The Chromecast is arguably one of Google's best products to date. The dongle made it incredibly easy for those looking to connect their older TVs to the internet, and the low price tag ensured it was accessible to everyone. The Chromecast Audio did the same for stereo systems, bringing multi-room audio and internet connectivity without the need to overhaul existing gear.
But what sold the Chromecast Audio for me was the seamless integration with streaming services. I have a lot of older audio gear in my house that's either limited to Bluetooth or analog connectors, and the Chromecast Audio instantly turned those legacy products into smart speakers. All I had to do was connect the audio gear to a Chromecast Audio via the bundled 3.5mm jack, go through the initial configuration, and select my streaming service of choice to cast music to that designated speaker.
Setting up a Chromecast Audio took under five minutes from start to finish, and once configured, it just worked. This level of simplicity is what made the Chromecast line so popular over the years. That's why it was so surprising when Google announced that it was ending sales of the Chromecast Audio at the end of last year. Unlike the regular Chromecast — which is now in its third generation — the Chromecast Audio didn't receive any updates, and it's possible the dongle may not have sold as many units as its TV counterpart.
But if you're looking to upgrade your older audio gear, there's now a new alternative. Amazon started sales of the Echo Input just as Google was pulling the Chromecast Audio off shelves, and the timing couldn't have been better. The Echo Input serves the same purpose as a Chromecast Audio, but it offers Bluetooth connectivity and Alexa integration.
It's no coincidence that the Echo Input costs $35, the same price as the Chromecast Audio. Amazon is essentially pitting the Echo Input as a successor to the Chromecast Audio, and after using it for over a month, it's easy to see why. Setting up an Echo Input is just as easy as a Chromecast — you'll have to connect it to a speaker via an aux cable or Bluetooth and pair it to your home Wi-Fi network. The Bluetooth integration is an added bonus that makes the Echo Input stand out.
The device itself has a similar hockey puck form factor as the Chromecast Audio, but with a larger footprint due to the four mic array located at the top. The differentiating feature with the Echo Input is Alexa integration, with the dongle turning any old speaker into an Echo device. You'll be able to ask Alexa for weather updates, control smart home products, set reminders, get news and score updates, and generally interact with the virtual assistant as you would on any other Echo device.
The fact that you can do this on your existing audio gear shows just how determined Amazon is at getting Alexa into every corner of your house, and Google clearly missed out an opportunity to do the same with Chromecast. With I/O under three months away, it is entirely possible we'll see Google debut an Assistant-enabled version of Chromecast Audio to take on the Echo Input.
Until then, however, if you're looking for an easy way to upgrade your home audio, Amazon has you covered.
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Harish Jonnalagadda is a Senior Editor overseeing Asia at Android Central. He leads the site's coverage of Chinese phone brands, contributing to reviews, features, and buying guides. He also writes about storage servers, audio products, and the semiconductor industry. Contact him on Twitter at @chunkynerd.