The Chromecast is a nifty little device from team Google that lets you wirelessly cast your smartphone, tablet or laptop's screen to your monitor or TV. You simply connect the HDMI dongle to your TV and pair it with your portable device via a Wi-Fi connection. It's been around for a while, and has seen some big improvements in the meantime. Read our updated Chromecast review to see what's changed about Google's clever little streaming stick.
- ✓Very cheap
- ✓Reliable streaming
- ✓Easy to setup and use
- ✓Lots of potential
- ✕Can be laggy/stuttery
- ✕Some use case limitations
- ✕No dedicated interface
Google Chromecast release date and price
The Chromecast was first released back in July 2013, and was essentially the same device back then as the one you can still buy today.
The Chromecast price is pretty much unchanged as well. The TV dongle initially cost $35 in the US and £30 in the UK, and that price tag remains today. The Chromecast sometimes drops by $5 or £5 in price, but its price essentially remains stable.
Google Chromecast design and build quality
The unit itself looks like a traditional Wi-Fi dongle and is small, compact and utilitarian - just what it needs to be. In the box you'll get the Chromecast itself, a USB charger and a female-to-male HDMI adapter which serves as an extension cord if there isn't enough room on your TV to fit the Chromecast alongside other attached cables.
Installation and Use
Installation is a breeze. You simply download the Chromecast app to your smartphone or tablet and plug it into your TV's HDMI port. Launch the app on your laptop, phone, tablet or PC, and it will locate the Chromecast via your Wi-Fi network. Once you've set it up, you can browse the available Chromecast apps in the Play Store, check out your connected devices, cast your screen, learn more about the Chromecast or enter the settings menu.
When you cast your screen through the app your screen content will be mirrored on your television, but if you cast through one of the apps then you'll get a Chromecast interface for that app instead. Casting via the apps themselves rather than by simply casting your screen content actually means your device is then removed from the mix and the connection is made directly from the Chromecast to your Wi-Fi connection instead of being routed through your device as a middle man.
Google Chromecast software
When the Chromecast was first released, there wasn't a persistent Chromecast interface when the device was connected. This meant that it lacked a bit of polish with its presentation. Many updates later, and things have changed quite a bit, as the channel on which the Chromecast is plugged in now has a dedicated background, which you can add your own slideshow of pictures to.
The option to 'Cast Screen' has also now been added to the Chromecast Android app, and works on the vast majority of devices. This is great if you want to share a video or a bunch of pictures you took with friends on the big screen.
Apps for various streaming services such as Netflix, HBO Go, Amazon Instant Video, BBC iPlayer and many more are available now, but bear in mind that these services remain region-specific. So HBO Go will only be available to US viewers, while BBC iPlayer is only available in the UK.
There are some great, inventive little games available for the Chromecast now too. Check out our list of the best Chromecast apps for all our favorites, but we can say off the bat that Big Web Quiz is a must-play. It's a colorful trivia quiz game where each player uses their own device to guess answers to questions generated by the Google Knowledge Graph.
The Chromecast's $30 price tag puts it well below Apple TV or Roku, and the ever-increasing number of apps available for its value for money better and better. Sure, the latter options are still more feature-packed and have their own interfaces, but the Chromecast thrives on its own simplicity.
Google Chromecast performance
Speed is another issue. Obviously there's a bit of lag in the transmission from your device content to the Chromecast, depending on the speed of your Wi-Fi connection and the amount of traffic on it, but I found the lag to be entirely acceptable. There are occasional stutters, but the performance of the Chromecast has improved a great deal since its initial release.
If you have a spotty or heavily-trafficked Wi-Fi connection you might not be as happy with the smoothness you see: adding an extra layer of streaming to the viewing experience is going to come with certain drawbacks. All things considered though and on a good connection, the Chromecast is a speedy little gadget that does exactly what you expect it to and could become indispensable if you have friends over that want to share photos, music videos, movies or other media content.
I found the installation process and use of the Chromecast to be really good. It was easy to set up, reliable and worked as advertized. It's definitely something that could work its way into my everyday Android usage and become a default replacement to always pulling my laptop out when media content is involved. The experience is intuitive, and many of the issues - such as a lack of content, interface, and connectivity issues - have been ironed out.
At such a low price tag you really can't go wrong with the Chromecast and as a gift I doubt anyone would be disappointed with the available features. If you are already subscribed to Google Play Music All Access, Netflix, Pandora or other streaming services, then you'd be crazy not to add this great little tool to your entertainment kit. Like a fine wine, or Android itself, the Chromecast has improved with time, and matured to be a much better device than when we first got our hands on it.
Has our Chromecast review helped you decide whether you'll be getting Google's clever little streaming stick? Let us know in the comments.