Dell is taking the mobile-to-TV streaming concept of the Google Chromecast and pushing it as a productivity tool with today's launch of Dell Cast: A dongle that plugs into a display's HDMI port and turns your Android homescreen into a traditional desktop-like experience controlled with mouse and keyboard.
Essentially, the Dell Cast is a super-simple $80 device for TVs. On one end, it has an HDMI plug. On the other, a USB port for the keyboard and mouse combo of your choice, wired or wireless, and a micro-USB charge port.
In entertainment mode, the Dell Cast mirrors the video playing on the tablet. In productivity mode, it stretches your home screens out into a custom desktop that has access to all your apps and data, streamed from the phone, with right-click enabled for contextual actions.
It's a cool idea. But it comes with plenty of caveats.
The first and biggest caution is that the Dell Cast app that makes the whole shebang possible is only available on Android-based Dell Venue tablets (existing Venue 7/8 owners will get it in an over-the-air update starting today; Venue Pro users get it on the 30th).
A Dell spokesperson confirmed that Dell is looking into making Dell Cast work with its line of Windows tablets as well, and wouldn't rule out the possibility of making it available to tablets from other manufacturers as well.
The second problem is that price point: I mean, you may have a spare mouse and keyboard sitting around, but one of the major advantages of the Chromecast, which Dell so closely emulates here, is its $35 MSRP. Charging double that for something that's going to stick out of your TV and maybe add to the wire tangle back there seems like a step backwards.
So basically, if you happen to be running a Dell tablet, and you have a spare set of Bluetooth keyboard and mice, and you find yourself wishing you could answer email on a bigger screen with a real keyboard, and your laptop is nowhere nearby, and you have an extra $80 to drop on a pretty limited gadget, it might be worthwhile.
For the few companies with deep investment in the Dell ecosystem, it's a slam dunk.
But for the rest of the world, that $35 Chromecast is probably enough for entertainment, and a $10 HDMI cable will let you hook pretty much any modern laptop up to a TV with roughly the same level of cable entanglement. Maybe a version 2.0 will open up to the larger Android ecosystem. But for now, the Dell Cast is more of novelty than anything.
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