The Chromecast really is a fun little device, but it can take a bit of tinkering to get the most out of it. We’ve got you covered on how to make your Chromecast a smart media center, as well as advice on creative ways to use your Chromecast, but now let’s look at some of the best new apps, tips, and tricks for the streaming stick.
Apps are adding support for the Chromecast constantly, so if an application you enjoy doesn’t have Chromecast capabilities yet, keep checking back. Until then, read on to learn how to get the most out of your Chromecast with what is available today.
Changing Your Background
Our first trick is a small feature Google added to the Chromecast just a few months ago called Backdrop. When your Chromecast is set up and not yet streaming anything, it typically shows random photos of landscapes and things along with the time and the name of your Chromecast, as seen below.
Sure, it’s nice, but it’s also pretty boring — and your Chromecast can do a lot more than that. To activate Backdrop, download the Chromecast app for your phone, swipe in from the left, and tap Backdrop. It will ask you which Chromecast you want to connect to, as well as what kind of information you’d like to show.
You can change this at any time by tapping the gear icon in the top right of the Backdrop page.
If you select Your Photos, it will allow you to select which albums from your Google+ Photos to display. For some reason, photos that you’ve set to Auto-Backup (which is actually one of the coolest features of Google+) aren’t available here, despite being available online at Google+ Photos [no longer available].
You can use your Auto-Backup photos by going to Google+ and adding selected photos from that album to custom photo albums. Then set backdrop to include your new photo albums. However, it does automatically show all photos from your Google Drive, which for most people is probably where they’re more likely to store photos anyway.
You can also choose to show the weather in your current location, works of art, news and lifestyle photos (which link to articles or images as shown below), satellite images, and featured photos (which seem to be what your Chromecast shows when Backdrop is off).
Choose any mixture of these, and they will be randomized. So if you only want your photos to show up, turn off all the rest — except for weather, which only shows in the lower corner and doesn’t take up the whole screen.
Below, you can see a customized screen and what it displays on the Backdrop tab of the Chromecast app while it’s displaying that.
But all of this is just for when your Chromecast is idling. What about when you really get down to using it? Let’s look at some killer apps for your device.
Finding Chromecast Apps
A lot of people struggle to find Chromecast-ready apps since the Play Store lacks a clear Chromecast section, but Google does actually have an official webpage for this. Visit chromecast.com/apps to find a searchable way of browsing Chromecast-ready apps. You can even sort by category, and clicking on an app gives you links to both its iOS and Android versions.
For only Android apps, the Play Store actually does have a Google Cast section, but it’s pretty hard to find. An easier way to get to it is to open the Chromecast app, swipe in from the left, and select Discover Apps.
Some apps, like Cast Store for Chromecast Apps, try to give you a nice interface to go through, but they’re generally low-quality and stuffed to the brim with ads. This app in particular would consistently open itself when I wasn’t using it, leading me to uninstall it within minutes. Just stick to the official Google route, app-hunters.
Or you could read on for the best of the apps out there.
Streaming Different Kinds of Media
New apps are cropping up every day, but here are some of the best out there right now for a variety of purposes.
Plex is the obvious contender here. It’s great for streaming media from your computer, but not so great for streaming files stored on your phone or tablet. Learn how to set up Plex for Chromecast if you’re interested, then snag the Android or iOS app.
Media Browser is Plex’s biggest competitor and works largely in the same way, requiring your computer, phone, and Chromecast to all work together. It takes a bit of setup, but they have nice Android and iOS apps that make the setup worth it.
What about streaming photos and videos that are stored on your phone or tablet? For instance, if you wanted to show off photos or videos you took earlier in the day.
On iPhone or iPad, your best bet is Cinch. It allows you to easily stream local photos, videos, or music from your device to your TV. It’s $1.99, but for such a useful app, that’s not too much to ask.
On the other hand, LocalCast is a great, Material Design-themed app for streaming anything stored on your Android device (shown above). It’s free and supported by unobtrusive ads, but you can help out the developer by removing ads via an in-app purchase. The prices range from $3.49 to $9.56, but all of them remove ads and add two features: on device search and preview while seeking videos.
For photos alone, Photowall [No Longer Available] is a unique way of having multiple people stream their photos from iOS or Android to your Chromecast.
Videos, Movies, and TV Shows
HBO has had their Chromecast streaming set up for a while now through their HBO GO app (Android, iOS), but Showtime has just recently updated their Showtime Anytime app (Android, iOS) with Chromecast streaming as well. My personal favorite new addition to the Chromecast-ready lineup, however, is the Comedy Central app (Android, iOS). And to cap off your TV watching, check out the ABC app (Android, iOS).
A while back, a bunch of Sports-related streaming video apps got Chromecast support around the same time including WatchESPN (Android, iOS [No Longer Available]) and MLS (Android). Since then, even more apps have been bumped up, including the MLB app (Android) and UFC app (Android, iOS).
Of course there are your big-name apps that you would expect to support the Chromecast like Netflix (Android, iOS) and Hulu Plus (Android, iOS), but there are also several other smaller apps that haven’t skimped on Chromecast support. For free and popular anime, check out Crunchyroll (Android, iOS); for Asian and Latin dramas, check out DramaFever (Android [Broken Link Removed], iOS [Broken Link Removed]); and for a surprising number of free movies and TV shows, check out Crackle (Android, iOS).
Music and Radio
You may not think of the Chromecast as a music device, but your TV’s speakers are probably a lot better than your phone. When you’re relaxing around the house, why not use your Chromecast to play music from your TV?
Shuttle+ Music Player, one of our favorite music apps, now has Chromecast support (Android). For real radio stations of all kinds, try TuneIn Radio (Android, iOS). Pandora is obviously a fantastic option for free, personalized music (Android, iOS). And finally, if you want lyrics to your songs, Musixmatch is a must-have app that will stream the lyrics right to your TV (Android, iOS).
Unfortunately, Spotify looks like it will never receive Chromecast support. Instead, they’ll be pushing for their own proprietary technology called Spotify Connect that requires a compatible TV or speakers. Yikes. If you prefer the Chromecast route, however, there is an unofficial app for doing so called Spoticast
Surprisingly, the Chromecast has turned out to be a pretty cool device for casual gaming. The newest additions to the gaming party are the Wheel of Fortune. All of them take advantage of the TV screen in unique ways, allowing for a type of game where everyone sees a different screen on their own device, but the same TV screen. Even a simple game like Emoji Party (seen above) becomes extremely fun this way.
And for more fun with friends, you should definitely check out SIMON Swipe, two games that both not only have their first word unnecessarily capitalized, but also are super fun to play with friends. Seriously, give gaming on the Chromecast a shot and you won’t regret it.
Getting Work Done?
That’s right. It is possible to use the Chromecast for work. Polaris Office now supports casting documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. This is something that may not be useful to everyone, but for students or anyone who wants to practice their presentation on a big screen, it could be immensely helpful.
What Are Your Favorite Chromecast Apps?
The Chromecast is a fun little device, but it’s the apps that really make it what it is. With so many out there and so many getting support everyday, it’s clear that this isn’t a comprehensive list — just some of our favorites.
What are your favorites? What Chromecast-ready apps do you use everyday? Any other tips and tricks you would recommend? Let us know in the comments!