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Our Verdict

The Nexus Player has a sleek, low-key style and good, quality content. It's too bad that there's just not enough of it.

For

  • Icon-heavy, Intuitive interface
  • Google Cast screen-sharing
  • Remote with built-in mic
  • Gaming controller

Against

  • No ethernet port
  • Only 16 entertainment channels
  • No Amazon Prime or HBO Go
  • Weak game choice

They say lightning can't strike twice. That two products from the same family, one right after the other, can't both be fantastic, must-own devices.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the £80 Nexus Player - an Asus-made follow-up to the fantastic £30 Chromecast - they were right. Lightning missed its mark.

The Nexus Player, the first device to run Android TV, has nice ideas: a fairly decent UI, great screen-sharing capabilities, an announced 8GB of storage, a microphone-enabled remote (and even an optional gaming controller). But for everything the system does right, something else is slightly amiss.

Nexus Player review

At its core, the device wants to be your go-to streaming video and low-end gaming console. And it wants to do this for under £80 - right around the cost of a Roku 3 or Amazon Fire TV. It'll harness technology from Google to give you recommendations by pulling from your recently watched YouTube videos and your preferences on Netflix.

Press the voice search button on the remote, ask anything related to film or television, and it'll pull up videos related to your query. Ask "who was in Wanted?" and the Nexus Player will spit out names like Angelina Jolie, James McAvoy and Morgan Freeman. Click their names and you'll see every major movie the actors have starred in. Click the icon for the movie and you'll get a list of applications where the movie is available; although you quickly plough into the relatively limited options.

Now, you may have just thought to yourself "where's Amazon Instant Video? Where's iPlayer?" Bad news: they're not here. And while maybe they'll show up down the road, I wouldn't hold my breath they'll arrive soon.

The US version was criticised for a distinct lack of video and music streaming apps, and the UK version is even more limited by the loss of the likes of Hulu. Netflix is present and correct, but there's no Spotify, no BBC iPlayer and certainly no Amazon Instant Video. There's YouTube and a few random TV 'channels' but it's not going to blow your mind.

You could argue that the ability to 'cast' your browser window to the Nexus Player (as you can on the £35 Chromecast) removes the need for some of these apps, but it certainly isn't the most ideal of user experiences.

But streaming apps are only one-half of the coin. The other half is gaming.

Nexus Player review

Throw open the Google Play Store and you'll find three categories of curated games: TV Remote Games, Casual for Gamepad and Action for Gamepad. You won't find the Google Play Store's extensive library of games here, but because connecting your phone isn't a perfect process yet maybe that's for the best. The gamepad Google is referring to here is the £35 Asus Bluetooth controller that's sold separately from the Nexus Player - but more on that later.

Each category has about 10 to 15 games that range in difficulty and price. The TV Remote Games are what you'd find on your smartphone. They're ephemeral experiences that more often than not ask you to spend virtual currency to get ahead. Most require the circular pad on the remote to move left, right, up and down, and the button in the center to control the action. There are a few gems in this category like Sky Force 2014 TV and Going Going Gone: HR Classic, but it's all stuff we've seen before on iOS 8 and Android.

The two other categories, Casual and Action, are the Player's bread and butter. You'll find everything from old-school classics like Pac-Man, Final Fantasy III and King of Fighters to some newer titles like The Walking Dead Seasons 1 and 2, SoulCalibur, Modern Combat 4 and The Wolf Among Us. I don't foresee the Nexus Player overtaking console mainstays like the PS4 and Xbox One, but it has enough power to run last-gen-quality titles on its hardware without severe slowdown.

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