Along with the Nexus 6 and Nexus 9, Google has also released its umpteenth attempt at taking over your living room: the Nexus Player. The Nexus Player, made by Asus and Google, is technically the first device to run Android TV — a version of Android 5.0 Lollipop that has had its interface specially tailored for use on your TV. Outwardly, it would appear that the $100 Nexus Player is just YASTB (yet another set-top box) like Amazon’s Fire TV or Apple TV that’s months or years behind the competition — but who knows, maybe there’s a method in Google’s incessant living room madness?
Way back in 2010, there was Google TV — a cut-down version of Android that essentially just put the Chrome web browser on your TV. Google never really had a strong strategy in place for Google TV, and it was crippled by a lack of content (all of the major content providers except for Dish have blocked it). Unperturbed, Google, Logitech, and a handful of smart TV makers released a few versions of Google TV, but eventually retired the product in 2013. Next up unto the breach was Chromecast — a simple HDMI dongle that allows you to stream content to your TV from your PC or smartphone. Chromecast has certainly been well received among nerdy, power-user types, but it hasn’t exactly revolutionized the living room for mom-and-pop consumers. At some point, there was also the Nexus Q — but Google doesn’t like us to talk about that particular misstep.
Google is back yet again with Android TV and the Nexus Player. Android TV appears to be a full version of Android 5.0 Lollipop, meaning it can download and install apps from the Play Store, including streaming services like Netflix and Hulu — and you can buy or rent a movie, of course. Google Cast (the tech underpinning Chromecast) is integrated. Android TV can be controlled with a remote control, an app on your phone or tablet, or a gamepad (in the case of the Nexus Player, there’s a $40 gamepad sold separately). Like Google TV, a number of TV makers will integrate Android TV into their smart TVs (expect to see lots at CES 2015), and there’ll be third-party Android TV set-top boxes from OEMs as well.
Curiously, like Google TV, the Nexus Player is actually powered by an Intel Atom processor — a quad-core Valleyview Bay Trail part clocked at 1.8GHz. There’s 8GB of internal storage, 1GB of RAM 802.11ac 2×2 WiFi, and as far as I can tell no SD card slot. As I mentioned previously, there’s an optional gamepad that you can buy for $40 (pictured below). I’m sure Android gaming on the Android TV will be at least as good as on the Ouya.
So far, so good. Wait, did I say good? I meant bland. Bear in mind that the Nexus Player costs $100 — $15 more than the Amazon Fire TV, $5 more than the Roku 3, or a full $50 more than the Roku 3500R HDMI dongle/streaming stick. I’m really not sure what Android TV brings to the table, other than tighter integration into Google’s larger ecosystem — a feature that might be beneficial on your smartphone, but is probably detrimental in the living room where Amazon has better content deals in place. Android TV might become interesting at some point — perhaps when you have a full complement of other Nexus/Android Lollipop devices — but for now it feels like Google is just trying to keep a hairy toe past your living room doorjamb.
The Nexus Player will be available exclusively from the Play Store (and only in the US for now) for $100. The optional gamepad will cost $40. The Nexus Player was originally meant to go on sale at the start of November, but it seems Google has pushed the date back; as of right now, there’s no listed release date.