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Nexus Player review: Google's third attempt at TV is a fine first draft

Jared Newman | Nov. 4, 2014
It didn't take long for Google's Nexus Player to realize I was hooked on the Food Network.

The problem is that several apps--including Netflix--aren't feeding into the system at all. (Netflix recently added a bunch of Food Network collections, too!) Whether it's due to developer apathy or unwillingness to let Google control too much of the experience, the inconsistency hurts Android TV as a whole. We can only hope that non-participants will see users gravitating more toward recommended content, and will feel the pressure not to lose their audience.

This spotty developer support carries over to several other aspects of Android TV. For instance, it's possible for apps to tie into voice search so you can jump directly into their content, but the majority of apps I tried aren't making search results available. Beyond direct links to Google Play and YouTube, most searches will only yield trivia and basic info from IMDB.

Android TV also acts like a Chromecast receiver, letting you beam music and video from apps on your phone, tablet, or laptop, and Google has even allowed developers to connect their Android TV apps to Cast functionality. For example, when you start casting a Netflix video, you can then use the Nexus Player's remote control to pause, fast forward or rewind, or hit the back button to return to Netflix's menus. I haven't found any other apps that implement this feature, including Google's own Play Music app. (At least you can use the remote to pause on any Cast content.)

On a more basic level, Android TV's app support is quite limited. You won't currently find apps for HBO Go, WatchESPN, or Twitch, for instance, and the total number of apps currently stands at 28. Until more apps become available, the more widely supported Cast functionality will act as a major crutch for users.

Game over
The Nexus Player doesn't just fashion itself as a streaming media box. It's also a cheap game console with an optional $40 game controller. Again, there's potential here, but the execution falls short on several fronts.

As you might expect, the gaming library isn't particularly large at launch, though it's unclear why. Over the last couple of years, the Google Play Store has built up a sizable list of games that work with physical controllers, including console ports like Grant Theft Auto: San Andreas, Sonic the Hedgehog 4, and The Cave. But you won't find any of those games on Android TV currently.

The bigger problem is that Google Play Games has no trial mechanism for paid games. While I don't think every game should be fully free-to-play, right now there's little incentive to even see what Android TV's gaming component is all about. For all that Ouya did wrong, its emphasis on having some free-to-try element in every game was a revelation, and needs to be copied.

 

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