Nexus Player Review – A Decent Start For Android TV

Google has long tried to rule the living room TV, and they’ve made attempt after attempt to do it. Google TV had potential, but didn’t go far. The Nexus Q, let’s not even go there. However their past two attempts have been the best yet. The first was the Chromecast. This $35 streaming dongle is the cheapest and easiest way to get your content up on the big screen, and it’s been popular among consumers. At Google I/O however, Google introduced another TV platform, Android TV. A variant of Android 5.0 Lollipop, Android TV is more like the Roku and Fire TV than it is like the Chromecast, but it’s really an impressive setup. The first device to run this new platform is the Nexus Player. With a great price point, decent specs, and some killer software, is the Nexus Player worth picking up? Let’s find out.

Note: This review was pushed back a few months to show the difference between the day one reviews and a review a few months later. Click here to read a review from day one.

Specs



  • 1.8GHz Quad-Core Intel Atom Processor

  • 1GB RAM

  • 8GB Storage

  • 802.11ac WiFi

  • Bluetooth 4.1

  • HDMI Out

  • microUSB 2.0

  • 18W DC Power

  • Android 5.0 (Android TV)

Hardware

The Nexus Player on the outside looks like, well I big plastic hockey puck. It’s got a circular design glossy plastic around the edges, grippy matte plastic underneath, and a rough plastic on top. On the bottom edge there is a single white LED to indicate that the device has power. On the backside there’s a large opening which cuts into the bottom to hide a portion of your HDMI and power cables. Between those two is also a microUSB port. Overall the hardware does what it’s supposed to do, hide away on your entertainment center while still looking good at the same time. While this isn’t as beautiful as the ill-fated Nexus Q, it’s still pretty good looking if you ask me.

It’s worth noting that the Nexus Player does not include an Ethernet port for those who prefer a more stable, quicker internet connection but instead relies on 802.11ac WiFi. You can plug a micro-USB to Ethernet adapter into the device to achieve this functionality if you really want to though.

Software And Setup

The Nexus Player is the first device on the market running Android TV, Google latest attempt on the TV. The interface runs on top of Android 5.0 Lollipop and looks pretty awesome. The entire interface is laid out with a few rows of cards that act as app icons or pieces of content. The top row holds a selection of recommended content from sources such as Google Play Movies & TV, Hulu Plus, and YouTube. One pretty big gripe I do have about this row is that you can’t remove content from it, and you can’t filter it. Basically, you have absolutely no control over what shows up here. For the most part, it pulls up TV shows and movies at least somewhat relevant to me, but other times that’s not the case. I think this is an area of Android TV where Google really has a lot of room to improve it.

Before moving further down, I want to talk about voice search really quick. Google has built in full voice search using the microphone found on the included remote which allows you to search for movies, tv shows, actors, and much more. Two fun things I was able to do with voice search included opening apps with my voice and also checking the weather. It’s worth noting that a handful of Google Now cards do work on Android TV with the weather being one of them. Others include traffic reports, sports scores and so much more. It’s a nice touch that I find useful in my morning routine.

The second row of apps contains all your entertainment apps. YouTube, Hulu, Netflix,  Pandora and other apps like that will show up here. Again, there’s no control over the order, but anything you’ve installed from the Play Store will appear in this row. Below that is a list of any games you have installed on the device. Since the Nexus Player only has 8GB of storage, it’s unlikely that this list will get all that long. Finally underneath this we have our settings shortcut and our WiFi settings.

Next let’s move on to apps. Pre-installed apps include plenty of Google services such as Google Play Movies & TV, Play Music, and YouTube. All of Google’s apps are built specifically for Android TV and have a heavy Material Design influence. Further apps can be installed via Google Play, but unfortunately there aren’t all that many and none of the ones I’ve tried use Material Design. At the time of writing there are 22 entertainment apps, 7 music apps, and a couple handfuls of games. App compatibility is something that Google really needs to push towards developers if they want this platform to see success. While what we have now is great, there’s a ton of room for expansion.

Alex Garcia's favorite movie ;-)

Alex Garcia’s favorite movie 😉

One thing that really helps out the app situation is the fact that Android TV has built in Chromecast functionality. Any app you can use with the Chromecast can also be used with the Nexus Player or any other device using Android TV. This is a massive plus as app support for the Chromecast is constantly growing.

Setting up the software is pretty easy as well. Simply log in to your WiFi, sign in with your Google account, and you’re good to go. It’s really that simple. If you’d like to see the process in detail, check out my unboxing video which is directly below. If you don’t feel like watching the entire video, the setup process starts at 3:38.

The Remote

Since the Nexus Player is a set top box, of course we’ve got a remote. Google didn’t really attempt to do anything special with this remote, and that’s totally fine. It gets the job done and it does it well. Starting from the top we have a dedicated voice search button. A single press activates the microphone and allows you to say your search query. Below that is a circular D-Pad with select button in the center. Going down further we have a back button, Play/Pause button, and the home button. Then at the bottom of the device we have the Nexus logo. Feedback on all of the buttons is, well, disappointing. The buttons feel cheap even though they do have a loud click. The whole remote just feels absurdly cheap, but you get what you pay for.

The Gamepad

The optional $40 gamepad is a Bluetooth controller meant for giving you a better gaming experience then what is provided by the standard remote. The layout of the gampad is similar to that of a PlayStation controller, but feels like an Xbox 360 controller in the hand. Personally I like it a lot, although I would have preferred a rechargeable battery inside rather than a couple batteries. You can use the gamepad outside of games as well if you would like to use to navigate the interface. It works well, but it would have been nice to include a voice search button like on the remote.

Performance

Looking at the Nexus Player on paper, it’s nothing mind-blowing. It’s decent specs for what it is, and the performance shows that. Running just the standard software and some streaming apps, it runs just fine. There are moments where the device will drop some frames or lag, but it’s nothing too bad. When playing games, the Nexus Player performs just fine as well. Again, it’s not mind-blowing, but games like Riptide GP2, Leo’s Fortune, Beach Buggy Racing and more play just fine.

Final Thoughts – Should You Buy It?

The Nexus Player is the first device on a platform and it really shows that. It suffers from Android TV’s infancy and it’s own. It feels like a first generation product, missing things you would expect from a device like this. Over time, app support and Android TV will improve, and that’s what I’m banking on as I plan to keep my Nexus Player for a while to come.

Right now this is right up against Amazon’s Fire TV, dollar for dollar, when it comes to it’s target market. If you’re stuck between the two, I’d weigh your options. The Nexus Player is the best choice if you’re looking for Google’s services and what is, at least in my opinion, a better interface. The Nexus Player is a good start for what is to come for Android TV, but it’s not the final product. Other, hopefully better options are on the way, but for now, I’d say the Nexus Player isn’t a bad device to pick up.