Attractive design; Easy setup
Only works on Android 2.3 and later; Expensive; Limited functionality and content selection
Though the Nexus Q is a beautiful and easy-to-use piece of hardware, it suffers from a dearth of content and an unjustifiably high price.
The Nexus Q is really nothing like Apple TV, Roku and Boxee, both in terms of design and functionality. Yes, you can stream music, movies and YouTube from the cloud. But Google's first home entertainment device goes its own way with a stunning orb design and a unique way to for houseguests to add their music to your party mix. However, at $299, the Nexus Q is by far the priciest product in its category. Pretty or not, is the Nexus Q worth three Benjamins?
The black orb, with a soft, matte finish, is bisected diagonally by a thin ring of LEDs that pulse and changes color to the music. Rotating the front portion of the orb, above the ring, adjusts the volume, and tapping a tiny LED-illuminated dot on the front mutes or unmutes the audio.
For audio, the Q has an optical output to send digital audio to a receiver. The Nexus Q also features a built-in 25-watt amplifier for a pair of stereo speakers. The sound quality was rich, but you'll have to crank the volume pretty high to hear it well.
Instead of screw posts for the more-common bare-wire speaker connections, or even RCA jacks, the Q requires you to use cables with so-called banana clips, which we picked up at RadioShack for about $12.
Not an Android user? Then the Q is not for you. Have an older Android phone? Same problem. When the Q debuts in late July, the app will only work on devices with Android 2.3 Gingerbread or later, which accounts for about 75 percent of all Android devices. Currently, though, it only works with devices running Jelly Bean.
We downloaded the app to the new Nexus 7 tablet (running Android 4.1 Jelly Bean) and were done in no time. The app connects automatically to the orb over Bluetooth and requires just a few simple steps: entering the Wi-Fi password, designating the room the Q will be in (since several of them can network to cover a whole house) and, if you like, customizing the lighting scheme for the orb and the on-screen animations that appear on a TV when music plays. The whole process can take as little as two minutes.
The Nexus Q's app is minimalist, providing the ability to select which device to control (as you can have multiple Qs in one home, as with Sonos) and a few advanced options, such as controlling the color of the LED lights and the pattern for the on-screen visualizer during music playback to a TV.
You are not actually beaming music from the phone or tablet to the Q, but rather telling Google to stream to that device. The handoff -- from mobile to Q or vice-versa -- is so fast that it appears as if they are doing everything on the same local network. Another testament to the wonder of the Internet.
The Nexus Q also plays YouTube videos, queued up and "beamed" from the YouTube app on a Android device. YouTube is what it is. "Charlie Schmidt's Keyboard Cat!" was super-pixelated on the 55-inch screen, but an HD trailer for "The Amazing Spider-Man" looked brilliant.
What's Missing and Hackability
The real criticism of the Nexus Q isn't how well it handles the audio and video it can play, but its limited selection of apps. No Spotify, Pandora or Hulu, which are on Roku and Boxee (Spotify is also on the music-only Sonos networked players, which from a hardware perspective bear a close resemblance to the Nexus Q.)
The Nexus Q doesn't even have Netflix streaming, which Roku, Boxee and Apple TV have. Netflix is really a prerequisite for any connected device -- not only set-top boxes, but connected TVs and Blu-ray players.
The addition of an amp for speakers undoubtedly adds to the cost, but the lack of content far outweighs the benefits of a feature that people will not necessarily even use.
One potential bright spot, however, is that Google has equipped the Nexus Q for "general hackability" via the USB port on the back. People have already hacked the Q to run Android apps, including Netflix, for example. But hacking is probably beyond the skills -- or at least the desires -- of regular folk who want to buy a product that just works.
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|Size||4.6 inches (diameter)|