Google Chromecast 2020 Review: Not For Everyone

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When the first Google Chromecast was released, back in 2013, it was like the little streamer that could. It turned every TV into a ‘Smart TV’, with decent streaming capabilities coming straight from your phone. But all these years later, is the 3rd generation Google Chromecast still such a wonder?

With Full HD (1080p), fast performance and excellent WiFi connectivity, as well as wide support from most of the major UK streaming services, the Chromecast is a major contender alongside the Amazon Fire TV devices and the Roku streamers – but it has its downsides.

In this review, I’ll take a look at what the Chromecast can do, what it can’t do – and whether it’s worth your money.

Google Chromecast 3rd generation

Quick Look – Google Chromecast (3rd Gen)

Who is it for:  Tech-savvy cord cutters looking for an affordable, portable and widely supported streaming device.

Features

⭐⭐⭐⭐

Interface & Usage

⭐⭐⭐

Value for Money

⭐⭐⭐⭐

Overall Rating: 80%

Pros

  • Supports most of the major UK streaming services
  • Full HD (1080p) Streaming
  • Fast performance and excellent 802.11ac WiFi connectivity
  • Stream anything from (almost) anywhere

Cons

  • No physical remote
  • No 4K / HDR
  • No Apple TV support

Features and Specs

  • Size:  51.9 x 51.9 x 13.8 mm, 40g
  • Video Quality: Full HD (1080p)
  • Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
  • Storage: None
  • Supported Apps (Via phone/computer): Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, NOW TV, Google Play, BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4, Demand 5, YouTube, BritBox, Games and many others
  • Connections: HDMI, MiniUSB (for Power)
  • Extra Features: Can be voice-controlled via Google Home.

Summary

A very versatile streaming device with wide-range support for a lot of apps, and the ability to stream from a multitude of devices. But the lack of a remote control and an on-screen interface, make it harder to use.


What Is The Google Chromecast?

Streaming devices come in many shapes and sizes – from set-top boxes, to sticks, to… a hockey puck? Yes, Google’s streamer looks like a small, round disc, with a short HDMI cable attached (and a mini-USB port, for power).

The small size means it’s quite portable, and you can take it with you when you go on holiday, to use in a hotel room, for example.

Google Chromecast (3rd generation) in hand

Unlike most of its competitors, Google’s Chromecast doesn’t have a remote – or any sort of on-screen user interface, for that matter. Instead, it relies on 3rd party streaming apps (like Netflix, BBC iPlayer, etc’) that live on your phone or your computer.

When you want to watch something, you need to run the appropriate app on your other device – and then, with a special button, “cast” it to the Chromecast that’s connected to your TV via the HDMI port.

When you want to pause the show, select another title, or anything else – you need to do it via the app on your phone/computer, and not directly on the TV (though there are workarounds for that – more on that later).

The 3rd Generation Chromecast supports video up to Full HD (1080p). There’s a more expensive version, the Chromecast Ultra, that supports 4K.

To sum it up, Google’s Chromecast is more of a bare-bones streamer. No new interfaces to learn, no remotes to lose, and it works via the apps “you already know” from your phone. Is that a good thing? Let’s take a deeper look.

Google Chromecast - what's in the box

Setting Up The Google Chromecast

When you open the small Google Chromecast box, you’ll notice there isn’t much there. The Chromecast itself (with its built-in HDMI cable), a mini-USB cable, and a USB power adapter.

There’s no Ethernet port – as WiFi is the only way to directly connect the Chromecast to the internet. If you do want to use an Ethernet connection, you’ll need to buy a Chromecast Ethernet Adapter.

Connecting the Chromecast to your TV’s HDMI port is easy, thanks to its shape. Some streaming sticks are so big, it’s hard to fit them into your TV’s HDMI port, and some might need an extension cable.

The Chromecast doesn’t suffer from that issue, as it already has a cable – so the “disc” can just dangle behind the TV. It might not be the prettiest sight, but who’s going to look behind your TV? (Other than Aunt Hilda, perhaps, when she’s looking for dust).

You also need to connect the Chromecast to a power source – hence the mini-USB cable. If your TV set has a powered USB port, you can connect the Chromecast directly to that, and it’ll get its power from the TV. (That, however, means the Chromecast will turn off and restart every time you turn your TV’s power off and on).

Another option is to connect the Chromecast directly to the power outlet in the wall – so that’s what the USB power adapter is for (it’s similar to what you use to charge your phone).

Once everything’s connected, and you turn on your TV, you get a message asking you to install the Google Home app on your phone (it’s available for both iOS and Android).

It’s important to note that you MUST have a smartphone or tablet for this step – you can’t set up the Chromecast on a PC. Plus, you need a Google account – so if you didn’t have one until now, you’ll have to create one.

The Google Home app is used to set up and manage your Chromecast device (and any other Google Home devices you might have), and connect it to your home’s WiFi network.

The app will then update the Chromecast’s software (if necessary), and you’ll also use it to tell Google what room the Chromecast is in – and name it – so you can choose the right device when you cast content to it.

And that’s it – the Chromecast is ready to go.

Using The Google Chromecast

Once everything’s installed, you’re likely to want to stream something. That’s where users of other streaming devices (or Smart TVs) might get confused – where are the apps?

Well, the Chromecast doesn’t have its own built-in apps. Instead, it uses the apps on your phone (or tablet, or PC) – and you need to find those apps yourself.

So let’s say you want to watch BBC iPlayer. First, you need to install its app on your phone. Then, once you pick a programme to watch (again, via your phone), you need to tap the “Cast” icon, and choose the Chromecast (with the name you gave it when you set it up) –

Cast content to Chromecast from BBC iPlayer app

Once you choose to Cast the content, and assuming your TV is on, the Chromecast will spring to life – and in a few seconds, the programme you chose will start streaming on your TV.

Want to pause? You need to do it on your phone. Want to choose a different BBC iPlayer programme? Again, you need to do it on your phone – and the results will stream to your TV.

Interestingly, the Chromecast doesn’t actually stream the content FROM your phone. It just gets the ‘command’ from there – and then streams it directly from the source. Which means, for example, that once you select something to cast and watch on your phone – you can actually turn your phone off, and the stream on your Chromecast will keep going.

Want to switch to Netflix? Again, you need to run the Netflix app on your phone (or tablet), and use it to select programmes and cast them to your Chromecast.

Finding apps that support Chromecast is a bit of a guessing game – but in reality, most of the major (and minor) streaming apps already support it, so you shouldn’t have too many problems on that front. And Google also maintains a partial list of Chromecast-enabled apps.

Plus, you can take a look at our very own list of recommended Chromecast apps. But basically, all you need is to look for the ‘Cast’ icon in an app – and you’re set.

In fact, the Chromecast is probably the winner in the number of apps and streaming services it supports, beating the Fire TV and Roku. From Netflix to Amazon Prime Video, NOW TV and even BritBox – Apple TV is the only major service missing – for now.

Britbox casting on Google Chromecast

Casting A Chrome Tab From Your PC

Another nifty Chromecast feature, is the ability to cast anything from your PC’s screen – to your TV.

It’s done via Google’s Chrome browser – so you need to have that on your Desktop/Laptop.

If your Chromecast and PC are connected to the same WiFi network, you’ll see a ‘Cast’ button on your browser. You can use it to cast any streaming video from the browser to your TV, cast images and video files from your computer, and even ‘mirror’ the entire screen.

This can be used as a workaround to cast videos from sources that don’t have a Chromecast-enabled app. It’s not always a perfect solution – when you cast your browser’s screen, the Chromecast literally mirror what’s on your computer’s screen, so it’s not as fast and swift as directly-streaming something from a source like Netflix.

One thing you can’t use on the Google Chromecast, unfortunately, is a VPN. Even using one on your phone or PC is problematic, because that will block your device and Chromecast from talking to each other. So if a VPN is important to you, you might want to look elsewhere.

Using Your TV’s Remote To Control The Chromecast

As I repeatedly mentioned, the Chromecast doesn’t have a physical remote. However… there’s a bit of a workaround for that.

Google’s Chromecast supports the HDMI-CEC standard – and your TV does too, most likely. This feature allows devices connected to your TV’s HDMI port to talk and ‘control’ some of the TV’s settings (and vice versa).

Unfortunately, many TV’s disable this feature by default – so you’ll need to dig into your TV and turn it on. (You can find more help on turning CEC on here).

Once that’s on, and assuming you have a Smart TV remote (so it has play/pause buttons, etc’), you can use the TV’s remote for some basic Chromecast commands – while you’re streaming something.

So, let’s say you’re streaming a Netflix movie – you can Pause it with your TV’s remote, start playing again, or go back to the main Netflix menu. On some apps, you can even move around the app with the remote and choose new programmes to watch – but that doesn’t work with every app.

This won’t be like using a full-featured remote, because the Chromecast isn’t really designed for that – but it’s helpful to be able to at least Pause or Stop without fumbling for your phone.

HDMI-CEC also enables another way to control your TV – and your Chromecast – with a Google Home voice-activated device. So you can say things like “Hey Google, Rewind 5 minutes”, and that will be executed on your TV.

Is The Google Chromecast Easy To Use?

Using a streaming device without a physical remote is… unique. The fact that the Chromecast doesn’t have its own user interface, or a “hub” for its apps, also makes it different from its competitors.

Whether you like this flexibility or not, is a matter of taste. In my view, it makes thing cumbersome to do. Call me old-fashioned, but I like having the ‘full experience’ on my TV – picking titles to watch, flipping between episodes, etc’.

It’s also easier to find compatible apps, when you have something like the Roku Channels Store and the Amazon Fire TV app store, right there on your screen. With the Chromecast, you need to fish for apps on your own.

That being said, if you’re used to doing everything on your phone anyway, you might like the idea that controlling your streaming device is also right there on your phone – and some might even find it easier to use.

The Bottom Line: Is The Chromecast For Me?

The Chromecast is a bit of an odd beast. It performs great, it outputs very good picture and sound quality, and it supports almost every streaming service out there.

Plus, the fact that you can stream anything from a PC screen, makes the Chromecast more flexible than any other streaming device. Amazon tried to implement their own ‘Casting’ standard – but no one picked it up, really.

However, the fact that it doesn’t have a remote or a user interface, makes it harder to use, in my view.

Teenagers who are used to watching stuff on their phones all day, will keep watching on their phone anyway. But people who are still used to watching TV on their – well – TV, are also still used to choosing and controlling everything on their TV screen – and the Chromecast might prove to be a bit confusing and cumbersome to use.

On the plus side, for what it can do, the Chromecast is quite cheap – so it’s mainly a matter of whether you’re willing to live with its downsides.

You can find Google’s Chromecast on Amazon, Currys, Argos and some high-street stores.

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