Android TV made its big debut back at Google I/O, but its first official host body didn’t show up until a few weeks back. The Nexus Player, built by ASUS, is Google’s bajillionth attempt to take over the living room (hello Google TV, Nexus Q, Chromecast), and it looks as good as any set-top box you could look to throw on your TV stand.
The Nexus Player is a slim little puck of a thing, a lot like Amazon’s Fire TV, but rounded instead of square. It’s pretty unassuming and compact, so you’ll have no trouble finding it a home, even if the area around your TV is a little crowded. The player receives its signal in a band around the puck’s edge, so it’s basically inviting you to stack stuff on top of it.
And the player isn’t just the puck. The $US100 device also comes with a little remote, complete with pause, play and home buttons, as well as a microphone you can use to just tell your TV what you feel like watching next. The buttons are satisfyingly clicky, not pressy. Its design is nothing special, but it should get the job done.
Not included, however, is the Nexus Player Gamepad. This $US40 add-on is for using the Player to put more serious, controller-enabled games on your TV — although you can also play some simpler one-button Flappy Bird-type stuff with just the remote. As far as controllers go, the Player Gamepad is not quite console grade — its triggers are a little too squishy, and the dpad feels pretty shitty — but it’s decent as far as Bluetooth controllers go. Plenty good enough to play some old SNES games on your TV.
I didn’t have too much time to try and put the Nexus Player’s performance through its paces, but from what I saw, the Player’s 1.8GHz quad-core Intel Atom processor can handle switching between apps and playing simple games like Badland nice and smoothly for the most part, although I did catch a few, minor, seemingly random animation hitches here and there.
As for functionality, well, this is an Android TV device, and we’ve known all about that for a while now. The Android TV homescreen will give you a menu of all your local apps in a card-based interface, even going so far as to predict what you might want to watch next, all based on the services you use the most, so Netflix and Hulu Plus and such, not just Google Play Movies.
If you’ve already got a Chromecast — or one of the other streaming dongles that’s nipping at its heels — there might not be much to get you to upgrade to full on Android TV, but we’ll have to spend some more time with this first Android TV before we can really tell for sure. What’s immediately clear though, is this ain’t no Nexus Q. Thank god, right?