Last year, I bought two Chromecast with Google TV as Christmas gifts: one for my mother to use in the kitchen and another for a very, very dear friend in Waco because his Vizio's apps were just too damn slow. Both are still very happy with their Google TVs — and considering I use mine 4-12 hours a day, I'm still happy as a clam with mine. (I listen to reruns while I work, it helps keep certain parts of my brain entertained while the rest tries to get things done.)
However, a somewhat fatal flaw hides underneath that adorably intuitive remote and easy-to-use Google TV interface, one that makes me think twice before I recommend it to others. For all of Google TV's phenomenal algorithmic powers, its itty, bitty storage space can easily spoil the experience if you use more than a couple of streaming services.
This morning, the December update for the Google TV arrived on my Chromecast. I went into Settings to install it, wondering how many apps I'd have to delete to get enough space for the download this time. After all, I'd had to delete four apps and clean out the cache just to install three measly app updates this summer. Thankfully, I'd cleared out the cache again recently enough for this update to install, but that "oh, here we go again" shouldn't be your first instinct when your device gets a new update.
For the vast majority of my time with the Chromecast with the Google TV, the internal storage has been completely full with only the following apps installed:
- Amazon Prime Video
- HBO Max
- Solid Explorer
- YouTube Music
- Button Mapper
Those 14 apps take up over 3GB of the 4.4GB of space available after the Google TV operating system is installed. They used to take 3.8GB of storage before Twitch finally got its act together and slimmed down its Google TV app from 900MB to 200MB. And once you actually start watching content on your Chromecast with Google TV, cached files easily fill the rest, even if you don't install any games or fitness apps.
In order to hit that oh-so-importable $50 price point, Google had to make compromises somewhere with the Chromecast with Google TV. However, going with only 8GB of internal storage — over half of which is taken up by the system itself — is a short-sighted solution, one that can't be fixed with an update.
You could technically expand your storage using a USB-C hub, a Power Delivery charger to provide more juice, and either a microSD card or an external drive, but the reality is that it just won't get you the space for apps that you need. Adding on a hard drive lets the Google TV access local media when the network is down, but the storage wonk on the Chromecast with Google TV's permissions setup makes writing to external storage exceedingly difficult.
The worst part is that Google could have learned from its competitors' mistakes and victories. Early Fire TV sticks were bemoaned for having to delete apps to make room for a party game like JackBox, and even early Android TV boxes were strapped for storage outside the original NVIDIA Shield TV. The 2019 Shield TV might only be 8GB, but it includes a microSD slot on the device itself for this very reason: as you install more apps, you can add a card and make room.
The 2GB of RAM already hamstrings the experience of moving between apps, but the 8GB of storage means that the Chromecast with Google TV is operating on a knife's edge. If it's just balancing on that little sliver of free space right now, it can only tip further and further towards stutters and "No space" warnings.
This week's update has changed the way the Chromecast with Google TV handles storage, freeing up a few hundred megabytes of data for most users, but even those data savings can be erased if you add a couple new apps. Or if a new feature arrives that requires more on-device data, like the personalized profiles we've been waiting on for months; if the Chromecast has to store recommendations, watch history and continue watching data, expect more system data to be used up, just as each profile on a Chromebook does.
It's too much to hope for Google to announce a Quest 2-style re-release with 16GB of storage instead of 8GB; instead, we have to hope that the Chromecast with Google TV 2 has proper storage space in 1-2 years when we see its next refresh. For the most hard-core TV and movie addicts on your Christmas list, you might need to look towards another streaming device, but for your dad or your best friend you nerd out over Hawkeye with, it'll still be a great upgrade over their old Chromecast or failing smart TV apps.
Oh, and if you're buying one for a living room or in a family that tends to lose remotes, buy a spare remote. They come in three colors, so buy a pink or blue one to tell them apart.
Ready to wrap streamer
Give the gift of better streaming.
One year after launch, the Chromecast with Google TV still runs circles around the competition in terms of recommendations and easy, intuitive controls. This is the only device I've ever bought my mother that I didn't have to play tech support for, and you get all the Dolby and 4K support you need without the bloated price tag.
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Ara Wagoner was a staff writer at Android Central. She themes phones and pokes YouTube Music with a stick. When she's not writing about cases, Chromebooks, or customization, she's wandering around Walt Disney World. If you see her without headphones, RUN. You can follow her on Twitter at @arawagco.