Google’s Android media play: the Nexus Q

About a week and a half ago at the Google I/O conference, everyonewas anticipating that Google would announce a Nexus-branded tablet during theshow, and they did just that with the unveiling of the Nexus 7. But Googlesurprised a lot of folks by announcing a new Android-based media-streamingdevice, the Nexus Q, hot on the heels of the tablet. And while the Nexus 7seems to offer great value for the money, the Nexus Q is a bit harder to figureout.

Designed to be controlled from your Android smartphone ortablet, the Android-powered media-streaming device is more or less ahardware-based front end to access audio and video content from Google Play.

You can hook it up directly to a pair of speakers (thanks tothe built-in 25 watt amplifier) or you can use the digital connections to hookit up to a receiver (via optical) or your television (via micro HDMI). Itconnects to the outside world using Ethernet or WiFi.

That seems straightforward, but it’s a bit hard to considerthe Nexus Q’s place when you look at its $299 US price point. That’s $200 morethan the Apple TV, which comes with its own remote. It’s also a full $100 morethan the Boxee Box, which also comes with its own remote and the ability toplay nearly any type of content you want to throw at it.

To be fair, the Nexus Q has a few features that separate itfrom these two more affordable (and admittedly only moderately successful)media-streaming boxes.

First up is the ability to play content on more than oneNexus Q at the same time, which is something more commonly associated with theSonos line of audio-streaming devices. This is something that’s very, very hardto do – Sonos had to create their own mesh network in order to ensuresynchronous play – so it’ll be interesting to see how well this works inpractice over regular WiFi connections.

The other key differentiator that Google stressed during thekeynote is the social aspect of the Nexus Q. While the Boxee can link into yourFacebook feed to show you the content your friends are recommending, the NexusQ has a much more hands-on application: when your friends come over, they can usetheir Android devices to play content from their own Google Play accountsdirectly to your Nexus Q…supposedly without a lot of obstacles.

While it sounds like it could be fun having your friendsadding to your current playlist during the middle of a get-together, it couldalso be a big disaster. The reason: in addition to adding to the playlist,friends can also bump what’scurrently playing in favour of their own choice. Just imagine trying to watchTV when everyone in the room has a remote and you’ll see how this might endbadly.

One nice touch is that the Nexus Q will have a micro-USBport on the back for future accessories and updates, as well as to “encouragegeneral hackability”. So maybe that’s the real selling feature of the Nexus Q:they’re not only cool with you trying to hack it to add other features, theyseem to be actively encouraging it.

The downside is that, unlike the Nexus 7 tablet, the Nexus Qdoesn’t yet have a Canadian launch date. So at this point, whether or not youthink the Q’s features are sufficient to justify the $299 price point, it’sstill a bit moot.



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