Weeks ago, I thought "hey, I should see what the Chromecast with Google TV is all about." So I pulled one from our testing cabinets, set it up on my TV, downloaded all my favorite apps and waited for the magic to happen. Unfortunately, nothing really felt too magical.
Maybe I'm too much of a seasoned streaming editor, but I quickly realized (in a matter of a few weeks) that I wasn't going to be keeping the pleasant-looking streaming dongle in one of my TV's precious few HDMI ports. Yes, the Chromecast with Google TV is definitely one of the best streaming devices, but it's not going to be mine.
Why did I switch to the Chromecast with Google TV? I've heard a lot of people rave about it, and I've also got a bit of curiosity. I've used it for research and comparisons, but it's a device I haven't spent heaps of time with (my colleague Mike Prospero wrote our Chromecast with Google TV review).
The Chromecast with Google TV's home screen is not for me
A home screen matters a lot. Don't believe me? Just look at how your phone's home screen is laid out. You hide the stuff you don't want, right? Well, the Chromecast with Google TV's home screen (titled "For you") became too much for me, with a bunch of stuff getting in the way. None of it more annoying than the ads for movies I frankly don't care about (sorry Katherine Heigl, no offense to your movie One for the Money, but I'll click down two times to go away).
Personally, I just want to get to specific apps quickly. And since the Chromecast with Google TV remote only has pre-programmed Netflix and YouTube buttons, the ads and "Top picks for you" rows just seem like fodder I don't need. Especially when it's suggesting I watch SportsCenter (via YouTube TV).
I like that live TV service integration has begun with YouTube TV and Sling TV, but this recommendation is without base: I've never actually watched SportsCenter on YouTube TV, and I'm not planning to now. Wasn't the cord-cutter future supposed to be about ditching the stuff we don't use? Why does it always feel like we're on a slow march back to a cable-like situation, under a different name?
Why does the home screen stuff I don't like irritate me so much? Well, on Tuesday night, when I was jumping between Sling TV and YouTube TV, testing for a future article, I found that the excess of menus and a case of butter-fingers syndrome led to more mistakes.
I was accidentally clicking through the row of tabs at the very top of the screen, as there's so many clicks you need to make to get to the right apps.
And while I'm expecting to spend some time with the Fire TV (which has a similar interface) next, this style just doesn't fit how I want to stream.
Continue watching and live TV should be better
I wanted to test the Chromecast with Google TV, in part, because it does things differently, trying to surface stuff intelligently so you spend less time looking and more time watching. Unfortunately, I haven't had a great experience.
As I've previously explained, the Chromecast with Google TV's Continue Watching row isn't really working that well. Some days you can't remove items you don't want to watch, other times the wrong episode or season number shows up.
Then, there's the other feature I was excited about. The "Live" section. Except, again, the reality didn't meet my hopes.
First, I used the Live section with Sling TV, which didn't really work that well because the order of channels didn't match my personalized version, which put my clicker finger through the ringer.
But even when I used it with YouTube TV — which has my favorites at the top of the grid — it still had the big boxes you can see, for channels I do not watch. Sure, I could click down a couple of rows, but if it can tell the channels I watch most, why not put them in those boxes? It makes no sense.
Yes, you can select and favorite a channel, but who wants to go through that work? Things like this should be more automatic.
The Chromecast's remote buttons leave me wanting more
Maybe I'm the problem here. But all six of the top buttons of the Chromecast's first remote ever get awfully confusing if you don't want to look at your device.
Look at most other remotes, and you'll see that everyone else figured out that people like physically dissimilar buttons. It's because it's easier to "feel" out which button is which. Even Apple's remote has a concave 'back' button.
Also, I'd love to have a dedicated play/pause button, and not just use the 'center' button in the middle of the navigation buttons.
Apple Music on Chromecast is flawed at best
I guess this one's on me. "Who would get a Chromecast if they already use Apple Music?" I hear no-one in particular ask. Surely, you'd think us Apple Music users would prefer the Apple TV, right? Well, what about those who don't want to spend $179 on the Apple TV 4K when the $49 Chromecast with Google TV (which looks pretty much like an Apple device, in terms of hardware) is right there?
Well, as I learned when I tried to stream Apple Music on the Chromecast, there is no Apple Music app for the device. Sure, there's an Android Apple Music app (which can Cast to the Chromecast), but there's no dedicated app.
So, instead, you set up Apple Music with Google Home in order to hear Apple Music on Chromecast with Google TV.
So, that means you're limited to voice commands, which is kind of silly. And you use a home screen widget of sorts to get back to your playback screen. I don't blame Google for this — Apple shares the blame — but the two parties ought to get it together. Especially now that Apple Music is finally on Roku.
The last straw
Randomly on Sunday night, as I was watching a live WWE event, I kept getting the below "Device pairing request" as my Google Home app (which I use as a software remote) kept disconnecting from the Chromecast with Google TV.
And this is the kind of thing that just does not work. It didn't pop up after Sunday (I used the Chromecast up until Wednesday), but it was the kind of annoying nuisance that I didn't even want to risk recurring.
Bottom line: Choice is good, but this isn't my choice
So, the Chromecast with Google TV isn't for me. And that's very OK. Right now, all of the best streaming services are on most of the best streaming devices. So you can just jump between sticks and dongles and streaming boxes to find the right fit for you.
I started using different streaming devices for my personal streaming when a Netflix audio issue on my Apple TV 4K reared its head during Formula 1: Drive to Survive binges. That bug may be fixed (I'm not sure), but I'm still going to be spending time on other devices anyways. Roku's hardware is still great, but I'd prefer the Apple TV if all things were equal.
Next up? I'm going to stream on the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max, the first Fire Stick we've put on our top streaming devices list. I'll let you know how that turns out.
Love reality TV? Get ready for the Bling Empire season 2 release date — as the drama and fashion is back.