A touch too expensive and not without its flaws, the new Google Chromecast isn’t quite the streamer you’ve been waiting for
- Remote control
- Effective voice search
- Simple, intuitive UI
- No Now TV or Apple TV+
- Strange microphone positioning
The Google Chromecast streaming stick took a moribund industry and made it cool again when it first launched back in 2013. But despite introducing several new versions in the intervening years, the basic premise has remained unchanged.
In the box, all you got was the Chromecast dongle, a USB cable and sometimes a power adapter. It was cheap and simple but you had to have a phone, tablet or laptop from which to cast content.
This year, however, that’s all changed: the new Chromecast with Google TV finally comes with a remote control you can lose down the side of the sofa.
Chromecast with Google TV (2020) review: What you need to know
Google always resisted throwing in a remote before because, by including a remote control, you’d also need a user interface to browse.
And, so, that’s the other big new feature: the Chromecast now has a UI to go with that remote control, called Google TV. This is built on top of the Android TV OS you may be familiar with from Sony Bravia and Hisense TVs or Nvidia’s streaming boxes, and it allows you to browse content on your TV without having to find it first on your phone or tablet.
Otherwise, the new Chromecast works largely as it did before and you can still cast TV shows, movies and music to it if you prefer, without touching the remote control. And it supports all the standards you’d expect, too, with resolutions up to 4K, HDR10, HDR10+ and Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos audio all on the menu, although there’s no mention of HLG (Hybrid-Log Gamma) in the specifications.
Chromecast with Google TV (2020) review: Price and competition
At £60, and with 4K supported, the new Chromecast is effectively a replacement for the Chromecast Ultra.
Of all these, our current choice is the Roku Streaming Stick+. It’s reasonably priced, supports the widest range of content, allows you to search across services by text or voice and it has Miracast-based screen mirroring, too.
Chromecast with Google TV (2020) review: What it looks like, how it connects
The first thing you notice when you pull the new Chromecast from the box is that it looks very different. It’s larger, flatter, thinner and a different shape than previous Chromecasts and it’s available in three pastel shades. I was sent the white model for this review but you can also get it in blue and pink.
It connects to your TV in the same way previous Chromecast devices did, though. Simply plug it directly into a free HDMI port on the rear of your TV and then hook it up to power using the micro-USB port on the end.
A mains adapter is supplied in the box, which Google recommends you use, but you can power the Chromecast via a USB port on your TV if it’s powerful enough.
Google Chromecast with Google TV (2020) review: Remote control
The remote control is simplicity itself and it makes a big difference in how you use this new Chromecast.
It’s small and light, with a rounded back that sits comfortably in your hand. And it works over both Bluetooth and infrared. The former is used for controlling the Chromecast; the latter for controlling various functions on your TV – volume, power and source switching.
As far as physical controls go, there’s a circular control at the top that functions as a five-way D-pad (left, right, up, down, select) and, underneath that, buttons for back, home, Google Assistant (voice search and control) and mute.
Below this is another cluster of buttons: two shortcuts to YouTube and Netflix, a power button and a source switching button. The volume up/down buttons are found on the right edge of the remote and the microphone is positioned, rather strangely, at the bottom, between the power and source switch buttons. I found I had to be careful not to block this with my thumb when holding it in a natural position.
Google Chromecast with Google TV (2020) review: Google TV
The all-new Google TV user interface is perhaps what’s most interesting here, however.
In appearance, it looks pretty similar to umpteen other streaming platforms. A big image sits at the top of the screen with horizontally scrollable carousels offering various categories of content situated below it.
The front end is split between five main home screens. The one that appears when you first turn on is the “For you” page: a selection of TV and movies based on what you’ve watched previously and what Google thinks you might be interested in, including a handy “Continue watching section”. The other four screens organise content into Movies, Shows, Apps and Your Library (i.e. content bought previously via Google Play).
All of this works well enough. The front end feels responsive and it’s easy enough to find your way around, despite the overwhelming amount of content it’s funnelling at you through one screen.
The Google Assistant voice search is effective, too, as long as you’re careful not to block the microphone with your thumb when talking. Just hold down the Google Assistant button and say the title of the movie or TV show you want, or the channel, and up it pops a second or two later. Just like on Roku, this works with YouTube videos as well, which is incredibly handy.
You can even search for more generic content, like you can with the Sky Q voice search. Searches such as “action movies”, “sci-fi TV shows” or “films starring Arnold Schwarzenegger” all give sensible results and Google TV is clever enough to search across all your installed apps to find the content and present it in an easy-to-digest list.
It’s great most of the time, but not entirely perfect yet. Search for something that isn’t available to stream – The Abyss, for instance – and Google Assistant throws up a baffling screen, briefly describing the film, providing links to the director, cast and crew but at no point saying “I’m sorry, that show isn’t available to stream”.
I’m also not a fan of the way the search results default to Google Play for pay-for streaming purchases, giving no indication that other streaming services might have cheaper options. I searched for Sing, which is available to rent on both Google Play and Prime Video and the search only returned the Google Play choice, despite the movie being available to rent for less on Amazon’s service. In comparison, Roku’s streaming sticks give you multiple pay-for options in search and compare prices for you, too.
Chromecast with Google TV (2020) review: Content
Which brings me onto the content that you can find on the Chromecast. Essentially, this is the same as you get on any other Chromecast: if Android TV supports it or you can cast from the app on your phone, then you can watch that content on this Chromecast.
That means most, but not all, the important services are covered. You can stream Netflix, Prime Video, YouTube and Disney Plus.
Meanwhile, free-to-watch domestic services include My5, ITV Hub and BBC iPlayer but not All 4, which will disappoint fans of the Great British Bake Off. And, of course, you can use it to stream music, radio and podcast services such as Spotify, Tidal, Deezer and TuneIn Radio.
And there’s a huge library of other, more esoteric stuff to install, including services such as Rakuten TV and Funimation and video apps like Kodi, Plex and Ace Stream Live TV. There’s lots to be getting on with, essentially.
There are some major services missing, however, including Apple TV+, Now TV (although you can cast Now TV to the Chromecast) and BBC Sounds. Both of the Chromecast’s rivals can currently play Apple TV+ and Now TV content, and even Google Play Movies & TV content, although not in full 4K HDR, unfortunately.
Even support for Google’s Stadia games streaming service is MIA. You can install games via Google Play but, to be frank, most of these work better on the screen of a smartphone than played via a media streaming stick. The company tells us Stadia support is coming in the first half of next year.
Chromecast with Google TV (2020) review: Verdict
All of which brings us to the big question: should you buy one of Google’s new Chromecast streamers? My answer to that question would have to be, probably not.
The lack of Now TV and Apple TV+ apps and the comparatively high price means that you’re currently better off with the Roku Streaming Stick+. It supports both of those channels, has voice search and screen mirroring and it’s cheaper than the Chromecast, too. The Amazon Fire Stick 4K also beats the Chromecast when it comes to overall content compatibility and has voice search as well.
That’s not to say the 2020 Chromecast with Google TV is a bad piece of hardware. It isn’t; if you’re thoroughly wedded to the Google ecosystem and love the way casting works but would like the extra convenience of having a remote control, it’s brilliant. It’s also the only current streamer to support Google Play Movies & TV in full 4K HDR.
However, content is king when it comes to streaming sticks and, if you want the flexibility of having the broadest choice of channels and services at your fingertips, this is not currently the streamer to choose.
The Google Chromecast is a cheap way to make your TV smart, but should you buy the Chromecast Ultra instead?