When Google came out with the original Chromecast, the company introduced the world to a new way to stream media that wasn’t too hard on the wallet. When it first came out, the Chromecast had a few shortcomings, including a lack of current wireless frequencies, a lack of supported apps and a bit of lag when using the dongle.
Fast forward two years and Google has finally released the second generation of the budget conscious dongle. The updated Chromecast comes with a new design, updated specs and the exact same price point. As if that weren’t enough, the Chromecast comes with a new, younger sibling, dedicated to just streaming audio.
Known as the Chromecast Audio, the device is designed to make streaming your favorite audio to larger speakers quick and painless. When it comes to streaming options, I like to take a bit longer before I review them. That way I can incorporate them into my life. I spent a month with both the Chromecast and Chromecast Audio, but is a brand new dongle and an updated Chromecast worth your coin? Keep on reading to find out.
- Ports/Connectors: HDMI, Micro-USB for power
- Memory: 512 MB DDR3L RAM
- Resolution: 1080p
- Connectivity/Network: Wi-Fi 802.11ac (2.4GHz/5Ghz)
- Power: 5V, 1A power supply
- Connectivity: 3.5mm Analog/optical, Micro-USB for power
- Connectivity/Network: Wi-Fi 802.11ac (2.4GHz/5Ghz)
What’s in the Box
As far as what you get is concerned, the contents are as minimal as the Chromecast and Chromecast Audio themselves. Inside the box is the Dongle and power cords. In the Chromecast Audio box, you get the added 3.5mm audio cable.
The original Chromecast was a tiny, rigid stick/dongle with an HDMI port. It came with an HDMI port extender for those hard to reach ports. Chromecast 2.0 did away with the discreet look of the original and its need for an extender. In its place, a larger puck that comes in Coral, Black or Lime (Yellow).
The Audio dongle comes in black with a lime colored audio jack. The added touch to the Audio is it has grooves that make it look like the grooves of a record. For an audio dongle, that’s a pretty nice touch.
Both dongles have the Chrome logo displayed prominently in the center of the pucks. The power cords are a simple cord with a Chrome logo on the base. Both are an ash gray. Each come with a micro-USB port (for power) and a led connection indicator.
Ease of Use
Both dongles are designed to be set up with ease. Plug them in, connect to them via the Chromecast App via your phone and set them up. When I first got both dongles, each one had to be updated. The Chromecast 2.0 walks you through the setup on both your phone and your big screen.
The splash screens displayed on the big screen, are Material Design in nature. As the device updates, you’re greeted with a video showing you how to use the dongle. It was the same experience for the Chromecast Audio. However, there was no intro song while the update downloaded.
If you’re familiar with, or owned, the original Chromecast, then you’ll be right at home with either of the two current generation dongles. If you aren’t, it’s simple. Open up a compatible app — there are hundreds of them — hit the cast button, choose your Chromecast and viola, you’re a casting machine.
Another added touch to the Chromecast Audio is that, like most Bluetooth speakers, as soon as you’ve connected to it, the speaker plays a quick connection sound.
One of the added perks to the Chromecast 2015 is the support for 5.0GHz networks. The original Chromecast only supported 2.4GHz networks. With the added speed boost and the added Fast Play technology, the Chromecast 2015 speeds up load times dramatically in my uses.
With the original Chromecast, I had time to go grab a snack or beverage in the time it takes to load a TV show or program. That’s no longer the case, especially in Netflix. Fast Play helps by caching video data in the background rather than when you start the cast. It’s a handy feature that I hope is implemented in more Chromecast supported apps.
Even without Fast Play, I did notice load times were significantly lower. With the original Chromecast, my shows were often interrupted with repeat buffering issues, and I have yet to have that happen with the 2015 model, even on my slow 7Mbps Internet speed.
As per the norm with the Chromecast, it doe all the heavy lifting when you’re streaming. Cast from your device, and the Chromecast dongle does the the work. The added benefit, is your phone or tablet becomes the remote.
The Chromecast doesn’t come with support for 4K streaming. So if you have a 4k television and hope the new Chromecast will shine on that fancy TV, you’re out of luck.
There is no interface, nor is there an actual remote, and users looking for that experience will want to look elsewhere. While streaming apps have added the ability to binge watch TV shows, you still need to grab your phone to pause, rewind or fast forward, and that may annoy some people who, again, want the simplicity that comes with a remote.
As far as the Chromecast Audio is concerned, the best way I can describe its performance is to that of a Bluetooth speaker. However, rather than your phone doing the heavy lifting, again, the Audio does it, potentially saving devices from the battery drain of Bluetooth, especially those Android devices still on Lollipop.
At $35 each, these dongles are one heck of a deal. Depending on where you look though, you can find Google’s Nexus Player for $15 more at a mere $50. You’ll get a remote, interface and voice support for not much more which makes the Chromecast 2015, less of a good deal for you.
Though, we’ve seen more waves in the Chromecast pond than that of the Android TV waters though there’s still talk of a revitalized push for Android TV. Even so, the Chromecast has hundreds of supported apps and less crashes than that of Android TV.
If you have yet to pick up a Bluetooth speaker, but want the ability to stream music from your phone to a speaker, the Chromecast Audio is well worth it at $35. You get the the same capabilities, without Bluetooth connection issues and the little battery drain that can come with it. Plus, having the ability to add streaming capabilities to your favorite speakers that are without at $35, is a pretty awesome deal.
The Chromecast 2.0 (2015) and Chromecast Audio are a welcomed refresh and addition to the Chromecast line and a perfect gift this holiday season. While we’ve seen very little in terms of activity for Android TV, the Chromecast ecosystem is alive and kicking. If you have yet to pick up a Chromecast and are looking for an inexpensive way to do so, the Chromecast 2015 is a good buy.
If you’re looking for an inexpensive streaming option but want a remote and interface, your money is best spent elsewhere; as is your money, if your original Chromecast is working well enough. The only reason I would suggest replacing the original Chromecast, is if you have crappy WiFi at home or absolutely hate the load times of the original. If you’re just jumping in to Google’s casting world, it’s a no-brainer.
Speaking of no-brainer, the Chromecast Audio is a good buy all around. Whether you have a pair of old speakers you love and want to get more use out of, or haven’t jumped in on the Bluetooth speaker train, the Chromecast Audio is an inexpensive way to connect your device to some speakers without the need for cables.
*We reviewed a retail unit of the Chromecast 2.0 and Chromecast Audio purchased by the reviewer.
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