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Chromecast review

Chromecast review
Chromecast review
Chromecast review
Chromecast review

Update: Chromecast now has a respectable amount of apps, so we've updated our review text to reflect that and give you our impressions of the major app releases and its open SDK future.

Good things come in small packages, or at least that's the hope Google has for Chromecast. This inexpensive media streaming adapter turns any HDMI-equipped television into an app-driven smart TV, making it a seed that could grow into the company's answer to the Apple TV, Roku 3 and other rival streaming devices.

But it's an answer that's very much a work in progress even now, more than six months after it launched in the US.

That's because while the Android inventor has released its streaming adapter at an attractive price of $35 (about AU$39), the number of apps it supports is growing but still fairly limited compared to the Apple TV.

It has, however, now launched in the UK with a price of £30 - and you can check our our Chromecast UK - first look.

Chromecast HDMI media streaming device
Out of the box

In the US, the Chromecast app list is now up to 23 including top apps like Netflix, YouTube, Hulu Plus, Pandora and HBO Go. It's is by far the cheapest way to beam these video and music services to a TV, although initiating the stream requires an Android or iOS device, or Google's Chrome browser on a PC, Mac or Chrome OS computer.

You won't find a Chromecast remote in the box or a main menu tying all of the apps together like on an Apple TV or Roku 3. All streams originate from a special "Cast" button that's built into each correlating mobile app or browser. This means Windows Phone 8 users, who don't have many options among app-filled streaming technology, won't find compatibility here either.

HBO Go Chromecast app
The Nexus 7 turned into a glorified Game of Thrones remote when Casting

Also missing that all-important "Cast" button at the moment are key apps: Amazon Instant Video, Spotify, Crackle and dedicated sports apps of any kind. That's a problem because Amazon occasionally has discounted movie rentals, Spotify is hands-down better than Pandora and Crackle has Jerry Seinfeld's "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee" episodes that everyone has suddenly discovered after three seasons. When it comes to MLB.TV, NBA, NHL GameCenter and Watch ESPN, it's the perpetual off-season on Chromecast.

Chromecast sports apps
It's the width of a baseball, but can't play any sports

But while Chromecast lacks a handful of name-brand Android and iOS apps, it has serious potential to it thanks to garage-based developers who are hacking away at the new Google Cast SDK. AllCast, by the one-man "team" Clockwork Mod, is the best example of a homegrown app as it rivals Apple's AirPlay technology. It enables Android phone and tablet owners to push movies and photos from their device to the big screen, just when you thought your dad's Family Photo Night was canceled due to that broken 1980s slide projector.

AllCast app
Photo beamed to a TV. AllCast's one dev beat an entire Google team

Media Browser is an app that streams similar content from any computer in the house, giving the Chromecast home theater PC (HTPC) granting capabilities. Its a power sorely missing from PS4 at the moment, and Google provides a cheap and quick fix for those waiting on Sony's patch.

The new apps worth a free download are BeyondPod and Revision3, both of which launched alongside the Google Cast SDK. BeyondPod offers aggregated podcast content while Revision3 adds its own blend of video content. The rest aren't very noteworthy or are extremely buggy.

Chromecast apps list
Some of the 23 apps available for Chromecast

That really contrasts Apple TV, which hasn't opened an app store beyond its pre-installed apps. Roku has its Roku SDK, but it's easier for many developers to make their apps compatible with the Android-based Chromecast. It requires a little bit of retooling rather than learning an entirely new ecosystem, as is the case with the Roku. Android is Google's secret weapon here.

As it stands, Chromecast is Google's third attempt to take over living room televisions and it's on the verge of overcoming the problems of its predecessors. But it's still unproven. Previously, the company launched the odd-shaped Nexus Q, which also faced an uphill battle for app support.

Google TV and its recently rebranded Android TV successor have had their own share of streaming problems. There are more apps for the Honeycomb and Jelly Bean-based platforms, but the hardware has always been more expensive, requiring a "buddy box" or a whole new television to take advantage of the apps.

Chromecast works with Android and iOS
Goes well with the new Nexus 7 tablet, and even works with iOS devices

Chromecast certainly fixes the out-of-reach hardware issue by selling for a rock-bottom price, and it's a million times easier to implement. If you can plug an HDMI cable into a television, you can use Chromecast. That's all it takes.

The good news for Google and everyone who buys into Chromecast right now is that while it still lacks a plethora of apps, it's the same exact problem that Apple TV and similarly-styled streaming boxes have faced for years. Content providers have been slow to get on board. In a few months time, Chromecast's lineup of apps is likely to be no better and no worse than its rivals.

Chromecast tab extension
Extend to the web to your living room

Chromecast certainly fixes the out-of-reach hardware issue by selling for a rock-bottom price, and it's a million times easier to implement. If you can plug an HDMI cable into a television, you can use Chromecast. That's all it takes.

The good news for Google and everyone who buys into Chromecast right now is that while it still has less than two dozen apps, it's the same exact problem that Apple TV and similarly-styled streaming boxes have faced for years. Content providers have been slow to get on board. That appears to be changing with the groundswell of garage based developers gaining access to the SDK. It's only a matter of time.

Chromecast is looking less and less like an experiment by Google, which is reportedly attempting to make deals with media companies for broader TV plans. It has tried and failed in the past, but as they say, third time's a charm.

It's such an inexpensive experiment, however, that the few tricks that Google has packed into the tiny Chromecast may make it worth picking up and plugging into your TV, depending on your media streaming needs.