I decided to purchase the Chromecast for one simple reason: the three months of free Netflix just about paid for it. I’m already a Netflix subscriber, so I was going to spend that money anyway. This offer has already been ended (due to overwhelming demand), though. Would I have bought it without the offer? Probably not. But if you’ve got $35 to spare, it’s still not a bad purchase.
Setup is easy for the Chromecast; plug it in to an HDMI port and give it power (either through a USB port on your TV or a nearby outlet), then pull up the Chromecast app (Android) or head to a URL in your browser. Name the device, enter your wi-fi info, and you’re set. You can now control the Chromecast from any iOS device, Android device, or Mac or PC on your network.
This is where you immediately see the brilliance and the limitations of the Chromecast. Most TVs that have HDMI inputs already have support for two of three services that support Chromecast: Netflix and YouTube (the third is Google Play). If you’ve ever used your TV remote to search YouTube or Netflix, though, you already know how frustrating that experience can be. Here’s the brilliant part: with your handy smartphone in your hand and its familiar touch screen interface, you can quickly and easily navigate Netflix or YouTube and find the content you want. Then you just tap the “Cast” icon and your video shows up on your TV. Navigating YouTube on your TV has never been easier.
Boot up your laptop, open the Chrome browser (and install the Cast extension), and you can show your browser screen on your TV. I can think of a lot of uses for this, and online video for shows that aren’t on Netflix is a good one. A word of caution, though: streaming video from your laptop to your Chromecast can be sketchy and is highly dependent on the quality of your wireless network and the speed of your computer. I finally got it working smoothly, but it took a lot of tweaking. Streaming audio was pretty easy, though, so this is a simple way to get your Pandora stream running through your TV — and perhaps your home theater stereo (if you have one connected to your TV).
Speaking of audio, the third app that supports Chromecast is Google Play, which is great for streaming your audio library. You can also stream video obtained through Google Play, though I’ve never made much use of that service. Still, integrated apps like this make using the Chromecast a smooth, easy experience.
In fact, it’s so easy that you’ll want to start using the Chromecast for something else — perhaps those videos of your kids or photos of your last trip you have on your smartphone. One problem: you won’t find the “cast” button available in your gallery on your smartphone and you won’t find it in the OS on your computer. This is where the Chromecast becomes frustrating. It doesn’t seem like it should take that much to extend the service to work natively with anything you can play on your smartphone or laptop; especially on Android devices, this seems like a no-brainer. Why didn’t the device come with this ability? We don’t have an answer for that, but Google promises more apps are on the way. Even if Google doesn’t release something, I can’t imagine it will take long for a third-party to come up with an app to let you watch your own content through the Chromecast.
So why buy one? If you do a lot of YouTube viewing, the Chromecast can take the experience to your big screen with relative ease — certainly much more ease than any TV remote can offer, and the price is worth it just for that. Beyond YouTube, it’s the promise of the future that makes the price a good one. Google has promised more apps are on the way, and $35 is a relatively low-risk wager that they’ll deliver on that promise. My recommendation: get one now. The increasing demand should help push Google towards releasing more apps soon.