We review Google’s Nexus Player, a new set-top box to rival the likes of Amazon Fire TV – but is this a smart TV device too many?
It’s no exaggeration to say that there are dozens of ways to stream movies, shows and music to your telly these days, even if you don’t have a smart TV. Google’s Chromecast was one of the pioneering affordable content streaming devices, giving you access to masses of media for just a fistful of tenners, but now stores are flooded with rivals like Roku, Apple TV and Amazon’s Fire TV.
Now Google is back in the game with the £80 Nexus Player, an all-in-one entertainment machine set to appeal to movie, music and game fans alike. But is it a worthy rival to those other big boys on the market?
The Nexus Player was designed by Asus, who also crafted the gorgeous Nexus 7 tablets for Google, and it’s basically a round version of Apple TV. It’s compact enough to stick anywhere you like and subtle enough to blend in with other telly equipment. The top and sides are smooth and port-free, with the HDMI and USB connections hidden away beneath the device. Don’t expect any buttons either, besides the Bluetooth button (also housed on the bottom) used to pair the Nexus Player with the dinky bundled remote and other accessories.
Minimalist is clearly the theme, continued by the remote control, which sports almost as few buttons as its Apple TV counterpart. There’s a D-pad to skip through the menus, plus back, home, pause/play and voice search buttons, and that’s your whack. Of course, you can also use your Android handset as a remote, which is handy if the other half’s hogging the physical one.
Turn the Nexus Player on (simply by plugging it in – there’s no power button in sight) and you’ll see that the Android TV interface is just as simple and streamlined. You start with specific apps for Google Music, Google Movies & TV and Google Games, and there’s also a Google Play app so you can search the online store for apps and the like.
Searching Google’s online selections is thankfully quick and easy thanks to the remote control’s built-in mic, which allows you to bark out search terms rather than typing them out on a tedious on-screen keyboard. Despite sporting a Northern accent, the thing seemed to understand me perfectly as long as I didn’t speak too fast, and I had no trouble asking for even relatively obscure things.
Google Movies & TV and Google Music are well laid out and give you immediate access to all of your media, as well as recommending other stuff you might like to check out. All of the features you’d expect are present, such as the ability to watch trailers and rent movies, or set up your own ‘radio stations’ filled with your favourite artists. If you’re sold on Google’s online media offerings, the Nexus Player will do everything you need it to.
When you get to other media streaming services, however, the selection is very limited right now. Netflix is present and correct, but the likes of Amazon Instant Prime, Sky Go, BBC iPlayer and so on are missing in action. If you want to get them on the go, you have to mess around Google Casting them from another, supported device.
Google has reassured us that it’s chatting with a wide range of channels to expand the platform’s support. However, until it does, the Nexus Player is a little tricky to recommend as an all-in-one player, unless you don’t stray far from Google’s bosom for your entertainment.
Gamers are also catered for by the Nexus Player, providing you stump up for the £35 Bluetooth controller. You can download a selection of Android games and blast through them with proper physical controls and I’m already a fan of the controller, which is comfortable to wield and sports all of the buttons and triggers you need for fast-paced first and third-person action games.
However, the Nexus Player doesn’t give you full access to Android’s online games library. Instead there’s just a selection of titles which are controller compatible, which inexplicably misses out key games such as Max Payne, not to mention no exclusive titles, unlike the Nvidia Shield Tablet (which boasts the likes of Half Life 2 and Portal). We’d therefore recommend that gamers check out Nvidia’s device, which lets you game on the go as well.
Google’s Nexus Player is nicely designed and simple to use, affording Google Play fans full and easy access to their purchased media. However, the immediate lack of support for third-party services and limited games selection make it a tough recommend, at least for now. GIve it a few months and it might be a very different story.