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Ideally, every set-top box would have access to every streaming service, game library (both iOS and Android) and music collection. Sadly, this is not a perfect world.
Google, however, made the best of the situation with the Nexus Player. It gets full marks for its simplistic, it'll-fit-anywhere design and sharp-looking interface. It does a decent job of putting the right specs in while keeping cost down and making a complementary platform for Android 5.0 Lollipop. But, unfortunately, it takes a huge loss when it comes to streaming services like HBO Go and Amazon Instant Video, which are completely absent on the device.
The Nexus Player is the first device in what is sure to be a successful line of Android TVs. The OS is smart, functional and fast, even on lower-end hardware. Its interface, full of curated and recommended content, feels like a tailor-made system. Plus, when you run out of content to watch, or feel the urge to stream from a laptop or tablet, pushing the Google Cast button brings whatever content you were viewing on your mobile device to the big screen.
If you're buying it as a gift for someone less technologically oriented than you, make sure you let them know about the search feature located on the remote. It not only saves a serious amount of time zipping from one tile to the next on your own, it's a pretty neat party trick as well. Everything on the remote feels necessary and works cohesively to make an overall painless viewing experience. The same can be said of the controller, though, at $40 it's not cheap enough to warrant an immediate purchase.
While the design is aesthetically pleasing, it's not the most functional. For example, why on a system that desperately needs a consistent connection to the internet, would you not have an ethernet port? It is, without a doubt, a major faux-pas. And, while it's not directly Google's fault, the inability to display content from HBO Go and Amazon Instant Video starves the system's already barebone streaming options.
Picking a single, trite idiom, the Nexus Player's biggest problem is "too little, too late." It's the last horse to show up for the set-top box derby and it came in with the least amount of content. Now, that's something that could change quickly if Google chooses to invest the time and money to get the platform off the ground but, if I had to bet, I'd wager that it won't be a problem the Mountain View company will fix until the next iteration of Android TV.
At $99, the price is right. The Player packs enough firepower to give the Roku 3 a run for its money, despite not matching it channel-for-channel. Its biggest competitor, ironically, is its little brother, Chromecast. Buying the streaming stick instead of the full-size Player not only saves you $50, but you also get more content. Sure, you lose out on the ability to play games, but until the roster of games improves in both quality and quantity that's not a major loss.
Given the state of the Nexus Player, it's clear that Android TV is still in its infancy. It has the ideas to finally bridge the gap between set-top boxes and Android OS but, until it fully fleshes them out, it remains a supplemental component rather than a home-theater essential.
Nick Pino is Managing Editor, TV and AV for TechRadar's sister site, Tom's Guide. Previously, he was the Senior Editor of Home Entertainment at TechRadar, covering TVs, headphones, speakers, video games, VR and streaming devices. He's also written for GamesRadar+, Official Xbox Magazine, PC Gamer and other outlets over the last decade, and he has a degree in computer science he's not using if anyone wants it.