Google introduced the second version of their Chromecast streaming device earlier this week alongside a Chromecast Audio device for speakers, and immediately made them available for sale through the Play Store and Best Buy. With expedited shipping, early orders are already arriving in the hands of buyers, including a couple that I ordered and received this week. Aside from changing the shape to a round form factor, did Google make enough changes to make the device a worthy successor?
What’s in the box
Before jumping in to any changes in performance, let’s take a look at what comes in the new Chromecast’s box. Packaging is pretty minimal with instructions printed on the inside of the marketing shell that surrounds the cardboard box. The Chromecast comes in a round shape and is available in three colors – black, yellow and coral. Instead of a stick form factor, the HDMI connection is at the end of a flexible cable that extends out from the round disk opposite the USB connection.
Laying the Chromecast down alongside the first generation, you may notice that the length is roughly unchanged with the extender included. The first generation got the extender to help with WiFi reception, so the new cable appears to be a permanent solution to that while also helping free up space if your television connection panel is getting crowded. Google also built in a small magnet on the end of the HDMI connector which can be used on the back of the Chromecast itself to create the loop so many have seen.
With the extender now part of the unit itself, the only other item included in the box is the power cable, which is really a USB cable and a power brick. Google did change the orientation of the prongs and USB slot so they are opposite each other instead of the USB cable going out the side. A nice Chrome logo is also imprinted into the charging brick.
Setting up this Chromecast is pretty much the same as the first generation. Once the unit is plugged in and powered up, just switch your television to the appropriate source. You will be greeted with a screen letting you know you need to set up the Chromecast. Fire up the Chromecast app on your mobile device, switch to the devices tab, and wait a few seconds for your Chromecast to show up in the list of devices. The app will let you know it is waiting to be setup.
Once you start the process, your mobile device will connect directly to the Chromecast and you just verify the code that is shown on the screen. You will then connect to your wireless network and decide whether you want to enable guest mode and usage statistics reporting back to Google.
The big difference of course is that with the addition of support for 5GHz WiFi, any access points you have running on 5GHz will show up in the list of available networks. One small touch that I noticed when setting up my first unit was that the app recognized my smartphone was initially connected to the 2.4GHz access point on my network. After connecting the Chromecast to the 5GHz access point, the app let me know it would switch my phone over to the same access point once setup was completed so I would be able to cast from my phone.
Google has already pushed out an update for its new Chromecast, so you will have to wait for that to complete. While downloading and installing, the Chromecast will show a video advertisement for sixty-six seconds in length before starting the reboot process. In all, it took six minutes from when I started the setup to when the unit was ready for me to cast to it.
When Google announced the new Chromecast, they talked about the updates they made and how they were intended to get content casting faster. This included changes to support 5GHz access points and 802.11ac signals along with better antennas. On the software side, Google says apps will load faster and content will load in the background in anticipation of what users plan to watch.
In preliminary testing, I found Google seems to have hit the mark in their efforts to speed things up. When I hit the cast button in Netflix on my smartphone, it only takes Netflix on the Chromecast about four to announce that it is ready to cast, much faster than what I experienced with the first generation. When I do start up a title, I have found thus far that it launches right away in high definition. My first generation unit generally took 20-30 seconds of low resolution casting before the stream would stabilize enough to switch over to high resolution.
I also did some testing in which I launched a YouTube video from my laptop and let that play for a while. On my smartphone, I then started up Google Play Movies and started casting a movie, taking over the Chromecast from what was casting via the laptop. The switchover was quick and smooth. Likewise, when I decided to cast the screen from my smartphone, the Chromecast started to display the screen within a couple seconds.
When Google created the Chromecast, they took a little bit of a different tack on a streaming media device. Instead of trying to build in services and platforms, the Chromecast is focused solely on providing a wireless connection between a user’s devices and their television. It is up to the user to access content and apps. Google was shooting for was ease of use and a low price point.
With the second generation Chromecast, Google focused on continuing that ease of use concept while improving the user experience, primarily by making everything work more smoothly and quicker. I think they hit that mark in creating a much more seamless experience. For those who already have the first generation device, there might be a question of whether they should drop $35 for the upgrade. My impression is that the step up will be worth it, especially if you are like me and get impatient sometimes with the wait for content to load on the original Chromecast.
The improvements for the new Chromecast may seem minor and a bit obvious overall, like adding support for 5GHz WiFi. Much of Google’s focus was on improving the underlying code and polishing up the Chromecast app on mobile devices. When put together in their updated device, Google succeeded in producing a better all around streaming dongle.