UPDATE: The Chromecast app is getting a name change, Google has announced. In order to better align the name of the app with its functionality, it can now be found on both the iOS App Store and Google Play Store under the name Google Cast. According to a blog post, the name was changed to better represent the openness of the platform.
Original review below:
The original Chromecast (2013), was a near-perfect companion device. Compact, reliable, easy to set up and super-cheap, it converted thousands to the benefit of connecting the internet to a big screen TV effortlessly.
It was (and still is) a near-perfect device. And yet somehow, the team at Google managed to find a way to improve it with the second-gen release.
The most obvious change is aesthetic. The previous Chromecast was a slightly chunky HDMI stick, that plugged into one of your TV's spare HDMI ports and was never seen again (unless you decided to take it with you travelling).
The new Chromecast is a shiny disc of wireless wonder, that comes complete with a longer (but not too long!) HDMI cable. This allows the streaming dongle to be plugged in to tight HDMI ports a lot easier.
If you do decide to unplug the new Chromecast for travel, that cable will also magnetically attach to the disc for easier transportation.
So, is the new Chromecast just a simple design upgrade, or is there more going on under the hood? We'll go into more detail below, but the answer is definitely the latter – Google has refined the Chromecast experience to make it faster and simpler than it already was, which is saying something.
In fact, I can comfortably say that this is the best streaming device on the market, and your home would benefit from its inclusion in your home theatre.
But before we get into the details of exactly why this device is worth every cent, let's look back at the story of how the original stole our hearts.
Chromecast: what is it?
The idea behind the Chromecast was to bring smart functionality to the series of "dumb" TVs that hit the market before smart TVs rose to popularity near the end of the last decade.
Like the original, the new Chromecast plugs directly into your TV's HDMI port (make sure it has one of those before you buy it) and streams video from your mobile phone, tablet or PC.
Here's the odd part: it doesn't have a remote or a user-interface per se. Google's little streamer will sit there like an electronic canine waiting for your other devices to tell it what to do.
But more impressive than any individual external detail or snippet of code is its price. The new Chromecast only costs $59, almost half the price of the Telstra TV. At roughly the cost of two Blu-rays, it's tough to turn down.
Chromecast vs. the competition
The Chromecast's calling card is the ability to sync with your mobile phone, tablet and PC. Few devices work as seamlessly with your electronics as Chromecast does, and any that do require you to be bought into a particular family of products.
Internationally, Chromecast is up against devices like the Amazon Fire Stick and Roku Streaming stick in a direct battle for streaming dongle supremacy. But here in Australia the market is a little tighter, and the competition comes more in the form of streaming boxes like the Telstra TV and new Apple TV.
Chromecast vs Telstra TV: At just under half the price of Telstra's streaming box, the Chromecast is definitely a more affordable option. Telstra TV's major strength is its partnership with all of the Australian streaming and catch-up TV services, including Netflix, Stan and Presto.
Chromecast happily competes, with those streaming apps all offering Chromecast support. On the catchup front, ABC iview offers Chromecast streaming, but the likes of Tenplay and SBS On Demand are yet to join the party.
So if you like your streaming to come with plenty of catchup, Telstra is still the place to go. Everyone else should definitely consider the Chromecast.
Chromecast vs. the new Apple TV: Apple TV favours its own ecosystem, at least in terms of hardware. On the software side of things, Apple opened up its app store to every developer for the first time in the history of its home entertainment device, making it a bit more well-rounded than the Chromecast. It also includes a new remote and an 802.11ac antenna, identical to the one found in the new Chromecast. That said, Apple TV costs a whopping $269 (for the 32GB version).