Thanks to lessons learned from its first generation’s shortcomings and in no small part to a space-saving redesign, the Google Chromecast 2 lives up more than ever to the wireless streaming dongle’s sizable connectivity potential and convenience to become a cord-cutter’s dream.
The revamped HDMI device isn’t without its remaining room for improvement – its support maxes out at 1080p HD instead of 4K, it only sets up with connection to an Android or iOS device, Amazon Prime videos stream only from a connected PC, and…really, a generation later and still no dedicated remote or interface? – but its 5GHz Wi-Fi compatibility streams Netflix, YouTube, Spotify, HBO Now and more popular apps from synched devices seamlessly without sacrificing its appealing price point for performance.
Gone away is the original Chromecast’s protruding USB-stick design. The Chromecast 2 isn’t so much a streaming stick as a streaming puck. Google downsized the device to a flat disc with a magnetized bottom that can either dangle down between ports from a small HDMI cord or simply lay flat as needed, Either way, the magnet can attract the cord for folded-over storage when the Chromecast 2 is not in use or in transit. You’ll find the Chromecast 2’s USB power port, reset button and indicator light on the front side.
Setting up requires no more than an active Wi-Fi network running off a broadband internet connect, a Chromecast 2, an HDMI television, and an Android or iOS-powered tablet or smartphone. Plug the Chromecast 2 in using the included USB adapter, toggle your TV to the Chromecast 2’s HDMI input (some will do so immediately once the cast begins, thanks to HDMI-CEC support) and follow the on-screen instructions after downloading and starting the Chromecast app. As you progress, you’ll receive step-by-step instructions for downloading the app itself, pairing it with the device and connecting your local network directly from the device to your TV to you.
Streaming is made more reliable and interference-free by the Chromecast 2’s three radios in lieu of a single-band Wi-Fi antenna and the 5GHz upgrade shrugging off crowding and electromagnetic waveform better than ever, though long distances hamper it in ways it never did the 2.4GHz original Chromecast. If you’ve installed Google Chrome’s Cast browser extension, you can cast any given tab to your screen at any time – provided it’s in no greater resolution than 720p.
The good news is, the casting and mirroring experiences have never been better, thanks to the vastly improved Chromecast app’s Universal Search feature. Amazon Prime streaming may be limited to the PC-browser platform, but Amazon-owned Twitch not only counts among the hundreds of Chromecast-ready streaming platforms, but functions as a second-screen chat window on a tablet while content plays on a TV screen. Among other services compatible with Chromecast:
- BBC iPlayer
- Sling TV
- HBO Go
- Google Photos
- Hulu Plus
Unsure if an app can be streamed directly? Look for a Chromecast icon in the corner, tap it, and the content immediately beams from your device to the equipped television. More responsive streaming is one of the Chromecast 2’s most noticeable improvements, with content now allowed to background-load in anticipation of your next viewing choice.
The new Chromecast is supposed to be faster than the original Chromecast. We tested the old and new models side by side and the new version certainly seems more responsive. Google says apps should stream faster, as content will load in the background in precognition of what you want to watch next. Keep in mind, casting delivers video directly from device to television, whereas mirroring over the sleeker Wi-Fi connectivity displays content simultaneously on your device and connected screen. The difference being, casting content still allows you to do something else with your device as needed, from taking calls to opening webpages and other apps, thanks to Google’s cloud-based playback. On the other hand, mirroring does exactly what it sounds like: what happens on your device, goeds onscreen.
Unfortunately, that means you can’t cast device-stored content, including music, photos or video. However, dropping mp4 files and the like into Chrome will allow you to mirror-playback.
Behold, more not-so-great news: the Chromecast 2 still does not carry a TV-based user interface. For want of an individual remote, your casting and mirroring experiences are still strictly device-controlled.
Last but not least, there’s the true highlight of the Chromecast 2: the simple, fast experience of the Chromecast app, especially Universal Search. Much like Roku and Amazon Fire TV’s similar functions, this bar serves up content results for any request from multiple apps in one concise, orderly list. The current app selection could use some additions in a few places, such as CBS and Watch ESPN, but this is a superb start for the hundreds of available platforms.
All-in-all, the Chromecast 2 is an outstanding overall experience. There are a few simple “wants” that have yet to be addressed, most notably the need for a direct television UI and improved compatibility for certain streaming services. However, from a more robust Wi-Fi connection to slimmer physical design, it’s hard to say this isn’t a great leap forward.