The Nexus Q is (or should I was say was) going to definitely be a bit of an unexpected entry from Google. For all of the other leaks that were coming out ahead of Google IO, information about a Google-made media streamer was absent until the morning of it’s announcement. With it’s eye-catching design, robust build quality, made in the USA credentials and $300 US price tag, it’s probably the last thing any tech analyst would’ve expected out of Google.
It’s also quite an odd duck when it comes to being a media streaming device. On it’s surface, it’s comically limited as it stands. Officially, the only way you can use it with an Android phone or tablet with the Nexus Q connect software loaded on it, and even then, you can only stream audio from the Google Play Music app and stream video from YouTube. In comparison to various devices including the AppleTV and the various Roku streamers, all of which retail for a 1/3 the cost or less of the Nexus Q, you get access to a lot more in the way of streaming media options. At the same time though, it’s built in the US out of cast-zinc, has a great 35-watt amplifier and banana plug speaker jacks, giving it a premium electronics feel relative to the generic plastic pucks from Apple, Roku and countless other companies.
Yet, the idea behind using phones and tablets as controls works wonderfully in practice, and it much more elegant that navigating an on-screen menu with any remote. You navigate to YouTube or a song a like you normally would on your Android Device, hit the Nexus Q connect button in the app if you have done so already, and hit play. It’s a very elegant way handling things. Further still, the fact that multiple Android devices could be logged on the same Nexus Q, so everyone can bring their own music collection to a house party and stream music is pretty novel innovation on Google’s part. However, it seems like such an odd omission to not have a simple way for any app that wanted to stream to the Q add that functionality.
Well, it seems weird until one notes the USB port on the back of the device which Google stated was fully capable of being a USB host. Google said in the same breath that they looked forward to seeing what hacks people came up with as well. If that seems like an open invitation for people to see just how much they can make the Nexus Q do, well, it’s definitely how many hackers have taken it so far. Before Google IO was even over, attendees who had been given free Nexus Qs had worked how to sideload (unplayable) games on to it, and later someone worked out to get an Android app launcher on it, and now also have a keyboard and mouse working with it. Netflix, Angry Birds are just a few of the apps happily running on the Nexus Q.
However, the process to add that functionality is, at the moment, firmly at a level of difficulty the average person can’t handle. In fact, even it if ever can be reduced to a simple script, it’s still not as a simple as plug it in and log on. This raises a big question: what does (or did) Google ultimately expect of this device? Is it an audiophile toy that also happens to stream YouTube to your HDTV? Is it a hacker’s dream device that also happens to have a home in the living room? Is it a proposal for a new paradigm for media interaction where in everyone curates the listening experience? Is it a beta device that will get massive updates that will make it competitive with media streamers in terms of functionality? Is it a statement that quality tech devices can be built for reasonable prices in the US?
These are all plausible pitches for the device, and it may very well be a combination of all these things. The problem is it that it doesn’t necessarily make any one of those cases that convincingly at the moment, other than it being really well made. It feels like a great idea (that was about to be) let out of the lab a bit early, if only so that Google can see what hackers and programmers do with it. By doing so, Google would then work out what the Nexus Q should be.
That said, I’ve found it to pretty useful as it stands. It’s nice for throwing music on, and it’s easier to sit back and watch YouTube on my HDTV using the Nexus Q than with any other device I’ve dealt with. Yet, I can’t even recommend it as is even though it’s a staple in my living room.
Plus, at this point, my recommendation doesn’t matter.
This is because Google essentially sent out their existing stock of Nexus Q free to everyone who pre-ordered it, and then said to check back for a more developed device later. Before they ever even really released it, even Google decided they couldn’t make a case for it as it is. However, as someone who does like it for what it is, I kind of already wish Google had stuck to their guns on the Nexus Q. I hope they do revisit the device as well, both in terms of providing whatever functionality their version 2 Nexus Q (Nexus R?) gets to the previous model, and really, hopefully doing a second iteration of the device. There are lot of neat ideas Google has pitched and dropped over the years, and I hope the Q isn’t one of them.