We have so many choices when it comes to our entertainment. We can watch YouTube on our phones, our TVs come with "smart apps" of varying ease and intelligence, and then there are set-top and streaming devices like Roku, Google Chromecast and Android TV. There's a lot of ways to consume your media, and a lot of tools for it, but the most popular one isn't your phone or your tablet ... it's your remote. That's right, for tens of millions of tech users who grew up with TV and old-school cable, the siren song of the remote is just too powerful, and it keeps pulling me back in.
Once upon a time in 2014, I was in love with my Chromecasts. Set-top boxes and smart TVs were out of my fresh-out-of-college budget, but at $35 — and still $35 today — the Chromecast was firmly in impulse buy territory, and it was a snap to install and use. Back in 2014, the list of apps that used it was still relatively small, but for the apps that weren't supported, I could simply cast from my trusty Chromebook. The experience wasn't flawless, as my subpar router would often drop a connection mid-episode and force me to restart my cast — or worse, restart my episode — but it was cheap, it was easy, and 90% of the time it worked.
This love affair carried on for two years, and in that time I took on my parents' old 42-inch "dumb" TV, happy that it worked with the Chromecast. I looked at the apps on this Vizio TV back home and cringed. It took close to a minute for Netflix or YouTube to open, and even with a QWERTY remote, it still took forever to find anything to watch. I could already be casting what I wanted to see while they were waiting for the app to load, so why wouldn't they just use the Chromecast plugged into the back of their TV? I didn't understand why they'd settle for a slower, clunkier UI using the boring old remote.
Then I got an NVIDIA Shield TV as a Christmas present in 2015, and my Chromecasting days ended the minute I opened the box.
My Shield TV came with a remote and a game controller, and that controller soon became my best friend. Even though the Shield TV comes with Chromecasting built in, I've used it maybe two dozen times, and all of those times have been for music. Even though it takes me longer to find what I want to watch using a remote, it just feels easier to use the remote rather than pulling up app after app on my phone looking for something to cast. The remote is convenient, especially if my phone is across the room or being used for other tasks, like gaming or taking screenshots for my articles.
Now, this isn't to say that the remote on the Shield TV is something special. As a matter of fact, the actual remote experience pales in comparison to using the controller, as the D-pads on the controller are the best tools for speedy scrolling and seeking, short of flicking up and down on a touchscreen. And I can't deny it, a touchscreen offers a far faster experience for finding content, but when watching that content, Chromecasting doesn't offer the kind of quick playback control that remote-enabled systems do. Yeah, you can pause using the remote, but if you want to rewind, even just 10 seconds to hear the joke that got covered up by a timer going off, you have to pull your phone back out to seek. As someone who is notorious for skipping around in the episodes and movies she watches, this meant that even if the remote takes longer to get my content, I'll be able to watch it more easily once my urge to skip a scene strikes.
There is a rumor of a new Android TV dongle coming at Google I/O, and I'm all for bringing a solid, more-affordable Android TV experience to more people, because as successful as the Chromecast is, it is always going to be fighting the siren song of the remote. What I'd like to see even more than a new Android TV dongle is an update to Chromecast that would enable it to recognize and accept more remote commands than play/pause, because the best of both world would be a Chromecast or Android TV that allows you to find what you want to watch and Cast it from a phone, then allow you easy remote controls for playback like rewind and fast forward.
Well, I can keep dreaming, and as I dream, I'm going to go scroll through YouTube for some more distractions.
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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.