The Chromecast is arguably one of the most revolutionary products Google has ever released. It completely changed the way we move content around our screens and helped pave the way for the streaming revolution.
Google hasn’t really changed the Chromecast much since its inception. It changed the shape a couple of times and gave it a 4K version, but by and large, the experience didn’t fundamentally shift. In that time, a lot of Google’s competitors have started to catch up. Amazon, Roku, Apple, and other companies have built streaming devices of their own, directly competing with Google’s Chromecast, while far surpassing it in interface and features.
But now, Google is realizing it needs to compete in the modern streaming race. While the Chromecast is great for, well, casting, users are flocking to full-fledged TV experiences that help you find what to watch. After years of offering an OS that does just that but never really caught on, Google is finally re-entering the streaming wars in a big way with Chromecast with Google TV — a media player that delivers the best of Chromecast and the best of Android TV in a distinctly Google way.
This is Android Authority‘s Chromecast with Google TV review.
Update, October 2021: This review has been updated to address the addition of multiple profile support and idle TV options.
What is the Chromecast with Google TV?
The Chromecast with Google TV is still a Chromecast. You can still send things like movies, YouTube videos, and music directly to your TV from your phone or computer, just by having the Chromecast dongle plugged in. But casting has shifted from something that required a standalone product to a feature of many of Google’s devices. Google already offered a bonafide content streaming experience in the form of Android TV, but with no dedicated hardware of its own, it barely existed in the market.
To solve this problem, Google has fundamentally changed what the Chromecast is. Instead of simply being a target for content to be cast to, Google has loaded up the Chromecast with Android TV, giving it both casting capabilities, as well as a full-fledged media streaming interface. And to make Android TV better and more accessible, Google developed a dedicated UX for it, which it calls Google TV.
Google TV gives you access to all your favorite platforms in one place. There’s Netflix, YouTube, Disney Plus, Sling TV, even Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video. Google also added support for Apple TV Plus in February 2021.
Again, this is built on the Android TV platform, so if an app existed for Android TV before, it will be available on the Google TV interface. In a way, Android TV is like stock Android, and Google TV is Pixel UI. It’s a skin on top of a platform.
Because of this, you’re able to think of Google TV as an aggregator of all streamable content. There’s a “For you” section that displays movies, TV shows, and even YouTube videos that Google thinks you’ll like, and Google TV will display where you can watch that content. The Movies and Shows tabs will break these subcategories down even further, and you can launch individual apps through the Apps tab if you want to.
The apps tab is a big deal because at the end of the day, they’re Android apps. Sure, these are apps that have been optimized for Android TV, but the Play Store on Android TV is quite built out. Google TV might be a new interface, but with Android TV as the backbone, you’ll have access to all the apps that were already built for the platform. Plus, if you’re savvy enough, you could theoretically sideload whatever Android apps you like. You’ve got some wiggle room to do this as the device itself has 8GB of internal storage to fill with apps and games.
Google TV is almost like its own streaming service since it breaks things up into subsections like “Comedies,” “Oscar-winning movies,” or “Movies about aliens.” The interface feels similar to something like Netflix, but the fact that it shows you content from all the most popular streaming services is great. It’s about time we had a good content aggregator. To take the personalization a step further, Google also added a Content Preferences option in the Settings menu in an update. This feature gives you a bunch of content suggestions which you can swipe left to give a thumbs down or right to give a thumbs up. This clearly Tinder-inspired option gives Google an idea of what type of content to suggest in the future. It’s pretty neat.
Elsewhere, if you have YouTube TV, there is also a Live tab in the main menu, which shows you what’s playing on YouTube TV now. You can jump in to get a channel guide or pick something from the list.
It's about time we had a good content aggregator for streaming services.
Overall, I am really digging the new Google TV interface. You can find pretty much any show, movie, or YouTube video super simply using Google Assistant for voice search, and being able to control your smart home with the Google Assistant is just icing on the cake. I’ve had plenty of nights in where I’m watching a movie with my roommates, and when someone has a question we can quickly ask the Google Assistant. It’s a full Assistant experience built into your media center.
Google itself must also be pleased with the interface because Android TV is getting a Google TV-inspired makeover. This will bring the Discover feed to all compatible Android TV devices, however, there are still some Chromecast with Google TV exclusive features, such as the ability to add content to a watchlist. The message is that if you want the best media streaming experience from Google, you need the Chromecast with Google TV.
Google TV will also now be an app on mobile. Google is changing the Google Play Movies and TV app into the Google TV app via a software update. You can use this app to pick things to start playing directly on your TV or watch them on your smartphone.
When the Chromecast with Google TV first launched, we called the inability to have more than one user profile its weakest feature. It took months of waiting, and multiple reassurances from Google, but the fix has finally arrived. You can now build profiles for each member of your family, complete with recommendations tailored to your watching habits.
There is also support for a kids’ space so youngsters can watch their own shows and movies without impacting recommendations for older viewers. The feature can also interact with Family Link. This rolled out in March in the US.
New hardware and a remote
The new Chromecast with Google TV looks quite a bit different than other Chromecasts. It’s slimmer and longer, and now uses a USB-C port for power instead of the outdated micro-USB it used to use. It also comes in three distinct colors: Snow, Sunrise, and Sky.
See also: The 10 best Google products you can buy
Alongside the new dongle, Google has finally added the aforementioned remote to the Chromecast experience. The remote is fairly simple, but it can be used to control your entire TV experience since the Chromecast itself supports the more sophisticated HDMI-CEC. There’s a power button, an input button, and volume rockers so you can effectively replace the remote that comes with your TV. Unfortunately, the extra controls don’t seem to work on every TV, so some users will have to use their regular remote or phone for things like volume.
The remote is a pleasure to use.
You’ve also got a home button, mute button, Google Assistant button, and dedicated buttons for YouTube and Netflix. The Netflix button can’t be remapped, but since there are so many YouTube services now, you can remap the YouTube button to launch whichever YouTube service you choose. There’s also a small microphone for when you want to talk to the Google Assistant.
The remote is powered by two batteries, which funnily enough, come in the same color as the remote itself. I would have liked to see a chargeable remote since batteries have become expensive and cumbersome, but this is all fairly common for streaming devices.
I’m not a huge fan of hardware that has dedicated buttons for streaming services. I think it looks tacky. YouTube makes sense since it’s Google’s own product, but Netflix seems strange since there are so many streaming options now. Still, it is arguably the most popular of all the streaming platforms, and a partnership is a partnership.
I think adding a remote to the Chromecast experience was a great call. Plenty of people I’ve talked to love the Amazon Fire TV Stick primarily because of the remote you get with it. Especially for Google TV, which is used as a content streaming aggregator, having a remote is crucial. It helps that this remote is a pleasure to use. It’s small enough that it doesn’t feel like an eyesore and its aesthetic fits in perfectly with the rest of Google’s hardware stack. The only downside I’ve found with the remote is that it is quite slippery, so you’ll need to keep a tight grip to make sure it doesn’t go flying out of your hands.
Google has fundamentally changed what the Chromecast is.
The new Chromecast can display content at up to 4K resolution and supports HDR10, HDR10+, and Dolby Vision. It also supports various audio formats like Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, and Dolby Atmos.
Unfortunately, the Chromecast with Google TV doesn’t support Google Stadia. Google says it is looking to add support, but that promise came at launch and there haven’t been any updates so far. That being said Stadia works just fine if you sideload the app. Still, this seems like a pretty glaring omission for Google’s flagship streamer.
This Chromecast also takes a bit more power than other Chromecasts, so you won’t be able to power it off your TV’s USB-A port like previous models. Instead, you’ll have to use the included adapter, which thankfully uses USB-C. You’ll also be stuck using Wi-Fi to connect to your internet unless you purchase the dedicated ethernet adapter for $19.99.
The Chromecast with Google TV has 2GB of RAM and 8GB of storage and is based on an ARM Cortex-A55. None of these specs are quite as hardcore as our other favorite Android TV machine, the Nvidia Shield TV, but it’s fine for some basic games. That being said, if you want to play anything more intensive, or get access to things like the AI upscaling that the more expensive Shield TV offers, you’ll have to look there instead.
More than just streaming
Google TV is powered by Google Assistant, so Google has the ability to integrate it into all of its other smart home services. You can check out your Nest Cams, play music on smart speakers, or dim the lights in your house. Pretty much anything Google Assistant can do, the Chromecast with Google TV can do. You can ask the Assistant what to watch, ask it about the weather, or tell it to play some music, all from your TV. That’s powerful.
Google has also enabled its Assistant to make your TV smarter even when it’s idle. Instead of the rolling slideshow of pictures, you’ll now set cards with the weather, news, and upcoming events sprinkled into your screensaver.
This turns your Chromecast into a sort of central hub for all your Google Assistant-powered devices. Just like its other services, Google is trying to make the Google Assistant as accessible as possible throughout your life. If you’re bought into Google’s device ecosystem, you can have the Google Assistant in your phone, headphones, speakers, car, Wi-Fi routers, and now, any TV with an HDMI port too. Having the Google Assistant everywhere means you’ll always have control of your smart home products, as well as the world’s information. That’s Google’s ultimate goal.
Chromecast with Google TV review: The verdict
The Chromecast with Google TV is easily one of the best Android TV devices on the market. Currently, there are only a few viable options, and our old favorite, the Nvidia Shield TV costs $150. This device is geared towards gaming though, so it absolutely still has a market.
Away from the feature-packed world of Android TV, the Chromecast with Google TV has a lot of competition to be the best overall streaming device. There are other options like the Roku Streaming Stick Plus or Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K which cost $50, but they don’t offer the convenience of Google Assistant and other benefits from a Google-made device.
If you want a great Android TV and Chromecast experience, this is the device to get, full stop.
If you don’t need the gaming and power users features that come with the Shield and just want a great Android TV and Chromecast experience, this is the device to get, full stop, especially at $50.
If you want to get your hands on a Chromecast with Google TV, you can order it today for $49.99 in the United States. It’s also available in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain, and the UK.