After having the Chromecast for a year, I was excited to hear at Google IO 2014 that the Chromecast I had come to love would be getting a tricked out big brother that promised to solve the issues I had with the Chromecast.
I nearly could not control myself when the Nexus Player hit google’s virtual shelves. The only thing stopping me from buying it was the small issue of shipping; I figured I could save the $16 by picking it up at a store near me since I happen to live / work near a Futureshop Bestbuy staples and Walmart.
One day, on my travels to Walmart I came across the Nexus Player and purchased it without hesitation. I gladly traded my 124.88 for the chance to have google’s newest creation.
So far, it’s been the worst ~$125 I’ve spent in recent memory.
Now before I dive into why, let me tell you about my circumstances.
Before getting the Chromecast, I had a Sandy Bridge powered HTPC running XMBC, streaming files from a self built NAS (more on that someone on my blog)
Unfortunately, my live in girlfriend found the process of finding content and streaming playing it to be daunting (which I can completely understand since it was a mess to operate even when it was working) and since she mostly wanted to watch Netflix and youtube I figured a Chromecast would be easier and more reliable.
Fast forward a few months, we had been happily using the Chromecast for awhile but it had a few limitations that started to bother me, for example
######Google Play Music would stop streaming after a few songs if the casting device went to sleep.
Kind of a no brainer why that’d be annoying, I figured a device that could setup and maintain its own connection to GPM would solve this.
Limited bandwidth caused poor video quality
When streaming videos from my NAS the video would regularly become pixelated (heavy macroblocking) due to the CC limited 2.4Ghz 1x1 WiFi chip. I figured a device with 802.11ac would fix this situation.
Videos had to be controlled by a smartphone / tablet
A minor issue, but it was pretty annoying. For example if I started streaming Netflix from my girlfriends phone then she went to the washroom, I’d be unable to pause the video until she came back.
Similarly just having to unlock the phone and find the app and pause the video was a bit more frictional than just pressing a button on a remote.
With those considerations in mind, when I bought the Nexus Player I figured it’d be the Chromecast++ giving me everything I love about the Chromecast while eradicating everything I don’t but various issues with the Nexus Player has so far prevented this vision from coming true. The issues I experience fall into two categories, Core Experience issues and Bugs.
If the Nexus Player was bug free, (which you’ll see in the next section it most certainly isn’t) I’d considering the following things to be fairly major issues.
Front and center on the android TV interface is personalized recommendations from installed apps based on content it assumes you want to see. When I first got the Nexus Player I will admit that I was impressed by this; seeing my favorite YouTube videos right after setup was endearing. Things went down hill when myy girlfriend started using the Nexus Player because unfortunately (as of the timing of writing this) you can only login as one user, and thus google started recommending me stuff my girlfriend was into and not my own content. Even more frustrating things she liked in Google Play Music on the Nexus Player started showing up on my phone.
As a Living room centric device, I think this is a pretty big oversight. Hopefully this will be rectified soon
Search is arguable the main interface to the Nexus Player. It’s clearly very important given the fact that the is a dedicated search button on the remote and the is an omnipresent search bar in all google apps (including the main menu) however search on the Nexus Player leaves a lot to be desired.
As a software developer I realize search is a difficult problem, and google is working hard with new APIs in Lolipop as well as incorporating speech recognition and a recommendation engine to make search a non issue. However as it stands today, search on the Nexus Player isn’t very good.
For example, the search menu only searches Youtube and Google Play Movies. If you want to search Google Play Music or Netflix, you need to enter that app and perform your search.
On that note, the search interface varies across apps. While I applaud google for giving developers freedom, I will say that the search experience in Netflix is inferior to the experience in Google’s own apps. For example in the case of Netflix specifically, voice search is not an option, AND you can’t use your phone as an input device, you must use the on screen keyboard with your remote.
While the main apps I need are supported (Youtube, Netflix, Play Music, TED, and PLEX) there isn’t much available on the app store. While I expect this to improve in time, I’m legitimately surprised more apps aren’t available
What really kills the Nexus Player for me is all the bugs. I consider myself an early adopter and a google apologist yet I would return the Nexus Player today if I could find the receipt.
As a glorified streamer who’s content comes from the web for me this is the most egregious of offences. The Nexus Players wifi performance drops drastically after the device wakes from sleep, requiring a reboot for the device to be functional. After waking from sleep, speech recognition doesn’t work (latency is too high) recommendations don’t load their images, it takes approximately 4 minutes for a stream to begin and the remote app has ~2 seconds of latency. Furthermore, casting doesn’t work (takes forever to find the device on the network, then casting to it times out)
######HDMI-CEC issues HDMI-CEC is a technology that allows HDMI devices to communicate with each other. If you have a Chromecast and a TV with HDMI-CEC support you would have noticed a few neat features that the Chromecast enables using HDMI-CEC. For example, casting to your CC while the TV is off will cause it to turn on. This is not true for the Nexus Player. Despite supporting HDMI-CEC when it goes to sleep casting to it (if it shows up on the network, which it often doesn’t) does nothing.
Worse yet, since the 5.1 update, I have noticed that turning on the TV does not wake the Nexus Player from sleep (neither does the remote) which means to use it again I must power cycle it. A minor inconvenience sure, but a very annoying one when you’ve sat down to watch something.
You may have also noticed that when you turn off a different HDMI-CEC enabled device (say, a PS3/4) the input automatically switches to the chromecast. Again not true with the Nexus Player. You have to manually switch to its input to watch anything.
Remote pairing issues
Quite a few times the remote has become unpaired from the Nexus Player. No idea how (I know there is a key combo, but I usually have the remote on a table so I doubt that’s accidentally being triggered). Since the 5.1 update, pressing the pair button on the bottom of the unit doesn’t fix this, it will “pair” with the remote, then pop up a dialog asking if it’s OK for this device to connect (which can only be selected with… a remote) requiring a power cycle and re-pair to fix.
Update: The remote doesn’t pair at all anymore, it goes into pairing mode but is not detected by the nexus player. Quite possibly a hardware bug but either way it’s another nail in the nexus players proverbial coffin
Paused tracks randomly play
This is more of a core experience issue, but if you pause a song in GPM pressing play in any app will cause that song to start playing again. This is extremely frustrating when you’re say watching a movie and you press play to pause the video. It will pause the video yes but then music will start playing. Only way to fix it (right now) is a reboot.
Something that happens more frequently than I’d like to see is apps spontaneously exit. Unlike on android on mobile there isn’t a “This application has stopped” dialog, you just suddenly get kicked to the main menu.
No soft reboot (Fixed in 5.1)
The common theme you noticed is every problem is solved with a quick reboot. Unfortunately until the 5.1 update the only way to do that was to get up and unplug the thing. Now they’ve added a restart option (buried in the about menu unfortunately) which helps a little, but again, not having to reboot the thing multiple times a day would be a better solution.
So that’s my rant, I hope that these issues are solved because otherwise the Nexus Player is everything I hoped for. But with that said at the moment I cannot recommend anyone purchase the Nexus player.