Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Google Chromecast: second impressions

Some random thoughts about the Chromecast after a week with it:

1) Check everything that's in the box. 

For those of you who don't follow me on Google+, I was having real issues this past weekend getting the Chromecast to work on the TV in the basement.

After spending two days troubleshooting the problem, it turned out that I needed to use the HDMI extender (see picture) to get the Chromecast dongle to sit in my HDMI port. The extender... that was still unopened in the box... because I didn't even bother to look at it.

The TV in the living room didn't have this issue, fortunately, or I probably would have given up and returned the thing to the store. The fact it did work out of the box (more or less) was a big plus.

2) While I really like my Chromecast, I still can't work up the rationale to get a second one for the finicky basement TV.

Up until buying the Chromecast, everything I've been streaming to my TV has gone through my iPad Mini hooked up to Apple's HDMI adapter and run to the HDMI cable to my TV. This works very well and allows me to stream anything I want that I can get on my iPad, even if there's no actual app for it, like New Japan World's service. But it also requires me to find my Apple adapter, get the HDMI cable and hook it all up to my iPad, etc., and it also leaves me without the use of my iPad Mini for as long as I'm streaming.

The Chromecast, of course, lets me stream stuff off my iPad without giving up use of said device. But because I'm otherwise in the Apple ecosphere, I can't stream everything from my iPad unless there's a Chromecast compatible app. I can stream stuff of my computer to the TV, but it maxes out at 720p instead of 1080p.

And there are a couple of subscription streaming services I get that don't have Chromecast compatible apps yet, so I'm still forced to use my iPad/HDMI combo to get those easily on my basement TV. Which makes me less inclined to buy another Chromecast for the basement that would be used pretty much for my other 2 major Chromecast compatible streaming services, UFC Fight Pass and Netflix.

Of course, this would all be much more simple if I had an Apple TV.

3) But neither can I work up the rationale to get Apple TV so I can AirPlay stuff.

And this may just be because I'm fundamentally cheap, but having spent the money a year or so ago for the HDMI adapter and another HDMI cable, I'm loathe to just never use it again and spend another $109 plus tax on an Apple TV just so I can AirPlay stuff from my iPad for what amounts to those other two streaming services.

Really, in the end, what I want is for enough streaming services to become Chromecast app friendly enough to justify me buying a second Chromecast. Because even a second one - and almost a third one - is still less expensive than one Apple TV.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Google Chromecast: first impressions

I bought a Google Chromecast today. It was $39. I figured it would work with most of the streaming services that I use. I figured it would be easier and more convenient than having to give up my iPad Mini for extended periods of time to the HDMI adapter cable on the TV to watch streaming stuff. And even though I have various iDevices, the Chromecast was significantly cheaper than Apple TV. I put it on the 32-inch 720p flatscreen in the living room.

Does it work? Oh yeah. Netflix, YouTube and UFC Fight Pass worked really well right out of the gate streaming from their apps on my iPad Mini.

But the whole process of getting it up and running was not without its weird glitches.

Glitch 1: My 2008 Windows Vista laptop is too old to install Google Chrome. Yup. The set-up page rejected me. I had to use my iPad Mini to set it up.

Glitch 2: My 2008 Windows Vista laptop wouldn't Google Cast from a Chrome tab. Or it wouldn't cast without some major, major, major lag and sound issues.

(EDIT: Of course, it was well after this I read the documentation for the Chromecast that clearly says it's not recommended for Windows Vista. D'oh!)

Fortunately, my circa 2013 Windows 7 desktop computer didn't have the glitches that my laptop did. And I got some excellent tab streaming off my desktop computer for several streaming services that don't have Chromecast-compatible apps.

So, based on my first 30 minutes with the Chromecast, I'm impressed. Now ... should I get a second one for the 46-inch 1080p TV in the basement?


I bought the Chromecast this morning at a major retailer that is open early in the morning. I had checked their website to make sure they sold them. I'm walking through the TV electronics section and I can't find the Chromecast. There's a clerk setting up new demo TVs.

Me: "Can you tell me where the Google Chromecasts are?"

Clerk: "Google? We don't have Google! We only have the Roku" (starts walking me to the aisle) "and we are sold out of the Roku."

Me: "Well, your website says you sell the Chromecast."

Clerk: "No Google. Just Roku."

So I walk down the aisle. To a whole shelf of Chromecasts in their boxes.

And, yes, I did gently note this to the clerk as I walked by to go to the checkout.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Spotify gets annoying

I was listening to the Christian worship group Hillsong on Spotify the other day when the service suddenly played me a Katy Perry song. And then another top 40 pop song. And then I finally got back to Hillsong.

Weird, I thought. Normally, Spotify intersperses songs into its shuffle playlist (for freeloaders like me) with songs that are at least related - by the same artist, or in the same genre. So what I want to listen to gets interrupted but at least by something that isn't a jarring departure from what I chose. I accepted it as the price to pay for not paying the price for Spotify's premium service.

On my drive home from work Friday afternoon I'm listening to the new Steve Taylor album Goliath. I get through 2 songs and then MILEY CYRUS plays. OH COME ON NOW! Then another Steve Taylor song and suddenly: Coldplay.

So I switched to my Music app and started listening to other things.

Of course, I could pay the $10 a month to get the full service and skip Spotify inserting annoying songs. But on the iPad, you can listen to anything on Spotify without having to go through the shuffle play-only option that rules the iPhone app free mode.

Am I annoyed enough at Spotify that I'm going to hook my iPad Mini up to my iPhone adapter in my car and use my iPhone hotspot to stream entire albums in my car without having to listen to Miley Cyrus?

You bet I am.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Blogging platform showdown: Google+ versus Blogger

As I am wont to do from time to time (gee, that sounds familiar), I've switched up my blogging routine with a focus more on this blog on Blogger than my Google+ site. As you'll see from the embedded Google+ post below, that's a change up from my routine last August.

But the fact that I can embed that post here is one of the reasons why I've gone back to Blogger over Google+ - it's way more flexible. I can embed tweets, Instagram or Flickr photos, public Facebook posts, hyperlink to my heart's content, upload my own photos, videos, use Twitter cards, draft and save posts, schedule posts, etc. Did I mention embedding tweets? I love embedding tweets.
Noted tech blogger +Mike Elgan was the person essentially responsible for me using Google+ as a blogging tool, and it is a good, straight forward service: text and a photo (or photos) or a YouTube or native Google+ video or sharing a link. And while Google+ has some tremendous features that you really can't find anywhere else, they're mainly photo related, such as their Auto Awesome photos and movies.

As an actual blogging tool, it's not very feature rich at all, and doesn't allow for any real cross-platform content embedding. To be fair, it's primarily a social media platform, like Facebook, and not a blogging tool per se. But it's become a popular blogging platform in part due to folks like +Mike Elgan and others who have promoted it as the place to be for a smarter discussion.

And, indeed, Google+ is much more of a community than Blogger. I consider this blog a fairly stand-alone platform that I have to "market" if I want people to read it. With Google+, my fairly reasonably sized circle of followers are there to comment and reshare my material. So I get more feedback on Google+ than I do here.

My Google+ page
It's also worth noting that the big downside of Blogger remains that, even in 2015, it's a tool that is best used on a desktop. It's iOS app hasn't been updated in forever, and it has way fewer mobile features than Google+ does. On the road on my iPhone or iPad, I'm far better off using Google+ as a blogging tool than Blogger. It also helps that Google+ has an auto-upload of my iOS Camera Roll feature, which makes it far easier to share photos while on vacation or otherwise travelling.

Blogger may be more advanced technologically than Google+ in many ways, but at the same time, it also feels like a service that Google is not investing any time or resources in to significantly improve.

So, in the end, it depends on whether you want Google+, "new and simple" or Blogger, "old but robust."

Obviously, based on my changing preferences of the last several years, I go back and forth. These days, I'm seeing Google+ more and more as basically a "supersized" Twitter - it's people posting long-form opinions with a photo instead of 140-character opinions with a photo. If Twitter is a micro-blogging service, Google+ is a macro-blogging service for people who want a straight-forward, generally feature-free publishing.

But for people who want something a bit more sophisticated, if a little worn and aged around the edges - and I'm that category - I need something like Blogger or WordPress or a more full featured blogging site.

Which is not to say I'm abandoning Google+. Heck, in six months, I may change my mind completely again and go back to making that my primary blogging place again. As I am wont to switch up my blogging routine from time to time ...