Chromecast with Google TV review: A love-hate relationship

Chromecast With Google TV
(Image: © Joe Maring / Android Central)

Android Central Verdict

Bottom line: The Chromecast with Google TV is very different from past offerings in the Chromecast family, and that's not a bad thing. Google's latest streaming device has everything you could ask for, ranging from 4K HDR support, Dolby Vision and Atmos, and — for the first time ever — a remote. Bundle all of that together with the excellent Google TV interface and a killer price, and the Chromecast with Google TV ends up being one of Google's best new products in a long time.

Pros

  • +

    4K HDR streaming

  • +

    Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos

  • +

    Fast, responsive performance

  • +

    Google TV is great for curating content

  • +

    Excellent remote

Cons

  • -

    No fast forward/rewind buttons

  • -

    Not all streaming apps currently support Google TV integration

  • -

    Not enough storage

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Long before the Pixel smartphones and Google's big push for self-branded hardware, the Chromecast was a well-known entity in the streaming landscape as one of the best and most affordable ways to get video on your TV. Whether it was the $35 regular Chromecast or the more expensive Chromecast Ultra with 4K, the idea of having a cheap dongle that can play anything from your phone was a concept millions of people got behind.

As streaming media has expanded over the last few years, though, the Chromecast has started to look and feel a bit dated. Compared to the likes of Amazon's Fire TV Sticks, the best Rokus, and the Apple TV, the lack of a remote and proper user interface have hindered the Chromecast's functionality.

That has finally changed.

Chromecast with Google TV is the most radical update we've ever seen in the Chromecast series, bringing it up to feature parity with the competition while ushering in a brand new user interface. It may not be the upgrade Chromecast loyalists were hoping for, but for the rest of us, it's basically the best Android TV box you can buy in 2021.

Chromecast with Google TV Price and availability

Chromecast With Google TV

Source: Joe Maring / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Joe Maring / Android Central)

The Chromecast with Google TV launched on September 30, 2020. It replaced the aging Chromecast Ultra with its debut, making it the most capable Chromecast you can currently buy.

You'll pay a retail price of $50 to get your hands on the Chromecast for yourself, with it being sold at retailers like Best Buy, Walmart, Target, and the Google Store. Sales for the Chromecast with Google TV are few and far between, so don't expect any big discounts even though it's been available for over a year now.

Chromecast with Google TV What I love

Chromecast With Google TV

Source: Joe Maring / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Joe Maring / Android Central)

Let's start with the boring stuff first — the Chromecast's hardware. This isn't something you'll be actively looking at all the time, but Google did a good job of ensuring it looks nice and has all of the specs/features you could ask for in a 2021 media device.

The Chromecast itself is made out of matte plastic and connects to your TV with the attached HDMI cable. A USB-C port on the back connects to the included power cable, which then plugs into the AC adapter that powers the thing. There's support for 4K streaming up to 60fps, HDR10 and HDR10+ are both supported, and you'll also find Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos.

Google offers three colors to choose from, including Snow, Sunrise, and Sky (aka white, pink, and blue). Not only does your color choice determine the color of the Chromecast itself, but it also changes how the included remote looks, as well as the included batteries. Such a small Google touch. And this is the first-ever Chromecast with an explicit visual interface and a remote.

Google did a phenomenal job with the remote. All of the buttons are very clicky, it is comfortable to hold (albeit a touch slippery), and you have power, input, and volume buttons for your TV thanks to HDMI-CEC and IR blaster configurations you can configure in Settings. Just like all modern Android TV boxes and televisions, you'll also find a Google Assistant button that you can hold down to talk to the Assistant at any time. Asisstant works much faster here than it has on previous Android TV boxes, and the contour of the Assistant button makes it easy to feel for even in the dark of your living room movie marathon.

By now, you've also probably noticed the YouTube and Netflix buttons. Some people might hate having branded buttons like this, but I'm personally fine with it. As someone that actively uses both services, I appreciate the quick access. You can't officially remap the Netflix button — but it's not hard to do it yourself, but if you press and hold on YouTube button, you can switch between opening the main YouTube app or YouTube TV, YouTube Kids, or YouTube Music. It's a nice touch.

In all of these core regards, the Chromecast with Google TV is fantastic. It's easy to set up, it moves through menus and apps without a hitch, video content looks excellent, and the remote doesn't hinder any of the enjoyment you get from all of this (I'm looking at you, Apple TV).

Chromecast With Google TV

Source: Joe Maring / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Joe Maring / Android Central)

However, that's just one part of this gadget. Now that we know what the Chromecast side of things brings to the table, we have to talk about the Google TV experience. Ready for a spoiler? I really, really like it.

Android TV is technically the operating system powering this new Chromecast, but the interface you interact with has been completely overhauled. The main goal of Google TV is to heavily emphasize personalized and recommended content so that it's easier to find something to watch. There are also now dedicated pages/home screens you can navigate through, and they include the following:

  • Search — Recommended commands for the Google Assistant and movie/TV show genres to browse through specific types of content.
  • For you — Your main home page, showing top content picks, your installed apps, and other recommended content based on your watchlist, various genres, and more.
  • Live (optional) — An integrated live channel guide that will only show up if you have YouTube TV installed and enabled.
  • Movies — Browse through various movies to watch.
  • Shows — Browse through various TV shows to watch.
  • Apps — All of your installed apps, along with integrated Play Store access for downloading new ones.
  • Library — Movies and shows you own through Google Play (now Google TV).

Source: Android Central

Source: Android Central

I know a lot of Android TV die-hards were bummed when they saw this new layout, but in my experience a year on, it's been a fantastic upgrade.

This interface makes it substantially easier to discover shows to watch. The recommendations have been decent right off the bat, and I'm sure that'll only get better as time goes on. Not only can you add shows/movies to your watchlist, but you can also indicate once you have actually seen it and whether or not you liked or dislike it. It can all be a little overwhelming at first with three separate pages giving you ideas of what to watch (For You, Movies, and Shows), but it's markedly better than the half-baked app channels the regular Android TV interface has.

A quick note on Google TV vs. Android TV

Chromecast With Google TV

Source: Joe Maring / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Joe Maring / Android Central)

If you're a little confused about what Google TV is and how it differs from Android TV, here's a quick explainer. The core operating system of the Chromecast is still technically Android TV, based on Android 10, but Google's added the Google TV software experience on top of it. In other words, any apps that you used on Android TV will work just as you'd expect on Google TV. Google TV started out exclusive to the new Chromecast, but Google expanded the interface to third-party hardware over the course of 2021.

Furthermore, Google rebranded the current Google Play Movies & TV app to be called Google TV. It works mostly the same, showing you content you can buy from Google directly and stuff you can watch through third-party services. The only real change here is that it's getting a fresh coat of paint and is being marketed more heavily as a companion app to the Chromecast with Google TV.

Google TV interface

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

Once you do finally find something that you want to watch, clicking on the title shows you a small description, the Rotten Tomatoes score, auto-plays a trailer in the background, and surfaces the best way for you to watch it. Clicking on Solo: A Star Wars Story, for example, will make Disney+ the first way to watch it. If I select another title that's available on Netflix, Hulu, or something else, that'll be the service it shows on that first button.

Source: Android Central

Virtually all of the recommended shows you see on the For You page (except for the Trending on Google section) come from apps/services you've indicated you subscribe to. If you see something that's only available to rent or purchase, you'll see a small lock icon next to it and its rental price. Thankfully, Google's done a good job of integrating all of the major streaming apps into this Google TV experience. It began with about three dozen apps and has been steadily expanding over the last year, but it's still missing more niche services.

I've thoroughly enjoyed everything else about Google TV. I love that it's integrated throughout the entire interface instead of being a standalone app the way Apple handles its TV application, it's ten times easier to find new shows to watch, and adding a show to your watchlist from Google Search also adds it to your Google TV watchlist (which is fantastic). None of these features would matter if Google had a bunch of missing gaps with supported services, so having almost all major streaming apps integrated from day one brings us an actual completed product rather than a work-in-progress. Coming from Google, that's a big deal.

Chromecast with Google TV What could be improved

Chromecast With Google TV

Source: Joe Maring / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Joe Maring / Android Central)

Google just about knocked it out of the park with the Chromecast with Google TV, but even so, there are some minor revisions I'd like to see for the Gen 2 model.

While I like the general design and feel of the remote, not having dedicated fast forward, rewind, or play/pause buttons is annoying. I'd be more than willing to have a slightly longer or wider remote if it means getting that added functionality, and I hope it's something Google considers. It'd also be great to see things like backlit buttons and a lost remote feature, but considering the price of the Chromecast, it's understandable why some of those things didn't make the cut. You can use thrid-party Bluetooth remotes and game controllers — and if you use a controller, in many apps the triggers work as fast-forward and rewind.

The only big problem with the Chromecast with Google TV is the storage. Google had to keep costs down somehow, and that's likely why Google made the decision to only ship the Chromecast with 8GB of storage. You only get half of that for your apps and files, though, which means that you can fill it up quickly and not have any room left for new services or even for app updates. Of course, this is only a problem if you use a wide variety of streaming subscriptions, and most folks only pay for 3-6. If you are a streaming addict like me, you may want to look for a device like the NVIDIA Shield TV with more storage.

Stadia wasn't available at launch, but it was added this summer, just as the user profiles promised at launch were finally added in October 2021.

Chromecast with Google TV The competition

Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

The Chromecast with Google TV is an absolute joy to use, but before you make any purchasing decision, keep in mind that it's faced with a heap of fierce competition.

One of the most direct competitors is the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K, which delivers 4K HDR streaming with Dolby Vision/Atmos for the same $50 price. You also get an Alexa voice remote with volume controls for your television, and there's the same 8GB of storage for all of your apps. The main difference between the two is the software they run, with the Fire TV Stick putting a greater emphasis on Prime Video content above all else. It also supports Amazon Luna for game streaming, whereas the Chromecast will get Stadia support down the road.

Another option to consider is the TiVo Stream 4K. Similar to the Chromecast, it's an Android TV-powered device with 4K, HDR, Dolby Vision, and Dolby Atmos. It's running the regular version of Android TV, but it comes with the exclusive TiVo Stream app that's similar to Google TV in its ability to show personalized content from services you subscribe to. And, you guessed it, it only costs $49.

Finally, we have to mention the NVIDIA Shield TV 4K. This was previously the go-to Android TV recommendation before the new Chromecast came out, and there are still some things it does better than Google. Its remote is more functional, there's a microSD card slot for easily expanding your storage, and NVIDIA's 4K AI upscaling feature is surprisingly awesome. Its software interface is still the old Android TV, and while it's possible it'll get upgraded to Google TV in 2021, nothing has been confirmed quite yet. There's also the higher price tag to consider, with the $150 asking price likely being too much for some shoppers.

Chromecast with Google TV Should you buy it?

Chromecast With Google TV

Source: Joe Maring / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Joe Maring / Android Central)

You should buy this if ...

You want to stream content in 4K, HDR, and Dolby Vision

All of the three key components to high-quality streaming are present on the Chromecast with Google TV. It supports 4K at 60fps, HDR10 and HDR10+ are present, and there's Dolby Vision for shows that take advantage of the format. It also supports Dolby Atmos for dynamic audio with supported setups.

You want to simplify the way you use streaming apps

Most streaming devices have good user interfaces, but the new Google TV layout manages to stand out as something special. From curating all of your content into one place and personalizing recommendations the more you use it, it's something that's greatly appreciated in a world where new streaming apps are launching all the time.

You don't want to spend a lot of money

At just $50, the Chromecast with Google TV is an easy recommendation for just about any budget. Plus, at the rate Google frequently discounts its products, it shouldn't be uncommon to find it on sale for even less.

You should not buy this if ...

You want 4K upscaling

NVIDIA's 4K upscaling feature on the Shield TV really impressed us, making HD content look just as good as native 4K stuff. Unfortunately, that's not a feature you'll find on the Chromecast with Google TV.

You need more than 8GB of storage

Google gives you 8GB of built-in storage for apps/games, and while that should be enough for most folks, power-users may need more room. With no microSD card support, you won't be expanding storage on the new Chromecast any time soon.

You watch a lot of Apple TV+

The app selection for Android TV has gotten much better in recent years, but there are still some gaps here and there. Right now, the most notable absence is the Apple TV app. If you watch a lot of shows from Apple TV+, you'll want to consider getting something else.

4 out of 5

As interested as I am in other Google products like the