Google Chromecast review: Still a cheap way to make your TV smart in 2018

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It's hard to believe that the disc-shaped Chromecast is a few years old. Since then, Google released the Chromecast Ultra, which ups the ante by offering 4K and HDR capabilities. Still, the non-4K Chromecast is £39 cheaper and might be better suited for you. Why? As if you don't have a 4K TV, you'll not benefit from a 4K streamer.

So stick to the original Chromecast if you have an HD television, and if you have a 4K set, you're probably better off using the built-in apps until something comes along to convince us otherwise. If you don't have said apps and are happy blowing £69 for a media streamer, by all means, go ahead - but I think your hard-earned cash is better spent elsewhere.

READ NEXT: Chromecast Ultra review: Do you really need this streamer?

Google Chromecast review: What you need to know

It's always difficult reviewing products which cost as little as the Chromecast. For £30, you're getting a media streamer which is incredibly easy to set up, can be used with the vast majority of services, and can be stretched to do a whole lot more. At this price, it's hard to make a case that someone shouldn't buy it. 

However things have changed and there are now other rivals with diminutive streaming sticks all working in similar ways, offering up additional functionality. Can Chromecast compete? The simple answer is, yes. Yes it can. And then some.

Buy the Google Chromecast now from Currys

Google Chromecast review: Setup

Google’s small dongle doesn’t require a lot of setup or the use of messy cables – something any technophobe will appreciate – and it’s all controlled via Wi-Fi from your computer, smartphone or tablet, meaning no new remotes to master or lose. The Chromecast can also be tucked away behind your TV rather neatly, meaning you won’t even know it's there once you’ve plugged it in.

Despite an aesthetic update, including a much-needed flexible HDMI cable, Chromecast does still need power via micro USB. While it does suggest you need a free plug socket, if your TV has a powered USB port, you can make use of that to give your Chromecast some juice.

Beyond the initial stages of plugging in your Chromecast, Google makes the setup process pleasingly simple, requiring you to just visit the Google Play Store or Apple App Store to download its Chromecast app. Google’s app guides you through the setup process, linking your tablet or smartphone directly to the Chromecast’s local Wi-Fi network so you can set it up to look for your home network.

Compared to the 2012 model Chromecast, Google’s newest dongle now supports 802.11ac dual-band networks and makes use of an adaptive antenna for vastly improved networking performance. Put simply, the new Chromecast won’t struggle with local streaming via Plex like its predecessor did. Chromecast’s “Fast Play” technology also helps speed up the time it takes for you to cast content as it essentially means your Chromecast starts buffering the content it expects you to watch while you’re browsing through menus. As you can imagine, this only works on supported apps such as YouTube or Netflix. Amazon’s Fire TV devices are already capable of a similar feature, although it only works with Prime Video.

Google has also improved its, previously lacking, Chromecast app. Now called Google Cast, it’s expanded upon the original’s features of connecting your Chromecast to a wireless network or mirror your device’s screen. Now the app is a great way to find Chromecast-supported apps, new content to throw to your TV and any upcoming offers and Google Chromecast-related promotions.

If you’re a BT customer and have BT Home Hub, you may come across some issues when setting up your Chromecast thanks to BT’s Smart Setup feature. Usually, this fires your newly connected device over to a BT Broadband splash page and that can cause issue for devices that don’t have a web browser built in. Don’t worry though, if this seems to be happening to you, disable Smart Setup on your Home Hub 4 or 5 before you connect your Chromecast.

Google Chromecast Review: Casting

Using a Chromecast is, thankfully, incredibly simple. Compatible with any Android device running 2.3 Gingerbread or higher, an iPhone or iPad with iOS 6.0 or newer installed or a Chromebook, Mac or Windows PC running Chrome, there’s really no mass-market device around that can’t support Chromecast.

Just like on Apple TV and AirPlay, casting to Chromecast requires you to simply tap the “Cast” button – a little square with the Wi-Fi symbol in the corner – and select the device you want to stream to. In most cases, you’re not actually streaming the content from your device to the TV, the Chromecast is picking up the source signal and streaming it directly to it. This means that you’re not only saving your battery and not using up mobile data, but you can also use your laptop, phone, tablet, whatever to do something else at the same time. A connection is still made between the two devices, so that you can control playback by simply diving back into the app and using the on-screen controls.

Chromecast’s casting ability isn’t just for video, any supported app can be cast to your TV. While the sky’s the limit in regards to what you could cast, for the most part you’ll just be sending audio, photos and video across and, even if you can’t cast the app you want, you can share your entire device’s screen to make sure something appears there. Thankfully, we've rounded up our best Chromecast apps for you to help you seek out what's worth having. 

Review continues over on Page 2

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