Released this week with stealthily little fanfare, Google's Chromecast is already on back order in the Google Play store, and out of stock on Amazon. The little plastic dongle — which plugs into your television's HDMI port to beam media like Netflix from a phone, tablet, or PC — immediately generated immense enthusiasm, with some calling the device, at just $35, a game changer in the nascent field of internet television. Since then, however, a clearer picture has emerged of how exactly Chromecast works; here are a few revelations from critics who have had some hands-on time:
1. It isn't cordless
There's a tiny debate over whether the Chromecast qualifies as a "dongle," since it needs an external power source. Though still extremely portable and versatile, the device requires a cord that must either be plugged into a wall outlet or into your television's USB dock. Here's what it looks like all together:
Indeed. With a power cord Chromecast is less “sexy”. but hey, Google has to make it look better than an Apple TV no? pic.twitter.com/EVPZ1qRzJC
— Ouriel Ohayon (@OurielOhayon) July 25, 2013
BuzzFeed FWD's John Herrman argues that Google was a tad disingenuous with its advertising. "Google did mention that the device would require and external power supply, but didn't exactly emphasize the point," he says. "Unless the buyer has a certain, newer type of TV — and honestly, who knows what HDMI spec their TV has? — they'll end up with a wire hanging out from the end of the dongle. Not a lie, exactly. But also not quite honest."
2. You need a great WiFi signal for it to work
If the WiFi signal in your home isn't very fast, the Chromecast might not be for you. Since the device relies on streaming media from either a browser or apps built to use the Googlecast API (more on that in a bit), you're going to need solid internet. "We tried to get the Chromecast running at Wired yesterday, but the only networks available from our test TVs had terrible WiFi reception," says Wired's Mat Honan. "That meant we failed miserably. The audio and video sputtered, then ultimately halted. It was frustrating."
3. But it's incredibly easy to set up
If you have a solid connection (or something like a 4G hotspot), streaming media to your TV is a breeze. Wired's Honan says it's intuitive and required just three minutes to use once he took it home where the WiFi wasn't congested.
4. It works with three Android apps
So far, the count includes Netflix, YouTube, and movies or TV shows from the Google Play store. You can Chromecast from the web using the Chrome browser, though, which opens up services like Amazon Instant Video, Hulu, HBO Go, Rdio, Spotify, and more. But video quality from a browser isn't the greatest. "If it’s available on the browser, it should be possible to stream Vimeo, Spotify, Pandora, and Hulu, albeit it won’t looks as clean as you’d like," says Ken Yeung at The Next Web. However, Quicktime and Microsoft's Silverlight aren't compatible, meaning web-based Netflix is off the table.
5. It doesn't work for iOS… yet
And that's going to be a problem. According to Wired's Honan, "iOS setup isn't available yet," and lots of people are buying it based on Google's promised support for the iPhone and iPad. "This needs to be remedied quickly, or made exceptionally clear at the time of purchase that it’s not implemented yet," says Honan.
6. Google ended its Netflix promotion
Due to "overwhelming demand" for the product, Google announced Thursday that it will end its offer of three months of free Netflix for anyone who orders a Chromecast, which even extended to existing users, reports the Los Angeles Times. Google says that users who purchased a Chromecast before the promotion ended should still be able to redeem their coupon codes. But the offer won't extend to new buyers.