The one new, unique Google device that caught my attention the most was the Nexus Player.
This device is a mashup of Apple TV and Chromecast — aside from the circle design, Nexus Player is almost exactly like Apple TV.
Overall, the Nexus Player is a pretty fun device that runs Android 5.0 and performs similar to Chromecast. The device connects via HDMI and comes with its own 12v power cord. You may also attach a micro-USB cable for other devices.
Setup wasn’t difficult, and is actually a little easier than getting Chromecast connected to your network.
The Nexus Player comes with a small remote — one more remote to lose — with excellent touch controls and a comfortable feel. The Nexus Player unit is small enough so it won’t take up a large footprint in your entertainment center or near your television.
Android Authority has a pretty good look at the Nexus Player.
The Droid Tots love the Nexus Player. Although my oldest can get Chromecast apps to work, my younger two have some difficulties watching videos. Nexus Player gives push-button access to media apps like Netflix and Google Play Movies. Plus, for Netflix, my kids can select their profile before the app loads. Thus, I have less worries about them selecting inappropriate content.
Nexus Player is a lot like owning an Android tablet or phone, giving you the ability to run a variety of applications, including games. The remote acts as a gaming pad, or you can purchase the optional Gamepad for Nexus Player ($40). I opted not to purchase the controller, and I wish I had.
Constant music streaming is one of the features I love about the Nexus Player. If you’re listening to music and you decide you’d like to play a game, you can switch to the game and still play your music in the background. The Nexus Player mutes the game volume so there’s no conflicting noise. Of course, if your game depends on sound, it’s really not that handy of a feature.
Nexus Player also gives you great visual access to your Google content, including a stripped down version of the Play Store for purchasing games, movies, and other media. The remote has a handy search feature that’s very responsive and can help you find content for your viewing pleasure.
Additionally, since Nexus Player includes Google Cast support, any application that’s Chromecast compatible will connect with the Nexus Player. This also means you can use the accompanying Android TV Remote Control app and your Android Wear device to control content.
The bad and the ugly
Unfortunately, I’m sending my Nexus Player back to Google. It’s an interesting concept and a fun little device for the kids, but ultimately, Nexus Player doesn’t add any extra value beyond Chromecast. At $100, I can’t justify purchasing a Nexus Player just to add Android gaming to my television.
I like the concept and my kids love the games, but unless you add the Gamepad (preferably more than one), you’re stuck playing a handful of games with the remote. Currently, there are only about 15 remote-friendly games on Nexus Player, and only about 4 or 5 that are actually worth playing. I applaud Google’s attempts, but sadly, the decision not to include at least one Gamepad with Nexus Player — Amazon Fire TV has a $124 bundle that includes 2 free games and a HDMI cable — means you’ll quickly bore of the content selection.
Playing games from the remote also has me concerned about the lasting viability of the remote. I can’t imagine you can play for too many hours without damaging the buttons.
Google makes a big deal about the search function on the remote. This is great, but hardly deserves significant lauding. I’ve found that unless the content is on YouTube, search doesn’t work too well. Additionally, I found the remote has a hard time filtering sounds. Unless you’re in an utterly quiet room — not usually possible with 3 kids — search took too long or couldn’t produce any results.
Despite some of the flash on the Android Authority video, I constantly run in to performance issues. Lag is the biggest problem with the Nexus Player (I’m on the most current update), and although the smooth switches are more common than laggy pages, I’m still plagued by glitches. I can’t count the number of time’s I’ve tried switching pages, only to have to wait for the system to load. Some people reported that a reset fixed some of these problems, but I haven’t seen any improvement since I first powered on the device.
Initially, I also had some issues with sound. At first I thought this was HDMI cord/port related, but after factory resetting the device I was able to fix the sound issue.
One of the biggest flaws with Nexus Player is that the device is wholly lacking in available content, specifically applications. Sure, Google Play Movies and TV content is available, as well as Play Music, Pandora, Hulu, and Netflix. But, apart from the major media providers, there isn’t much else. That’s not including the sparse selections of games.
Of course, as more developers start using Nexus Player the apps will appear. Unfortunately, I don’t think that will happen for a very long time. (Case in point: even Google Slides has yet to incorporate Cast compatibility despite actually being the perfect use.) I believe we’ll continue to see many Google Cast capable apps without a Nexus Player component. Thus eliminating the need for Nexus Player, and reinforcing the utility of Chromecast.
Finally, Nexus Player requires a WiFi connection, and doesn’t include an ethernet port. This won’t be a top concern for too many people, but a wired connection is almost always faster than WiFi, which means less buffering.
Chromecast is still my choice
I really wanted to love Nexus Player and tout its wonderful, futuristic possibilities. But sadly, Chromecast is still the better choice. Ultimately, since you’re still using your Android device to control a lot of app content, then having using the more expensive Nexus Player doesn’t make too much sense. I can get all of the benefits of Google Cast, without the inflated price.
As time progresses and developers improve the content and offerings, I’m sure I’ll give Nexus Player another look. Perhaps Nexus Player can include the one feature that’ll set it apart from Chromecast. For now, I like my ultra portable, exceptionally inexpensive, Chromecast dongle. (Note that Amazon also offers its Fire TV Stick for $39. Add in an Amazon Prime subscription and you could save money over Google just in the volume of free content from Amazon.)
If I didn’t have a Chromecast (or three), then perhaps, as a first-time buyer, I’d select the Nexus Player. I see a bright future for this device in the distance, but it’ll be awhile.
Nexus Player gets 4 of 5 stars for concept and design, but 2 stars for desirability.