Nexus Player review
Despite the success of the Chromecast streaming stick, which has been slowly revitalising an entire industry since its initial launch in 2013, Google doesn’t have a great record in the smart TV arena. Its first Google TV appliances were awkward and clunky, and the spherical Nexus Q, launched alongside the original Nexus 7 tablet, never made it to market at all.
The Nexus Player (manufactured by Asus) has, at least, overcome the latter hurdle, but it’s going to have a hard time matching the Chromecast’s phenomenal success.
Nexus Player review: what is it and how much does it cost?
The main difficulty the Nexus Player is going to have to overcome is the price, which at £80 makes it nearly three times as expensive as a Chromecast.
And that extra £50, ostensibly, doesn’t get you very much at all. Essentially, the Nexus Player is a Chromecast with bells on. If you wish, you can use it exactly like the basic Chromecast, casting video content and browser tabs from your smartphone, TV or tablet apps to your TV screen. But it can also be used as a standalone streamer, in a similar vein to the Amazon Fire TV and Roku 3.
To that end, the puck-shaped Nexus Player is a more powerful and capable device than the standard Chromecast. It features dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi rather than single-band 802.11n, so if the 2.4GHz spectrum is too congested, you can switch over to 5GHz for stutter-free streaming.
It’s a lot more powerful, too, packing in a quad-core 1.8GHz Intel Atom processor, PowerVR Series 6 graphics, 1GB of RAM and 8GB of storage, and it’s this extra horsepower that enables it to act as a standalone TV streamer. Included in the box is a Bluetooth remote control, equipped with a microphone that allows you to search with voice commands; you can connect games controllers via Bluetooth as well.
There isn’t much in the way of physical connectivity, though. On the rear of the device you’ll find a full-sized HDMI output, which outputs video at resolutions up to 1,920 x 1,080 and 60Hz, a DC power socket and a micro-USB port, but no dedicated digital or analogue audio output, nor an Ethernet socket. And there’s no official way to add peripherals or storage using the USB port, either – Google put it there as a way for developers to test and debug their apps. (It is possible, but it it’s far from straightforward.)
Nexus Player review: performance and usability
Setup isn’t quite as seamless as it is on the Chromecast. You’ll find yourself fiddling around with the remote control to enter Wi-Fi passwords, and we had to restart the device a few times before we were able to see it as a Google Cast-compatible device from our mobile devices.
With that done, however, using the Nexus Player is largely niggle-free. The interface is responsive and simple to use, presenting a horizontally scrolling carousel of recommendations on the main screen, shortcuts to the various Google Play services, plus any apps or games you may have installed below.
Searching is carried out by voice, either by selecting the microphone icon at the top of the homescreen or by clicking a button on the remote and speaking into it, and it works brilliantly.
Almost every search we carried out was recognised accurately and instantly; it’s just a shame that it doesn’t work within every app. Although you can voice-search the library of TED TV lectures, in the Netflix app you have to enter text laboriously, character after character, using an onscreen keyboard.
Nexus Player review: content and gaming
The success of any streamer is dictated by the available content, and on this front the Nexus Player disappoints. Only apps and that have been customised and approved for the Android TV platform show up in the store, and the selection is thin, especially when it comes to UK content.
At the time of writing, there was no iPlayer app, no ITV Player, 4oD, Demand 5 nor anything at all from Sky. Compared with rivals (Roku springs immediately to mind), it’s a weak offering. You can at least install Netflix, and those interested in streaming across the local network can install Plex and VLC.
For those interested in using the Google Cast facility to watch BBC iPlayer from the mobile app, it’s worth pointing out that the Nexus Player is afflicted by the same problem as the Chromecast: due to the mismatch of 60Hz HDMI output and 25fps BBC TV output, most programmes suffer from an irritating judder, most apparent in fast-moving and panning shots.
The same can be said for the current selection of games. Although the titles that are available are mostly of good quality, and have been adapted well to work on the big screen, the variety of titles isn’t particularly broad.
Worse, much of what is present is targeted specifically at games controller owners and won’t run if you don’t have one connected. In order to make the most of this aspect of the Nexus Player, therefore, you’ll need to buy a controller. The official Asus-manufactured dual-analogue stick controller will set you back a fairly steep £35, but limited selection of titles on offer mean that we’re not convinced it’s worth shelling out for – not yet, at least.
Nexus Player review: verdict
Given time, we’re sure that the selection of Android TV apps and games will improve, especially since the platform has the backing of big TV manufacturers such as Sony, Sharp and Philips.
Unless you’re desperate to play Android games on your TV, however, we suggest you opt for something else. You could save £50 and buy a Chromecast: it remains a brilliantly simple and cheap way of streaming from certain apps to your TV. Or you could spend a similar sum on a rival standalone streamer: the Amazon Fire TV or Roku 3 both offer a far wider range of UK-specific content, including BBC iPlayer.
Right now the Nexus Player simply doesn’t do enough to warrant a recommendation. The content, particularly from a UK perspective, is weak and it’s expensive, too, especially if you add in the cost of the games controller.