Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Chromecast at Last! My (Sort Of) Unbiased Review

I typically don't suffer from shiney-new-techy gadget syndrome: purchasing the newest, latest and greatest as soon as it hits the market, but as fate would have it, I happened to be watching the Google Press Meeting on July 24, 2013 when the Chromecast was announced...at $35. And while I may not suffer from SNTG Syndrome, I am a sucker for something that seems like a good deal.

BORING DISCLOSURE ALERT: In the interest of full disclosure, I am a Google Certified Teacher, but these blog posts are my own and of my own opinion and I don't get paid for anything I write here.

The Chromescast was packaged in a tidy little box with an IKEA-esque set of directions. Essentially, plug it in, turn your TV to the correct source and follow the on-screen instructions. You just have to make sure that your device and your Chromecast are on the same wi-fi network, which isn't difficult when using this from your home. And that's how it worked. Shocking.

Initially, casting anything, whether from YouTube, Google Videos or Netflix, the reception was choppy and not at all smooth. But that wasn't really the Chromecast's fault -  I discovered that our router was kind of old and we had needed a new one for a while. Once we got a new router, it worked like a charm.

You may have to play with the display ratio when casting a Chrome browser tab so as to see the entire screen, but it was fast and smooth.

Some people have been comparing the Chromecast to the AppleTV, and I'd like to address a couple of those comparisons.

  • CHROMECAST WIN. You can't compare the price. $35 is a steal and I LOVE not having yet another piece of equipment to drag with me when traveling. I can fit the Chromecast in my pocket. So I guess that's a double-win - price and size.
  • APPLE TV WIN (WITH CHROMECAST EXPECTED TO GET THERE). Yes, you can reflect your entire screen with an Apple TV, and that's definitely a bonus, but casting a Chrome browser tab is pretty useful, considering that most of what I do is web-based, anyway. And it's not like I can't plug in my Apple TV and my Chromecast - the TV doesn't implode or anything - they plug into slots next to each other and play just fine. (I also wouldn't be surprised in Google came out with full screencasting capabilities using the Chromecast in due time, as well.)
  • CHROMECAST WIN. I love that you can use Android AND iOS devices to cast using the Chromecast. Anything that increases my ability to be platform agnostic and use whatever works for that time or activity is a BIG win for me.
  • APPLE TV WIN. Apple TV simply has more capabilities right now, but again, that mostly has to do with its ability to screencast. One of the nice feature is the ability to reflect multiple iOS devices on the same screen. If Chromecast could do that, it would be a whole new picture-in-picture experience!
  • CHROMECAST WIN. Perhaps I'm not just a savvy Apple TV user, but casting what's on my phone, tablet or Chrome browser tab is as easy as switching the TV channel, and the same can't be said for Apple TV. The Apple TV has its own remote (which is tiny and easily lost), and that's a danger in our home.

YOU KNOW WHAT'D BE AWESOME? At some point, I'd love to see the ability to project a device and watch live TV at the same time. Think: watching your favorite TV program and having a split screen and on the other side of your screen, you can get more information about something you just saw on TV, thereby deepening your understanding. Not quite like Google TV, but better. If there's something out there like this already, let me know!

AND ANOTHER THING. Stop asking what the educational use is about new technologies that come out. We're trying to bridge the gap between life and education. More and more, questions asking about "educational use" have more to do with "how can I lock this down" and less to do with the powerful things you CAN do with technology. Let's explore those possibilities first, k? Then, we can talk about responsible behavior.

So far, so good. I like it. It does what I want it to do and for the size and price, it makes it a big winner for me.

ON A PERSONAL NOTE, one of biggest practical advantages is that I can finally show my mom how to search on YouTube for exactly the thing she wants to see. It's hard to train someone while sharing a laptop, and when you use the Apple TV, there's no ability to show the actual browser interface as she would use it - on the "real computer" (not those flat tablet thingys). So being able to show her exactly the kind of tab she would look at on her own is incredibly helpful. Now she can watch all the Laughing Baby videos she wants and I can show her how to search for them...