After taking over 80% of the smartphone market, grabbing a chunk of the tablet market, and pretty much becoming the front page of the Internet, Google have taken aim at the TV. They did so first with a cheap dongle, the Chromecast, that sold in millions, and now they have a whole software platform dubbed Android TV. Sony will soon be shipping it in all its Bravia TVs, but the first box available is the Nexus Player, and it hit shelves in the UK last Friday. Could this black inconspicuous disc take over the TV? Find out in our Nexus Player review.
It comes in a surprisingly small box, with the same designed packaging as the Nexus 6 and Nexus 9, simply with the letter P embossed on the top. Once you manage to get into the box, the first thing you will notice is what a tiny little disc it is, and how huge the plug is! If you plan on adding this to a sleek wall-mounted TV you can almost forget it.
Having changed my plans and the TV it will fit with, the Nexus Player was easy and pleasing to set up. One downside is there isn’t an HDMI cable in the box. You can make the argument that most people have one laying around and they are dirt cheap anway, but if they are so cheap why not put one in the box, Google?
All navigating is done with the supplied remote. Well-built and fitting in even the tiniest of hands, it uses a familiar up/down/left/right circle pad, along with home, back, and play/pause buttons. You can use an Android TV app on your Android handset to control the player, however the design of the app is so bad I would rather hunt for a lost remote.
Google have also chosen a similar approach to that of the Fire TV with a voice search button at the top. After the signature Google Voice chime simply say what you wish to watch. This often negates the need for scrolling around too much, however there are a few situations where a lot of scrolling is the only way. Signing into your wireless network is a bit of a pain with the remote; if you have a secure complex password you will be scrolling around for an age.
Once the sign in is done, it is done for good, thankfully. It’s a good idea to have a phone or computer handy though as authorisation for signing into your Google account is done through the web browser. You are only able to have one account signed in at a time which may be a pain for some. After this initial setup, be prepared to wait as almost nothing will work until the player has downloaded the 5.1 update and rebooted.
Once you get started, the interface is familiar and easy to navigate, providing content right on the home screen that Google thinks would be of interest. This is going to be a little eclectic if you use a shared Gmail as I do for home use, but as with everything Google it will learn as you use it. YouTube seems to be the big push here, but everything seems relevant and vaguely interesting.
This is of course an entertainment device so there is a barrage of games to choose from. Even with the add-on controller available for a little extra they have their sight firmly set on the casual gamer rather than the more hardcore gamer. Populated with pick-up-and-play racers and puzzle games rather than sports games or first-person shooters.
You might want to go a little easy on the downloads though, as there is only 5gb available for those apps with some games being a pretty hefty download. Even so, there is room for a few games and other apps without too much space anxiety.
What you won’t have anxiety over is the UI: it’s beautiful and never misses a beat when scrolling even lengthy lists of content. Pressing the home button will give you an overlay on top of some apps you are watching, negating the need for a multitasking button and allowing you to look at other content while leaving the current selection playing. However, entering an app or performing a search stops all content from playing.
As with everything Google, the player is built all around search. Voice commands will search all the content offered and provide you with links to it. There is a big problem with this though, as the promise of serving content from several providers isn’t there – it will only give you content from Google even if you have other apps such as Netflix installed.
The voice search is done through the paired remote (doesn’t require line-of-sight, by the way). Search is very accurate and predicts correctly in every situation other than having the TV on too loud, and it serves you links to YouTube the majority of the time, unless it can link it to a film. However, answering obscure questions like “films that won an Oscar in 2011” gives perfect results, along with IMDB cards for the actors.
You can choose to see more info, view if it is on YouTube or buy/rent from Google Play. It’s kind of annoying that it doesn’t serve content from other sources as Google suggested. It’s impossible to say if this is just with Netflix as there is a distinct lack of apps for the UK version tested here.
There are a whopping 17 entertainment apps available as of today, with the majority of these being news providers such as Huffington Post. Other than Netflix and Plex you will find very little else. No on demand or TV apps is a distinct let down, and may put many people off seeing as things such as BBC iPlayer has Chromecast support already.
This is no big deal on its own, as the Nexus player does provide the same cast features as a Chromecast, allowing you to send content to it. However, it does mean – at the moment at least – this platform is no cord-cutter solution. It will still live along side a satellite or cable subscription, making the price point more than questionable.
With the exception of Google apps, the Nexus Player does not multitask. Pressing the home button quits the app and goes back home. Conversely, with Google apps it continues to play in the background with the TV overlay on top of the video. This is annoying to say the least, but hopefully this is an app-centric issue and not a restriction from Google.
Living With Android TV
After using the Nexus Player for a little over a week it’s hard to see a usage demographic for it outside of tech enthusiasts and Google fanboys. That’s not to say there is anything wrong with the unit over all. Every time I have wanted to watch content I chose to view it on the Nexus Player because it’s easier. The majority of the time this was casted though, which leads me to regret paying more than twice the price when I could have just bought a Chromecast instead.
The player has never missed a beat though: voice searches have been spot on – even my son got the hang of searching for his cartoons in less than a minute. This leads me to believe the Android TV as a whole really has a future, even if it isn’t on the Nexus Player. Everybody I have demoed it to has been amazed at its ability, but put off by the price. The only issue I have had with usage was the small hiccup when setting up, however I am still confused at the power cycle of the unit.
I have turned the TV on to reveal an already-playing video a couple of times and wondered how long that’s been going on. Unlike the Chromecast (which can draw power from the TV), its only method of powering on is an external power source, so it’s on even when the TV is off – which does aid in casting, as selecting the Nexus Player as source will turn the TV on and turn the channel over – but it doesn’t help with consuming power. I would presume there is a standby mode, but what and how that works is impossible to say as when the TV is on the unit is active.
For those living with an iOS device it may offer you a better way to consume your Google provided content. If you’re deep in the Google verse using an Android handset, unless you like being an early adopter, it’s worth waiting for future updates, more apps and arguably better hardware.
Whilst a great platform built into a little package, the UI and experience is to be commended but it’s hard to grasp who will buy this. The Nexus Player does not offer a considerable amount of worth over the Chromecast, and in several areas considerably less. Unless you want to play games on the Nexus Player at more than double the price of a Chromecast, it’s just not justifiable at the moment. With more apps, more on-board storage, or built directly into a TV or cable box pass though, it will be a great entertainment hub.
Android TV has a massive future of providing content and games to many, however the Nexus Player really is not the best showcase. Only spend your money if you are 100% sure you want Android TV. If not, get a Chromecast or two.
*We reviewed a retail unit of the Nexus Player purchased by the reviewer.
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