Chromecast 2 review: Dude, where's my remote?

Performance improvements, better playback, and some hardware curiosities

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Google updated the Chromecast hardware and I, as usual, ordered it immediately because I was in need of an update. I have two Chromecasts that I use casually and they were not exactly working ‘fine’. YouTube would go rogue, losing connection, and Chromecast would be play the video without anyone controlling it. So, you see, it was not a needless purchase.

Here are my impressions of the Chromecast 2.

It’s like buying colorful socks

The new Chromecast now comes in three colors, though I really don't know how colors matter as the device is meant to be hidden behind the TV screen or A/V system. For what it's worth, I bought the black one.

While the old Chromecast looked more like a typical thumb drive with an HDMI pin sticking out the end, the new version is round and comes with a flexible cable with HDMI at one end. This actually makes it easier to plug in behind AV systems where there isn’t much wiggle room.

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For some strange reason there is a magnet on the HDMI pin, so when not in use the cable attaches to the device. I really don't see any purpose. It might be a neat feature if I were traveling around with the device, using it in hotel rooms -- except that you can't use it in hotels as they require web log-in that is not possible from the Chromecast interface (even if you did want to pay the $15 per day Internet charge). I wish Chromecast had a feature where authentication is done from the smartphone -- the way we do on smartwatches.

Performance improved

I see significant performance improvements compared to my gen-1 Chromecast; it's faster and more responsive. The playback from a Chrome browser has also improved. I use this feature a lot as I can easily ‘cast’ any video that I came across on my PC.

You can also stream videos stored on your desktop through Chrome browser. With the new device the playback quality is buttery smooth; I didn't notice any lag whatsoever, even while watching high definition movies.

Dude where's my remote?

Traditionally we use a remote to interact with the TV: You pick up the remote, push some buttons, and get what you need. Want to control the volume? Push a button. Want to mute? Push a button. Want to pause? Push a button. Quite easy. Just push a button.

Google didn't like it. They wanted to turn your smartphone into ‘the’ remote and give you a device that encourages you to go online. The device essentially turns your smartphone into a remote to play online content. That was a neat idea back in 2013 when remotes were ugly and non intuitive. But after using Chromecast I realized that what was touted as it's greatest strength was also it's greatest weakness.

Here is where Chromecast fails:

* The program running on the TV is controlled by my phone and if I walk away with the phone to take a call, or for some other reason, the rest of the family watching it has no control over it. If there were a remote, they could have taken over from my.

* I can't immediately pause video with my phone. If I am watching a program and suddenly there is a phone call, I struggle with my phone to first find the app that was steaming the content, or find the Chromecast app, and then pause it. Since most phones lock the screen automatically, I routinely miss calls because by the time I unlock my phone, find the app and pause it, the call has ended. Similarly, if I want to quickly turn off a violent action scene if my 3 year old son walks into the room, I'm unable to do that.

It’s all about those apps

The second big problem is that the content is scattered all over the phone. Every program is an app. I wish there was a consolidated interface where I could choose from one screen what I want to watch. The way it currently works is you find the app, open it and then cast it.

In my opinion, Chromecast is not focusing on turning your TV into a smart TV; the focus is on offering a bigger screen to your smartphone.

Overall I am extremely happy with Chromecast and recommend it as a must-have device.

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