external sources. The feature is not even visible in the System settings, so you have to enable developer options by tapping on the Build Number a couple of times, just as we do on phone. After that, the system will allow you to run apps from external sources.
This is the part where I tell you that a robust file manager is key here. I have Solid Explorers which works well on Google TV. I can link my cloud storages to the app, in this case, Drive, where I have stored all my important APKs, including SmartYouTube Next and MovieBox Pro. You might want to do the same thing too, unless you are content with what the Play Store offers.
The majority of TV boxes I have used over the years are large and can fill a normal hand easily. That is not the case with the Chromecast remote, which is tiny and cute.
I love how it has been put together because I love my remote small (large ones make sense too because the control devices have a knack for disappearing). It has two hotkeys for Netflix and YouTube. There is a power and source button at the bottom edge (nestled between them is a mic). Others are the home, back, Assistant, and mute.
The volume buttons have not been slapped at the front: rather, they are at the side, just like on your phone. Apple TV remotes use the same design, and it is cool, to say the least.
It is powered by two AAA batteries, which are also provided in the box. you can check the battery level on the Remote Devices sections, although it does not give you the exact percentage of the remaining juice.
I have seen better remotes, though, such as that shipped with the Shield TV Pro. It is nice, has some heft, as well as backlit keys. You never get to see them often, but I should remind you that the Shield TV Pro is four times the price, probably more, and only has Android TV.
Overall, the remote works for me and is superior to what I have been using. Buttons are tactile, and did I say that I like the idea that I can control my soundbar volume using the device?
If you have used the Chromecast before, then this one is nearly the same as previous iterations. This means that you can perform actions like casting films, YouTube videos, and music directly to it (from your phone or computer), and then it will be displayed on your television. However, customers need more than casting, and this includes the ability to install other apps and services on a streaming media set. You could do this with Android TV, but the previous Chromecast couldn’t allow you to perform additional actions other than casting. This is the issue that the Chromecast with Google TV addresses: you can cast content to it, and at the same time, it has been loaded with Google TV to give you the whole experience of a fully-loaded streaming box.
Let me remind you that this Chromecast is the first device that has been equipped with Google TV. Other manufacturers have started shipping their TVs with the new software, but the Chromecast received the software first, with a new user interface and experience. Apps that work on Android TV can be loaded here just fine because the two platforms are basically running Android TV. The best way I can explain this is how phone makers approach Android: Android TV is akin to Android skin on say a Motorola or OnePlus device, whereas Google TV is more of the Pixel UI in Pixel devices.
To this end, Google TV is aggregating content from your favourite streaming services. The For You section shows films, series, and YouTube videos that you might like based on your watching habits.
The Movies and Shows section even gives you more insights and suggestions if you are unable to make decisions for yourself.
Across the interface is the Apps section that allows you to open individual apps. These apps can be rearranged in any way, such that frequently used ones are put at the start of the ribbon.
The Play Store here is built for Android/Google TV, meaning all the apps there have been optimized for a TV experience. And as I said earlier, you can side-load any app you want, and it will run just fine provided it has been tuned for Android TV. However, bear in mind that the unit has only 8 GB of internal storage, so you really can’t add a lot of apps and games. The storage is still sufficient, though.
Is should also mention that the platform breaks down content into subsections such as Comedies, or Oscar-winning films. These kinds of suggestions go a long way in making the experience wholesome because it shows you content that you might like from many streaming services, including Prime Video that I do not even use.
Generally speaking, the interface is intuitive, modern, and looks much better than the ordinary Android TV interface. Content aggregation and preference settings take the experience to a new level, and you can find pretty much what you want to watch through a couple of clicks.
I have had my bad share of experiences with Google Assistant on Android TV. Mostly, the mics built into the remotes are bad, and the system doesn’t interpret my commands as expected. In other cases, the Assistant has been just slow.
This is not the case with the Assistant in this new Chromecast. If you task it to open Netflix and play a given film (provided it is there), it will do just that.
You can search for a film by name or actor.
You can even ask it to give you weather updates.
You can also use it 6to perform other actions like opening apps, and if you have smart home devices linked to your Home App, the Chromecast will help you control them via voice.
It is that freaking good and I have no complaints about it.
In terms of performance, the Chromecast is speedy and responsive. It is way faster than the Mi Box 3 it is replacing.
The device delivers terrific audio quality, which can even be better for people with better sound systems. I like that I can control the speaker volume using the Chromecast remote.
It processes 4K content without any issues, and that is a win for me.
If your TV supports HDR, the Chromecast will highlight content that has been encoded using the technology. This is often seen in apps such as Netflix.
The Chromecast with Google TV is a very small device that does a lot of things. As said, it is almost the same as a fully-packed TV streaming box, and it does so by being so tiny, fast, and with an awesome interface. I can therefore see why people would need to upgrade from their old Chromecasts because their usage is just limited to casting content to your TV from your computer or phone.
This one has Google TV on top, which, as we have said, allows you to do so much more.
The fact that the Google Assistant in this device0 is superior to what other streaming boxes or sticks offer should also be appealing to a lot of people.
This also means that you really should not buy a TV box that costs nearly KES 9K and skip on the Google Chromecast with Google TV because I am certain the latter is superior by far.