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YouTube Music and Google Play Music. Allo and Hangouts. Google Plus and Orkut. Google loves to duplicate its apps and services. The situation is no different for cord cutters and streamers: one company, two completely different solutions.
So, if you’re wondering whether you should buy a Google Chromecast or an Android TV device, keep reading. In this article we pitch the Google Chromecast vs. Android TV to help you determine which one you should buy.
What Is Android TV?
Android TV is the television version of the smartphone operating system. It launched in mid-2014, 12 months later than the Chromecast.
Like the smartphone OS, there’s not a single version of the Android TV platform. Lots of manufacturers have added their own customizations, and there are dozens of Android TV dongles and set-top boxes on the market.
Android TV also powers some smart TVs from manufacturers such as Hisense, Asus, Sharp, and Sony. Google does not produce any in-house Android TV equipment.
Android TV vs. Google Chromecast: Cost
The cost of Chromecast dongles is easy to quantify. The entry-level model costs $35 and the Chromecast Ultra (which supports 4K video) will set you back $69.
Which it comes to Android TV, the situation is considerably more complicated. Because there’s not a single Android TV model, prices can vary wildly.
Fair warning—there are a lot of cheap Android TV boxes flooding the market. Some no-brand Chinese devices can be found for less than $20 on sites like AliExpress. Give them a wide berth.
However, some cheap Android TV boxes are worth recommending. They include the Xiaomi Mi (around $50), the MXQ Android Box ($35), and even a DIY Raspberry Pi solution.
At the other end of the scale, the best-in-class is still the Nvidia Shield. You can buy the 16GB model for $180 and the 500GB version for $300. Confusingly, both Nvidia Shield models come with Chromecast built-in.
Read our list of the best Android TV boxes for more details.
Android TV vs. Google Chromecast: Interface
If you’re the type of person who likes to immerse yourself in an operating system, a Chromecast dongle might not be right for you.
Chromecasts do not have a user interface. Instead, you cast content from your phone, tablet, or computer (via Chrome).
Some apps are Chromecast-enabled; they have a dedicated Cast button which will replicate their visual and audio output on your TV screen. Alternatively, you can mirror your device’s entire screen, but that requires your phone’s screen to remain on, thus chewing through the battery.
Android TV devices have a dedicated user interface that you can control using a remote or a smartphone app. Rather than installing apps on your computer or mobile, you install standalone apps directly on the Android TV device.
Android TV vs. Google Chromecast: Apps
Most of the big players (think Netflix, Spotify, Hulu, etc.) have apps available for the Android TV platform and also make their smartphone apps Chromecast-enabled.
The notable exception is Amazon Prime Video. There’s an Android TV app available, but you cannot easily cast the video to a Chromecast. There are a few workarounds which let you watch Amazon Prime Video on a Chromecast, but they are not ideal.
Android TV vs. Google Chromecast: Sideloading
Android TV boxes have access to a special version of the Google Play Store. Unfortunately, the selection of apps available is nowhere near as diverse as in the regular smartphone version of the store.
Thankfully, you can negate the issue by sideloading apps on Android TV. If you can get hold of an app’s APK file (check sites like APKPure and APKMirror to see if you can find it), you can install any Android app on the operating system, and it will work.
The biggest drawback to sideloading apps is navigation. Because the apps have not been altered for the Android TV platform, your device’s remote might not work. If your Android TV box has a USB port, you can plug in a mouse. If it doesn’t, you can try pairing your box with a Bluetooth-enabled gaming controller.
Android TV vs. Google Chromecast: Games
If you’re a gamer, Android TV devices are the clear winner. Just make sure you don’t try to save a few bucks by buying an underpowered box.
If you want to use a Chromecast for gaming, you’ll still need to use your mobile device for the controls. That awkwardness, paired with the occasional lag you’ll encounter between your phone and your TV, makes it unsuitable for any fast-paced game. However, more sedate games, like Solitaire or quizzes, will be fine.
In contrast, many Android TV devices can be paired with gaming controllers. If you buy a high-spec box—such as the previously-mentioned Nvidia Shield—you might even find that a gaming controller comes included in the box.
The Android TV version of the Google Play Store hosts a wide variety of popular games, including Grand Theft Auto, Asphalt 8: Airborne, and Badland.
Android TV vs. Google Chromecast: Longevity
It’s fair to question whether Chromecasts have a long-term future in Google’s product line-up.
Yes, they were revolutionary back in 2013 when they brought on-demand internet video streaming to the masses for the first time, but they increasingly look like a technology from yesteryear.
All the Chromecast’s competitors—Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Android TV, and Roku—offer a more holistic service for cord cutters. And as we’ve seen from the Nvidia Shield, it’s perfectly possible to bolt Chromecast’s screen mirroring features onto the Android TV OS for on-the-fly casting. The devices from Roku, Apple, and Amazon also all offer their own version of screen mirroring.
We’re not sure what’s preventing Google simply putting the Android TV operating system into a Chromecast-sized dongle and offering it at a similar price point. It’s likely to happen at some point.
Android TV and Kodi Boxes
You’ve probably heard of Kodi boxes. They are set-top devices that automatically launch Kodi upon boot, allowing you to easily access all your content. In simple terms, they turn Kodi into a smart TV operating system.
Although it’s not strictly essential (you could use a Raspberry Pi), almost all Kodi boxes run on Android TV. It’s also the operating system of choice for all those illegal (and they ARE illegal) “fully loaded” Kodi boxes you see popping up on eBay.
We’ve rounded up some of the best Kodi boxes on the market if you would like to learn more.
Google Assistant and Your Smart Home
Chromecasts are not smart devices. You cannot use them to control third-party smart home products around your home. You will need to use your phone’s Google Home app, which is a bit of an effort when you just want to turn off a light.
In contrast, an increasing number of mid-range and top-end Android TV devices now come with Google Assistant built in. As we know, the smart assistant offers an array of smart home integrations, entertainment options, and productivity tools. If you enjoy the benefits of voice control, an Android TV box is the way to go.
What About the Amazon Fire TV?
Don’t forget that Amazon Fire TV devices run their own customized version of Android TV. Sure, it’s unrecognizable from the vanilla operating system, but it still qualifies.
If you want more information, we’ve previously explained what Amazon Fire TV is and how it works.
Android TV vs. Google Chromecast: The Winner Is…
Everything else being equal, the clear winner is Android TV. It has more features, it’s just as easy to use, its future looks more certain, and it’s more flexible. But don’t write off the Chromecast completely.
If you want a highly portable device that’ll work in hotels, for business presentations, and at other people’s houses, they are the best option on the market. They’re also a cost-effective choice for secondary TVs in your home such as in bedrooms and kitchens.
Of course, you could also consider a Roku device. And if you need to know how the Roku stacks up against the Chromecast we have previously written a comparison of Chromecast and Roku.