After seven years, Google has finally added a remote and smart-TV functionality to its Chromecast streaming stick – but are the improvements worth the higher price?
Coming in three colours (I got the pink “Sunrise” version, at the urgings of my fiancée, but it also comes in blue “Sky” and white “Snow” variations – though Sunrise and Sky are only available direct from Google), the new Chromecast is slightly longer than its predecessors, resembling less of a hockey puck and more of a hash brown in shape. It’s unsurprisingly more expensive than previous Chromecasts as well, at $99 compared to $59 for 2018’s third-generation device (which is still on the market).
The charging cable is USB-C, rather than the micro-USB of previous versions, and (somewhat disappointingly) only comes in white regardless of the colour of the device. A missed aesthetic opportunity, redeemed by the power plug being more compact than older versions – so easier to fit into your powerboard alongside other devices. The device, like the $79 Chromecast Ultra, can stream in 4K (though I couldn’t test this out, not having a 4K TV of my own).
Setup was simple enough, though took a little longer than I might have liked – a lot of software updates were needed out of the box. Once that was done, though, it slotted into my existing Google ecosystem with no problems at all. Bundled apps included Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, and Stan, with hundreds more available through the built-in app store.
As for the Google TV interface itself, it’s a big step up from old Chromecasts, and basically turns any TV into a smart TV. While you can still cast from any device just as easily as with previous Chromecasts, being able to get to your content without having to bring out your phone or laptop or tablet is a breath of fresh air. The home screen recommends content for you across your apps, as well, putting content from Netflix, Stan, Binge, Disney+, and other services side by side, arranged into categories for your perusal. A big tick for convenience.
The remote (which does colour-match to your device – as do the included batteries! Nice touch, Google) is unquestionably a highlight of the new Chromecast. No more fiddling around with the Google Home app on my phone, plus easy access to Netflix, YouTube, and Google Assistant – excellent. Also handy: an IR blaster built into the remote that allows you to turn the TV on and off, adjust its volume, and switch inputs without scrambling for a second remote. Simple, stylish, and effective – full marks.
Google Assistant on the Chromecast also works about as well as it always does elsewhere. You can still ask it the time, the weather and so on, but you can also ask it for recommendations – questions like “What should I watch?” or “Search for shows like X”. I only have a couple of niggling bugbears with it: first, you have to remember to hold down the button as you speak, rather than just pressing it; and second, asking it to play something in apps like Stan or Netflix tends to take you to the title’s page in the relevant app rather than just jumping straight in. YouTube videos play automatically, so it’s slightly confusing why other apps don’t do the same.
Overall, Chromecast with Google TV takes everything that was great about Chromecast and adds a remote and a sophisticated smart-TV interface. It’s a marriage made in Heaven. At $99, as well, compared to the $249 price point for Apple TV with 4K, it gives you ultra-HD streaming at an astonishing price point, even if its storage space is limited to 8GB.
All that combined should put the device at the top of Christmas lists for any entertainment-lover.