The Google Chromecast has completely changed the way I consume online video content by making it even easier to watch my favorite shows and movies on the big screen. However, its newest streaming device has lost one of the original tenets of Google: a fast and uncluttered search.
After recently upgrading to a Chromecast with Google TV from a Chromecast Ultra, I miss the simplicity of the search giant’s previous streaming device. While Chromecast with Google TV is certainly one of the best streaming devices out there, the addition of apps, a new user interface and a remote have complicated what used to be a simple process.
The new remote is comfortable to hold and even ships with matching batteries (my Sky-colored device came with light blue batteries) but when Google first launched the original Chromecast back in 2013, a big part of the idea behind the project was providing consumers with a simple (and inexpensive) way to watch their favorite content on HDMI-equipped TVs as opposed to dealing with slow, often unresponsive set-top boxes from their cable providers.
At the same time, apps take up a lot of space on the Chromecast with Google TV; the device only ships with 8 GB of storage space, and almost half of this taken up by the operating system. Sure, you can expand this with a USB hub but at that point, why not connect one of the best mini PCs to your TV instead?
Sacrificing simplicity for a remote
Although there was certainly a learning curve, the original Chromecast and subsequent versions up to the latest one had you use your smartphone to send or ‘cast’ content to your television. From any streaming app, you just tapped on the Cast button to connect to any TV in your house.
While you can still cast content the old way on Chromecast with Google TV, the addition of a new user interface and apps sometimes makes this difficult to do.
For instance, with the Netflix app open on my Android phone and my television off, I tried to cast the film The Sea Beast to my TV. With the Chromecast Ultra, performing this action would turn on the TV and play what I had selected. Instead, I was greeted by Chromecast with Google TV’s main menu, and had to find the movie myself.
Likewise, as I have two YouTube accounts, I need to select the right one each time I go to cast a video on YouTube from my phone to my TV even though I’m already logged into the correct account on my phone. On my old Chromecast Ultra, I’ve yet to experience any problems like these — the device simply just works.
If you don’t already own a Nest Mini or a Nest Audio though, the addition of a Google Assistant button on the new remote may make the Chromecast with Google TV a bit more tempting. However, due to the size of the operating system on the latest Chromecast, I’ve noticed in my own tests that turning my TV on takes significantly longer than it does with the Chromecast Ultra. Still though, staring at a blank screen while the device boots up may be worth it if you want to scroll through your Chromecast’s menu to look for new content to watch. Personally, I’d rather look for new shows or movies on my phone and be able to watch them almost instantly instead of navigating through menus.
Even more apps to manage
While you can now do even more using apps on the Chromecast with Google TV, you will run into problems if you install too many. With just over 4 GB of free space available, your device’s storage can fill up fast and you won’t have any room left for system updates, if they come at all.
However, my biggest annoyance with the apps on Google’s latest Chromecast was having to login to use them. On the Chromecast Ultra and previous models, there was no need to login since you were just casting video from your smartphone to your TV. Now though, since the apps are stored on the device itself, you will need to login to use them even if they’re already set up on your phone. Fortunately, many streaming apps now let you scan a QR code or use a pin as opposed to having to type out your full credentials using Chromecast with Google TV’s remote.
We already have enough apps on our smartphones, tablets and computers, so why overcomplicate things by giving us even more to manage on our streaming devices?
Google’s minimalist approach will be missed
If you take a look at the Chromecast page on Google’s Store, you’ll notice that there are now only two models available: Chromecast with Google TV and Chromecast. The Chromecast Ultra has been discontinued, though you can still find it online and the device continues to work just as well as the day I got it.
Those thinking of picking up a Chromecast will have a tough decision to make: do they want to watch 4K content via apps with a remote or do they want Google’s minimalist approach to streaming with only 1080p support? As the best 4K TVs have become increasingly affordable in recent years, most people will probably choose the first option. However, they’ll miss out on what made the Chromecast as popular as it is in the first place – it just works.
If you have a smart TV, you may be better off just using the remote it came with and installing the apps you want instead of picking up a Chromecast with Google TV. Interestingly enough, the average storage space on most smart TVs is 8 GB, the same amount you’ll get with Google’s latest Chromecast.
I for one plan on using my Chromecast Ultra for as long as I can, since I really love its simplicity. Google’s remote is great and a nice addition but it’s not worth the added bloat and lag that come with Chromecast with Google TV’s user interface.