Google Nexus Player full review
Announced last October alongside the Nexus 6 and Nexus 9, the Player is Google’s set-top media streamer. It’s like Apple’s TV, but even more like Amazon’s Fire TV. Is it the one to buy? We explain all you need to know in our Google Nexus Player review. Updated on 29/4/15 with our video review. Best media streamers you can buy in the UK
Media streamers used to boast about their vast support for different file formats, but these days it’s all about the content you can get online. No longer do you need your own local video library: you just search for anything you like and start watching immediately.
Google Nexus Player review: content
So, what does the Nexus Player offer? Being a Google device, it’s no surprise that it’s a portal to Google Play Movies & TV where you can rent or buy films, TV episodes and box sets. You can also use Google Play Music and – as you’d expect – YouTube (because it’s owned by Google).
What Google doesn't have is a streaming service to rival Netflix or Amazon Prime Instant Video. It has Google Music, but no subscription service for video. It's much more expensive to use a pay-per-view service, so you're much better off signing up for Netflix and renting the odd new movie from Google Play.
The default home screen also has links to a massively slimmed-down Google Play store where you can install some apps and games: the Nexus Player wants to be your go-to device for casual gaming, just like Amazon’s Fire TV or Roku 3.
You can play games using the included remote, or spend an extra £35 on the Bluetooth game controller. That’s the same price as Amazon’s, to save you checking. Games are divided into three categories: TV Remote, Casual for Gamepad and Action for Gamepad.
It isn’t hard to guess what you’ll find in each category, but at the moment the selection is pretty limited – just like the Fire TV. You don’t need a gamepad to play some action games, though. Fire up Asphalt 8 without a gamepad paired and it will give you a diagram showing how to drive with the standard remote. It’s the same with Rayman Fiesta, which is why you’ll see them in the TV Remote category with 15 others, including the excellent Badland (which is free).
Action games include Star Wars: KOTOR and Soul Calibur, which are surprisingly expensive at over £6 and £8 respectively. Game progress is synched to your Google account, so you can play on an phone or tablet and then continue where you left off on the Nexus Player.
Apps from the Play store include Netflix, VLC, TED, Bloomberg TV, Plex, dailymotion and others, but there’s nothing UK specific so you can’t directly watch iPlayer, 4oD or other catch-up services. There’s also no Amazon Prime Instant Video app, and we wouldn’t be surprised if there never will be.
The Nexus Player has an ace up its sleeve, though: Google Cast. Unlike Amazon’s box which uses a Fire Tablet as a second screen for IMDB-style info and remote control, you can use an Android phone, tablet, Chromebook or laptop to ‘cast’ content to your TV via the Nexus Player.
In this respect, the Player is much like the Chromecast: you can use one of many apps and tap the Cast symbol to connect to the Nexus Player. This even works on iPhones and iPads. Fire up the iPlayer app, press the Cast button and you can start watching a show on your TV even though there’s no iPlayer app as such.
The stream doesn’t come from your phone: it’s directly from the internet to the Nexus Player, so you can turn off your iPhone or switch to another app.
You can also watch photo slideshows and videos from your Android phone or tablet using the Cast button, but not from the camera roll on an iOS device, unfortunately.
Google Nexus Player review: interface
Unlike the Chromecast which essentially has no interface, the Nexus Player is the first device to run Android TV – an operating system designed to be operated from your sofa. This isn’t to be confused with Google TV, which was developed back in 2010 with Sony, Intel and Logitech and flopped badly.
Android TV is leagues better: it’s intuitive and has lots of design cues from Android Lollipop. System menus, icons, animations and even the on-screen keyboard are all blown-up versions from a tablet or phone, and it looks great.
There’s certainly still work to be done, but in general you can find your way around easily. To make searching easier without a keyboard, the remote has a built-in microphone that lets you speak to search (just like the Fire TV).
This makes sense as Google Now is already established in Android and even the Chrome web browser. People are getting used to voice searching and it works well – in general – on the Nexus Player. You press the button on the remote, say your piece and the results appear.
It’s clever, too, as you can search different platforms in one search by saying “Breaking Bad episodes on Play and outtakes on YouTube”. What it doesn’t like is background noise. In a room where others are talking, the system doesn’t know when to stop listening, and wouldn’t stop until we pressed the back button on several occasions. We prefer the Amazon approach of holding the button down while you speak, walkie-talkie style.
You can ask questions as well, such as “Who was in Gone in 60 Seconds?” and a list of actors will appear: you can select one to see other movies and shows they’ve been in, as well as being able to rent the movie from Google Play.
The search is context aware, so if you’re at the home screen you’ll get results from Google Play and YouTube, but if you’re already in the YouTube ‘app’, the icon changes in the search box and you see results from YouTube only.
Voice search extends to all the Google services, but it doesn’t work in third-party apps including Netflix. You won’t see Netflix results when searching from the home screen, for example, and pressing the microphone button in Netflix merely launches the on-screen keyboard.
Options are kept to a minimum, but you can enable SafeSearch in YouTube and filter content in the Play store, just as you can in Android.
You can’t have multiple Google accounts and switch between them – a feature we hope will be added in a future update – but there is the option to set up a Restricted Profile and choose which apps and services are allowed, which could be handy if you want to block certain things when your kids are using it. You have to enter a pre-set PIN to exit the Restricted profile and return to ‘owner’ mode.
On the home screen is a carousel of recommended content based on your YouTube subscriptions, browsing history, Google Play library and other factors. It would be nice to also have a ‘recent’ list so you can quickly go back to something you were watching or playing, but either there’s a bug or the feature doesn’t exist yet.
Another niggle is that the YouTube app doesn’t remember where you paused or exited a video. If you have the ‘daydream’ function set to show lovely photos after five minutes and press the back button to exit it, you don’t end up back at your paused video, so you have to find it again and fast-forward to where you were.
Because you’re signed in to your Google account you can see all your subscriptions and playlists on YouTube, but you can’t create a playlist or subscribe to a new channel. Oddly, videos you watch aren’t added to your YouTube history, which could be another potential bug that needs fixing.
The Netflix app is the same as on other devices, so if you’ve used it on an Apple TV or YouView box, you’ll be right at home. Your progress through videos is stored as part of your account, so you can dive right into an episode you were watching on another device.
Google Nexus Player review: hardware
There’s not all that much to say about the Nexus Player itself, other than it's made by Asus, making this another partnership with Google. Quite obviously, the streamer is circular and underneath is a cutout at the rear for the three connectors: power, HDMI and microUSB. There’s no HDMI cable in the box, so make sure you have one ready.
Inside the ‘puck’ is a 1.8GHz quad-core Intel Atom processor, 1GB RAM, 8GB storage and an Imagination PowerVR Series 6 GPU. There’s no wired Ethernet port, nor an optical S/PDIF which you get with the Fire and Apple TVs, but there is at least the latest 802.11ac Wi-Fi radio and Bluetooth 4.1.
The bundled remote feels a little lightweight, but is nice enough to use. It’s similar to the Apple TV and Fire TV with a D-pad and central selection button.
Generally, Android TV zips along on the hardware, but there’s the tell-tale glitches of immature software which we’re sure will be ironed out in software updates.
Google Nexus Player: Specs
- Media streamer
- Intel Atom 1.8GHz quad-core processor
- Imagination PowerVR Series 6 graphics
- 1GB RAM
- 8GB storage
- 802.11ac Wi-Fi with 2x2 MIMO
- Bluetooth 4.1
- HDMI, microUSB 2.0 ports
- Video output: 1080p up to 30fps
- Remote included
- 120 x 120 x 20 mm