July 3, 2012 | by Andrew Kameka
Google can do pretty much anything. It’s the company with the most popular mobile operating system, most used search engine, and can even host a video conference with a bunch of skydivers hurtling down into a major city – twice. With such influence in the way consumers use the web online and on the go, it’s a wonder that Google and is partners have struggled to have similar success in the home. Apple has a decent record with its Apple TV, and Microsoft has the ever-improving and already great Xbox. Where is Google’s success story?
The Nexus Q is Google’s latest attempt at finding its place in the living room. Android-reliant and cloud compliant, the Nexus Q is a media streaming device that delivers the Google Play experience to audio or television systems. In a 2 pound black sphere that sits atop your bookshelf or home entertainment center, the Q streams your movies and favorite television shows. It can make an old system have new tech or a standard TV suddenly a Smart TV.
But is it any smarter or better than the myriad of options that already do the same?
Nexus Q Hardware
Google has always been a software company and never a hardware maker. Even the Nexus program has relied on the experience and ingenuity of its partners to deliver phones and tablets. But with the Q, Google has finally entered into hardware space as an independent player – and it’s adapting to the game quite nicely.
The Nexus Q is a black spherical zinc and plastic box with a flat surface and port-heavy rear. A rim of 32 RGB LED lights line the middle of the device, and the front can be rotated to adjust volume. The back of the Q has ports for Micro HDMI, micro USB, Ethernet, optical out AV, and Banana jack speaker outputs. It also has Bluetooth, NFC, and WiFi 802.11 b/g/n for connectivity. At 4.6 inches (116 mm) and 2 pounds (923 grams), the black ball is small and nondescript enough to work with most home entertainment set-ups.
The Q is essentially a shell with a dependent relationship with other hardware. Though it’s running Android 4.0 and has 16GB NAND flash memory, it’s useless until connected to speakers or a television HDMI port. There’s also no physical remote or controls other than the front casing acting as a volume knob. The Q relies on an Android 2.3+ remote app installed on your phone or tablet.
Once set-up, users have access to Google Play Music, Movies & TV, and YouTube. Content is selected by navigating the standard media apps on the Android device and then enabling streaming by pressing the Q button. The Q can stream HD movies and TV episodes, higher quality songs, and HD YouTube videos and playlists. You can also skip forward or back and adjust the volume from the respective Android apps. There’s even a social aspect that allows friends visiting your home to pair with the Q and change the playlist.
Nexus Q – the experience
It’s becoming clear that Google TV is on the slow march to irrelevancy. The content that users want is hard to come by and the hardware delivering it hasn’t resonated with consumers. The latter may change with the introduction of new sets from Sony & VIZIO, but the content problem on Google TV is still a challenge.
But you know what’s strange? Google TV is still a heck of a lot more convincing on the content front than the Nexus Q. The Q is capable of streaming music, movies, and television, but only through Google’s services. You can dance the night away to Google Music or nestle up on the couch with Play Movies & TV, but don’t dream of playing Pandora, Rhapsody, or Netflix. Google has said it encourages hackability, so I’m sure someone will find a way to introduce other apps onto the device; however, that will require extra work and hopes for buyers. Even the Logitech Revue that I’ve complained about for nearly two years is already more powerful than the Q.
The Nexus Q is essentially just a gateway to access Google’s entertainment options. At $299, you’ll pay a heavy toll for that access, so the question I struggled to answer from the moment the Q was introduced on stage is why on Earth anyone would want to buy this? For the same price, you can get an Xbox 360 or PS3 that has console games and far more entertainment options. For a third of the Nexus Q cost, you could buy a VIZIO Co-Star and get the same Google Play content, apps, and access to the web through Google Chrome. Even if you don’t want to invest another dime in Google TV, you could opt for a Roku box and still have more options.
CONCLUSION: Keep your money
There’s really only one possible justification for purchasing a Nexus Q – you’re more interested in potential than value. The Q is incredibly limited but is in the hands of hundreds of developers who love nothing more than to tinker with their toys and unlock their full potential. It’s quite possible that within a few weeks, there will be a major revelation that opens up the Q to running any Android app or game compatible with the hardware. However, I wouldn’t recommend spending this kind of money on a maybe. If you’re willing to hack away at the device and follow the development community, this might prove to be a worthwhile purchase. But for everyone else, your $300 would be better served elsewhere.