The aptly named Chromecast 2.0 is Google’s first major revision to the device since it was first released all the way back in July 2013. While that doesn’t sound too long, in a tech world where new devices are released seemingly annually, that’s practically an eternity.
So, what’s new in the Chromecast 2.0, and more importantly should you care? If you own an original Chromecast, should you upgrade? Or is this device best kept for new buyers?
The first Chromecast was a wildly successful device, with Google touting sales of over 20 million so far. It wasn’t without issues though, as many users complained of frequent buffering with the device. Still, for only $35, it let users get video content from their smartphones, browser windows, and tablets to their TV. You’d be hard-pressed to find a device that can do all that for a lower price.
Of course, the device doesn’t really have an interface of its own to speak. Rather, the device sending the media to the Chromecast serves as the interface, while the dongle plugged into the TV simply receives the feed and displays it. But on really high-quality videos, it could often result in choppy playback. Videos cast from certain websites had issues, and browser casting in general didn’t work well (personally, I found the WWE Network to be unwatchable).
But these problems should be fixed with the introduction of the Chromecast 2.0 – Google is promising to take everything that was good about the original, and make it better.
Chromecast 2.0 – The Features
So, with that quick trip down memory lane, we now turn to the future for a look at what Google announced, and whether you should be rushing to grab a new dongle for yourself. But before we do, it’s important to note that, in spite of the upgrades, the Chromecast 2.0 still costs $35. That means it’s still quite a bit cheaper than most TV-based media consumption devices. It was nice to see Google stick with the price that worked from the beginning, and not go jacking it up now that it has a stronger foothold in the market.
The first thing you can’t help but notice about the new Chromecast is the look. Gone is the boring gray color and USB stick-like shape. Now, the device is coming in orange, yellow, and black, the first two of which certainly stand out. It doesn’t look like a dongle anymore either: it’s round, with a small HDMI cable budding from the top. The power cable plugs into the bottom, and that’s all it takes to get it up and running.
Google is promising far superior performance with the Chromecast. It achieves this boost thanks to its three different Wi-Fi antennas, which it can switch to on the fly, based on the network conditions. The company calls this “adaptive antenna system,” and if it works as advertised, it could completely get rid of the buffering woes.
Google also announced that the new Chromecast would begin to support games. At launch that includes a special version of Angry Birds, as well as games like WGT Golf, Monopoly Here and Now, Mini Motors WRT and Driver Speedboat Paradise, with others to come. While not exactly a gaming lineup that will rival the Xbox One or PS4, when you consider that it’s an afterthought of a device you only spent $35 on in the first place, it’s a neat addition.
A small change that users will appreciate is the ability to customize the background photos that are shown when the device is idle. Now, users can choose images from Google Photos, Getty Images, Facebook photos, 500PX and Pixlr, which should make it feel like a more personalized device than the random photos that are displayed now.
The Chromecast app is also getting a huge redesign, focussing on content discovery. Instead of having to browse a number of individual apps, users will be able to view castable content from apps installed on their device from a single interface. Having one hub where all of your content lives makes finding something to watch far easier than having to search through multiple apps.
The Android update is rolling out today, and an iOS version coming soon.
Shots Fired at Sonos
Along with the announcement of the Chromecast 2.0, Google also announced Chromecast Audio – a dongle that you can plug into your own speakers to enable casting of music over Wi-Fi. It will support RCA, optical audio, and 3.5mm ports.
It’s like a Sonos speaker system without the outrageous Sonos price tag (our review of the Sonos Play:1) – Google is only charging $35, just like the Chromecast 2.0. So if watching video content isn’t for you, picking up a Chromecast Audio might be more your speed! Google promises that because the music is being streamed straight from the cloud, it will maintain a high level of audio quality, so even if you’re casting to expensive speakers that don’t have Wi-Fi support already, you’ll be happy with what you hear.
Should You Get a Chromecast 2.0?
For my money, there’s no better way to consume media on a TV than by hooking up a PC directly, but that’s not practical in all cases. But at the same price point of just $35, Google is taking the best parts of the Chromecast and expanding on them. We all consume media on our smartphones and tablets, and there just isn’t easier or more affordable way to get those videos (and now, some games) to the TV, than with the Chromecast 2.0. It’s definitely worth keeping an eye on.
So, are you going to pick one of these up, or wait until the reviews come out? Hit the comments section and let us know!