Forget the shape, the Chromecast 2 is all about an app

October 23, 2015

Chromecast video

The first thing you’ll notice about the new Google Chromecast is its form. But more interesting by far is its function. The new Chromecast app solves the biggest issue with the first iteration of Google’s streaming pendant (née stick): finding stuff to watch. The app pulls in information from compatible services like Netflix and Hulu and will let you search for and stream shows and movies without having to jump in and out of 17 apps. It’s a simple idea, but it transforms the Chromecast from a standard “casting” device into a legitimate competitor for more “functional” settop boxes. There are some other meaningful additions to the Chromecast formula here.

The new shape, Google says, will drastically improve its WiFi strength, and video will be cast in 1080p whenever available. With the improved discovery options, universal search functionality, higher picture quality and same low price, Google is offering a lot for just $35 Chromecast Audio competes with Sonos for a tenth of the price The Chromecast Audio is pretty smart.

Here’s the elevator pitch: You plug the little hockey puck in the image above into a power outlet, and then connect it to your speakers using the provided 3.5mm-to-3.5mm cable, or a third-party 3.5mm-to-optical cable or the equivalent RCA converter. Then, Google says, you’ve got a smart speaker. I checked that claim out for myself at the company’s event, and it does what it says, but I still don’t know if it does it well.

You can cast music from a number of sources including Google Play Music and — at last — Spotify. The former also acts as a good casting option for those that like to keep their music files local rather than streaming. While the regular Chromecast got a new discovery app today, the new Audio version behaves more like the Chromecast of old, which is a lot like an open version of Apple’s AirPlay.

It’ll support your phone, tablet or laptop — essentially anything that runs Chrome or Android — and over the coming months multi-room support will roll out. Using WiFi streaming is a much better option than Bluetooth, both in quality and range, but the parts inside the Chromecast Audio are going to make all the difference. Sonos, which is probably the leading name in home audio streaming, sells almost the exact same product as the Chromecast Audio. It’s called the Sonos Connect, and it basically turns your regular speakers into Sonos speakers. It costs $350. The Chromecast Audio costs $35, and it lets you use the apps you want to use to control your music. If Google’s got the audio quality even at an adequate level, then it’s difficult to see this not catching on.