Google's software woes are holding the Chromecast with Google TV back from greatness
I have been using the Chromecast with Google TV since October. I love so much about this product: it's a good size, the new UI has grown on me after my initial misgivings, and the remote is absolutely perfect in my hand. In fact, if I hadn't run out of internal storage two weeks ago, I'd say the Chromecast with Google TV was the perfect streaming experience for me, but that'd sound like a lie to the majority of Google TV users who have seen spotty compatibility and catastrophic software bugs since the device's initial smooth sailing last fall.
I'm going to preface my general lack of personally-experienced issues by saying that I've been using my Chromecast with Google TV with:
- a 1080p Sony TV, so no Dolby Atmos or Dolby Vision
- an Aukey USB-C Hub and Ethernet, so no Wi-Fi issues — I did this Day One just to cut down on buffering on VRV
- A 65W GaN Power Delivery Charger to properly power my setup
Using this setup allowed me to get an almost perfect Google TV experience on three different TVs in two different states — I brought it home to use on my mother's kitchen TV so everyone could get used to it before we set up the one I bought her for Christmas. Apart from needing to clear the cache in order to make room for a Prime Video app update, glitches have been infrequent and almost always app-based rather than impacting the core system.
The problem is that my experience seems to be the exception, not the norm.
BROOOOOOOOOOOO!!!! I got this error TWICE THIS WEEK on two different Chromecasts!!!BROOOOOOOOOOOO!!!! I got this error TWICE THIS WEEK on two different Chromecasts!!!— Florence "U4EA" Ion (@Ohthatflo) February 5, 2021February 5, 2021
Numerous users have had their Google TV randomly reboot into recovery mode, requiring them to either dig behind the TV and long-press the underbelly of the bottom of the dongle. That's just one of over a dozen commonly-occurring issues that have flooded /r/chromecast and Google's Chromecast support forum over the last few months, including but not limited to:
- Chromecast with Google TV not playing nice with 5Ghz Wi-Fi
- Issues adding the Chromecast with Google TV to speaker groups
- Apps stalling out or straight-up refusing to update — possibly due to storage problems, or possibly related to the fact that the Google TV just uses a weird built-in version of Google Play rather than a dedicated Google Play Store app like regular Android TV devices
- Spotty 5.1 support on top of a litany of spotty Dolby Atmos and Dolby Vision support issues that need an actual compatibility matrix to follow
Really, I could write three separate articles about how wonky the USB-C hub support is on the Chromecast with Google TV, too and all the cascading issues from that, but most of those problems boil down to the fact that Google cheaped out with USB 2.0 rather than USB 3.1 on the USB-C port here. Oh, and the Chromecast with Google TV only seems to accept FAT32 from most flash drives, which rules out playing high-def videos because of the 4GB file limit, so you'll want to invest in a NAS.
If this all seems like a lot of issues for a device that has entirely too many stable competitors in the same price range, you'd be absolutely right. The Chromecast with Google TV might still be hanging onto the top spot in Best Streaming Devices, but if Google can't get its act together soon, the Fire TV Stick 4K will probably steal its crown and its market share for all but the more die-hard Google fans.
Again, this little streamer was doing great in October, but the software experience has fallen apart in the months since, causing the hardware compromises Google made regarding the storage, RAM, and USB-C port to be more visible than ever. If you're using the Chromecast with Google TV with a 1080p TV and don't mind using 2.4Ghz Wi-Fi, you probably aren't seeing much of any issues, but the more advanced your TV and your network setup, the less likely you are to have a good time here.
Google's no stranger to launching half-baked ideas. Hell, when the original Chromecast launched, it only supported seven apps plus tab casting from your laptop. But we've come a long way since 2013, and Google's hardware division isn't some little startup; it's the hardware division of a multi-billion dollar business. Google needs these products to work so that we spend more time using its services and looking at its ads, so why has it allowed these problems to fester for months?
Google pushed out an update last week for the Chromecast with Google TV to improve the 4K60 experience, but it doesn't even begin to cover the spotty compatibility issues. The setup process for Google TV is still remarkably simple, and the UI is 90% sublime, but Google still needs to add back in a few things that were stripped away from the previous Android TV UI.
Considering that apps need to be force-stopped and closed far more frequently on the barebones hardware of the Chromecast with Google TV than the NVIDIA Shield, it boggles the mind that Google didn't keep the Overview menu where you could quickly hop between or close unneeded apps. Granted, the Chromecast with Google TV lacks the necessary RAM to run multiple apps at a time the way the Shield does. Still, the menu would at least offer a quicker method for closing apps than having to go into the settings menu and dig through each app individually.
If Google TV is going to roll out to existing Android TV devices this year, then Google needs to get it working perfectly on the Chromecast with Google TV first. After all, there's no reason to put a buggy, incomplete experience on anything that's currently functional, and Chromecast with Google TV owners deserve to have a stable experience after being sold on the easy, breezy, beautiful experience at launch.
What changes do you still need to see to the Google TV software? And what problems have you run into on your Chromecast with Google TV so far? Share them with us in the comments below.
Get the Android Central Newsletter
Instant access to breaking news, the hottest reviews, great deals and helpful tips.
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.