For the last couple of weeks – in what little time I get between work and sleep – I’ve had a Google Chromecast with Google TV hooked up to our living room television and I’ve let the family have at it; I don’t watch as much TV as the kids, so they’ve been helping me try this out and I have to say at the outset – it’s brilliant.
You see, I’ve long had an idle disappointment with smart TVs, promising so much and then delivering a sub-standard software experience that makes you wish for a dumb HDMI panel without the smart interface.
We’ve had Sony, Samsung and LG smart TVs and without exception, they’ve all let me down. Android TV on Sony worked … but was a frustrating experience, with slow performance, crashes and slow updates. WebOS on LG started off a lot better, but has become more unstable over time – Netflix crashes, the menu system crashes, everything crashes… it just becomes frustrating.
Enter Google’s Chromecast with Google TV though, and the frustrations just aren’t there anymore.
For starters, Google’s Chromecast with Google TV does away with your old TV remote – you can use it, but you just don’t need to anymore – Google’s can do 90% of what you need on its own. Such is this simplicity that I’ve put our TV remotes away in a drawer – we just don’t need (or use) them anymore.
That setup process was, frankly, a breeze – as with any other smart home device, you connect the Chromecast with Google TV to your WiFi (fortunately it supports 5Ghz), set up your Google account using the Google Home app (makes it quick), set up your TV remote (so you can use just one instead of multiple remotes) and you’re ready to go.
The design itself is pretty basic – there’s really nothing much to it. Plug the dongle into an HDMI port, connect USB C power to the bottom and that’s it. There is an ethernet option, but unless your WiFi is terrible, you probably won’t need it – ours capably streams 4K without needing a wired connection.
This is where there’s a bit of difference between this Chromecast and those that’ve come before; Google includes a handy remote in the package and, while it looks a little basic, it covers all your basic needs – turning the telly on and off, driving the full Google TV interface, and of course some shortcut keys for YouTube and Netflix. I love this – you hit that power button and not only does the TV turn on (and to the right HDMI input for your Chromecast), but turn it off, and both the Chromecast and TV go to sleep. No more streaming to a powered off TV.
Out of the box, there’s a whole heap of localised streaming services available – most of which I uninstalled – but everything you could want locally is available; we use Netflix, ABC IView and YouTube, but Stan, the various Free to Air services and more are available.
Because we don’t use many services, the recommended content feature isn’t super useful to us and, in any event, I don’t really care for it; I know what I want to watch, I don’t really need (nor want) an AI to tell me what that is.
Besides this, every other feature just works; it’s like Android TV but without all the annoying quirks that plague many Android-based systems. It’s a smart TV that’s actually smart, and actually pleasant to use. I’ve not had the Chromecast with Google TV crash once, misbehave or generally not do what I want; the toughest critics in the house – the kids – can’t fault it, making it very easy for them to find what they want and to put it on (something I can’t say for the LG based smart TV interface it replaced).
A handy feature is the built-in Google Assistant – we’re used to Google’s friendly voice helping us from smart speakers, displays etc, but being able to control stuff via the TV is equally handy. A bit of “OK Google, turn on the living room lamp” is a lovely feature when it gets dark, without having to find a phone or wander into another room to talk to a smart speaker.
Of course, there’s the usual Chromecast features available as well – this is a “Cast target”, so from your mobile, tablet, or other smart devices around the house you can cast YouTube, Plex, Netflix (or just about anything cast-able) to your Chromecast with Google TV with a button press (or a voice command).
It’s effortlessly easy, and great for the kids too – “OK Google, watch Bluey from ABC Iview on the Living Room TV” and it just works.
Long story short, if you’re after a great smart TV experience, go buy one of these – they’re $99 from the Google Store and major retailers, and that price it’s an absolute no brainer. Probably the only reasons you’d not bother are if you’re not all that into the Google ecosystem (despite supporting a lot of other services, a Google account is a must, and YouTube is given high billing with its own dedicated hardware key), or if you’ve already got a Google TV capable device.
If you don’t, though, go spend $99 and you’ll be very happy with yourself. I’m already contemplating buying one or two more for the other TVs in the house.