The Nexus Q

When it was announced at this year’s Google I/O, the Nexus Q team took pride in the fact that people upon first observation generally had no idea what to make of the device. After playing with it myself for a couple of days, I’m not sure what to make of it either.

It all started well-enough, as I attested to in my recent tweet:

Really impressed by seamless Nexus Q setup and integration with Jelly Bean. Not happy. Life was simpler when iOS was clearly better. 😉

Big bonus points to Q for simplifying the typically tedious wireless network setup process (it uses Bluetooth to send your wireless network config and just requires you to re-enter your password via your Android mobile device). A clear win over Apple TV–and any other consumer device with a remote control I’ve used up to now.

But all that’s mitigated by the physical setup process. Now I have this weird ball–with cables that prominently protrude from its back-side–on top of my entertainment cabinet. The Q team gleefully bragged about their breakaway from boring boxy shapes, but where am I going to put the thing? Sorry, not in the middle of my living room. Whether intended or not, thanks to those cables, it’s going in my entertainment center, like all other devices of its class. Except, unlike the others, it doesn’t fit well, thanks to the awkward aforementioned shape. Hmm.

It turns out avoiding streaming from the phone is a great strategy for streaming from the cloud. So nice to tap the Nexus Q playback button strewn throughout Jelly Bean and have the device quickly start streaming music, YouTube movies, and so forth. Makes iOS seem positively backwards for streaming from the Internet to the iOS device and then from the device to the Apple TV for the same use cases; surely Apple will put in a fix in a subsequent version that identifies when a command to the Apple TV should be sent instead of a media stream.

But the Q’s strategy falls flat on its face since it’s the only strategy employed. I went to stream music from the Pandora Android app to the Q, but of course, that’s not going to work. Oof. And Q doesn’t have any support for my media: my photos, my videos on the phone, etc.? Ugh.

Q plays a standard, circa 2000 WinAmp-esque visualizer when music is playing. My kids find this so incredibly cool. I was a little shocked. I’d sort of forgotten about visualizers. Now, seeing how gleefully they dance and stare at the TV, I wish I had them in the Apple TV.

But streaming video doesn’t seem to work all that well on the Q. I streamed a 45 minute TV show on my Apple TV, using my Samsung receiver’s Vudu app, and using the Nexus Q. Only the Q had any trouble doing it at full HD. And what trouble it had! Eight “loading” pauses–one of which was really long–during the first five minutes of the show. I switched from the Q to just streaming it on the Nexus 7 tablet; after one such pause, it played back without further interruption. It was just the Q that struggled. What a bummer.

The hardware mute switch (i.e., pushing the ball) works great! Love having that. So much better than fishing for a remote to pause the music on the Apple TV.

And then there was my wife’s reaction when I explained to her we couldn’t play back any of our iTunes music on the Q: “What? Oh, that sucks.” It really does suck to have digital media so stove-piped into all of these different proprietary networks. Google is so late to the game here; how many of us are going to start mixing our media across Apple and Google? I don’t think I will–despite Google bribing me with $25 to give them my credit card. I wonder if that’s for bragging rights as much as a bet that I’ll spend >$25 buying media.

So what to make of the Q? Like so many others, I’m left scratching my head. High-production values have gone into this thing (with the exception of the UI in the Q’s Android-based setup app), but it’s not competitive with the Apple TV and it’s triple the price. The software can be upgraded, of course, so it’s hard to get too worked up over the software-specific issues–but then there’s the question of the hardware.

Am I really going to buy a few of these at $300 a pop and distribute them throughout my house? No, I’m going to just have one hooked up to my TV. And if I do that, why include an amp? I’m just going to run it through my receiver. The built-in amp just seems so weird to me. Is it an attempt to justify the big price? Or does Google really think they’re tapping into a big market opportunity?

And then there’s the question of Google TV vs. the Nexus Q. Are they expecting us to buy two TV-connected devices? Or use Google TV for your TV and the Q is just for music throughout the house? At $300 without speakers? Back in iOS-land, I balk at the thought of spending $300 for nice AirPlay speakers. At least with AirPort Express units throughout your house for streaming music everywhere, you get crazy-good Wifi coverage as a bonus and plenty of places to tether USB devices, too. Good luck with this strategy, Google.

I’m just so confused on so many counts.

But one thing is very clear: after initial concerns about where to put the thing, I’ve decided that it’s fun to have an exotic, alien-esque orb glowing under my TV.

Post updated on 7/1 with a note about Pandora streaming and other minor changes intended to clarify various points.

10 thoughts on “Google’s Enigmatic Nexus Q

  1. You can play your iTunes music, as long as you run the Google Music Manager system prefs app on your iTunes Mac for a day or so to sync them up. Also, AppleTV will pull from iTunes Match, but only via the onscreen UI or Remote app, not from music of videos apps on iOS devices.

  2. Yeah, but that means I need to download all my music from iTunes Match (no longer have a master copy on any Mac due to a hard drive crash and subsequent replacement with an SSD), then be sure I have Google Music running on the appropriate computer to upload songs as I purchase them on various other computers, etc. Doable, but a PITA. Then there’s the music I own that isn’t iTunes Plus (i.e., DRM-free). According to iTunes, will cost $182 to convert it all. (Yes, I’ve been pure Apple for a while.) And not sure it will cover all my music.

    If I wanted to migrate to Google Play, not a huge deal to do all this. To co-exist the two, seems a bit of a pain. And TV shows and movies are a whole other matter.

  3. I just bought a $40 Logitech Bluetooth stereo adapter, which shows up to any mobile device the same as a Bluetooth headset… meaning everyone can connect to it. Just a few taps on anyone’s phone at a party — whether Android/iOS or even Blackberry — and they can control the stereo. And it plays anything from iTunes to Pandora.

    No more clunky airport expresses or music service lockin to access the stereo. Maybe its not sheer perfection to a real audiophile, but I’ve never been able to perceive a quality problem.

    I wish I had something similar for the TV, but I’m not going to spend that much money on something that only lets me access one source of content.

  4. iTunes is a media player and media library application developed by Apple Inc. It is used to play, download, and organize digital audio and video on personal computers running the OS X operating system and the iOS-based iPod, iPhone, and iPad devices, with editions also released for Microsoft Windows.^..^:

    Most recently released blog post provided by our new web portal

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