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Nexus Player review: a good start for Android TV, but not without quirks
Google has made several attempts to get into your living room, including the ill-fated Nexus Q, Google TV and, most recently, the Chromecast. With Android TV, Google goes back to the drawing board in some ways, while also taking the simplicity of design that we loved about the Chromecast and baking it in to a new Android 5.0 Lollipop-powered experience.
The Nexus Player is not only Google’s first fully-featured Nexus-branded media player, it also is the first device to showcase Google’s Android TV platform. For Nexus and Google fans alike, this should be the media player worth looking out for, but does it really live up to our expectations? Let’s jump in and take a look.
The first thing you’ll notice is that the Nexus player looks like an oversized hockey puck, though that’s not a bad thing as the design is actually pretty solid. The Nexus Player has a matte black finish and is smooth all around, and the edges of the player are glossy. At the bottom you’ll find a cut out for micro usb, hdmi out, and a 18W power cable. On the very bottom there’s also a reset button.
As for the size and weight, the Nexus Player comes in at 235 grams and is just 120mm x 120mm x 20mm. It’s made to blend in to your media center, not stick out — which is definite plus. There is a small white led at the bottom of the player, but its only visible when sitting at eye level, which continues the theme of being stealthy. It also sits flush, it does not tilt or rock.
Turning to the remote and controller, you’ll find the matte black remote is very similar to the Fire TV’s own remote, complete with a glossy directional pad, matte middle button an an LED at the top of the remote. All the buttons have a nice “click” to them, though they are a bit flimsy.
As for the gamepad, the Asus-made Nexus gamepad looks and feels a lot like an Xbox controller. The handles are painted black and the rest of the controller is glossy. The buttons and analogs all feel tight, and provide nice feedback when pressing them in. The quality of the controller is about at the same level as you’d find with a traditional game console, and certainly much better than previous Android gaming devices like the Ouya. Beyond the design it’s a normal Bluetooth controller, you can pair with any android device, and it is powered by 2 AA batteries.
Keep in mind, the Nexus Player’s controller is not included out of the box and will set you back an extra $40.
- CPU: 1.8GHz Intel Atom
- GPU: PowerVR Series 6
- RAM: 1GB
- Storage: 8GB
- Wireless: 802.11ac 2×2 Mimo, Bluetooth 4.1
- Ports: microUSB, HDMI, AC
Although the specs are not going to blow anyone away, the Nexus player is quick, snappy, and effortlessly glides through the interface, which is testament to the optimization of the software inside. Flipping between screens, and applications, is quite enjoyable. Just like anything webbased, your internet connection is a major driving factor. If you have a good connection, lag shouldn’t be an issue when it comes to watching videos and other media.
As for the games? There’s not a ton available to play on the Nexus Player (right around 50 in total) but the games that are on there run great and just as smoothly as you’d find on a high-end Android device. A game like Asphalt runs at a constant FPS, though you’ll see minor drops from time to time. Especially during the slow motion scenes. The controls are responsive and the sensitivity of the analogs are spot on. For the games that use the remote exclusively, everything works well here too.
Your first boot up takes you into a setup wizard, If you’ve used a Chromecast before, then you should feel right at home. You simply need to have a computer or mobile device with internet access to confirm the codes from the TV. Once you do that, you are ready to rock. Once you are on the main splash screen, this should be somewhat familiar as well, due to its similarity to both Fire TV and the 360’s Metro UI.
On the main screen you have 4 sections. The first section pulls in things that may interest you based on your Google account history. The 2nd section show all of the applications you’ve downloaded and also the ones that comes with your device. Think of this as your app drawer if you will. The next section is just for games. The last section shows your current wifi connection and also the settings.
While the interface works well, we can’t help but think it feels incomplete. This extends to the app selection as well. As already mentioned, there’s not a ton of games, but there’s even less music and entertainment apps! Here’s the full list (and there’s only 23):
- AOL On
- Bloomberg TV+
- Food Network
- HuffPost Live
- Hulu Plus
- Madefire Motion
- PBS Kids
- Red Bull TV
- TED TV
- TuneIn Radio
- TuneIn Radio Pro
On the plus side, you can at least extend your media selection thanks to built-in Googlecast technology, but that’s still not nearly as useful as built-in native apps. We also have to point out that the software experience isn’t without its share of bugs and quirks, including connection drop outs from the Internet, controller connection drop outs and the like. Of course it is very likely that Google will fix many of these issues in the near future, and so many of these bugs might even be fixed before too many consumers actually get their hands on the Nexus Player.
Google is very dedicated to voice these days, so it is no surprise that such functionality makes its way to Android TV and to the Nexus Player. While basic Google Now-like functions (such as finding out the weather) are present, the main purpose of voice is for search.
To start searching, you press the “search” button on your remote and from there you can search for movies with certain actors, directors and genres, but there’s also search criteria like “Movies from the year 2000” or “Movies that won an academy award”. Of course, it is worth keeping in mind that this only pulls in movies or TV shows that Google Play offers. This means you won’t find anything specific to Hulu Or NetFlix.
Voice search works in all of the Google applications, although it isn’t tied in to anything else at this stage. Hopefully this will change eventually, but we wouldn’t count on it happening anytime soon.
The Nexus Player is just the beginning for Android TV, as both the hardware and platform are in their early days. Within a few months we’ll see the first televisions with this software built in and likely plenty more media boxes in the near future. The Nexus Player is a good start, but it’s far from prefect.
During this review I had to make a few assumptions that the software will be updated to address some the issues, hopefully before many consumers actually get their hands on it. The applications are lacking right now, and (as already mentioned) connection issues were requent for me. That said, we see tons of potential for the platform and look forward to seeing it progress in the days, weeks and months to come.
Right now, my advice is that you wait off to purchase the device, at least until some of the early quirks are worked out. Of course, if you are an absolute bleeding-edge kind of user and don’t mind buying the platform and watching it slowly grow into something more, it might be worth picking up after all. For now, we rated the Nexus Player with a 5.0, though hopefully after some of the bugs are worked out we can go back and change its grade a bit.
The Nexus player isn’t for everybody, but is it for you? Sound off down below.