Cast no more: Google's Chromecast was built for a time gone by

Google's streaming device is less useful than ever

Chromecast was built for the past
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For a long while, Google's Chromecast devices were a boon for people who wanted to affordably stream Netflix and YouTube onto their TVs. An inexpensive dongle that's evolved in form and features, the core of Chromecast has remained the same, allowing users to beam movies and photos from their phones to the TV.

It was Google's first big smart home product, and in a time where most streaming options were boxes that cost upwards of $100, it was a hit. But times they are a-changing, and the Chromecast dongle is not long for this world.

Read this: The best streaming devices

To understand why Chromecast isn't as useful as it once was, we need to take a look at why you would purchase one in the first place: You want to stream TV and movies on your TV, rather than rely on a cable or satellite box. A noble goal, but one that's easier than ever to accomplish.

Most TVs nowadays, from budget TCLs to high end LGs, feature smart apps built right in. You just have to tap that Netflix button on your remote. While the performance of these apps vary, they're at the very least on a par with streaming from your phone, which needs a strong Wi-Fi connection.

Say you have a non-smart TV you love, or you can't afford to splurge on a new television right now. You turn to the Chromecast because it's extremely affordable. For $35 you have the ability to watch those darned kids fight demons in the Upside Down on Stranger Things.

The problem is that the competition has caught up. While the streaming box landscape was once filled with pucks and blocks that cost hundreds of dollars, that's not the case any longer. Roku is on the low end here with the Roku Express, a $29.99 streaming box that gets you access to thousands of streaming apps. That's right, you won't have to stream from your phone; you can stream at higher quality, with better performance, from this tiny box.

That's more affordable than the Chromecast for more features. And if you still want something that dangles off the back of your TV, there are slightly more expensive options in the Roku Streaming Stick ($49.99) and Fire TV Stick ($39.99).

To be fair, the Chromecast does more than just stream movies and TV. You can also mirror stuff like Google Slide presentations and your Android phone's screen up on your TV. You can also shift over pictures from Google Photos. That's great, and for people who want to do that, Chromecast is still worth a look.

But we're also seeing Google's cast tech coming integrated into TVs from big manufacturers. Sony, Vizio, Philips, Sharp and Toshiba all have something called Chromecast Built-In, which is exactly what it sounds like. That said, TVs with built-in Chromecast are most likely going to also offer some app support, so you may not use the feature outside of mirroring your Android phone.

However, that's not how Google sells the Chromecast. If you take a gander at Google's Chromecast page, it makes it loud and clear: "Stream entertainment from your device to your TV." It focuses on entertainment, not productivity.

Unfortunately for Google, the market has caught up and undercut many of the reasons the Chromecast was appealing in the first place. It's no wonder Google hasn't updated the Chromecast since 2015, and the Chromecast Ultra since 2016. And even as it prepares to upgrade them, the only upgrades on the way seem to be Bluetooth support and better Wi-Fi. Fine upgrades, if true, but not anything that's gonna sell any more Chromecasts.

One of the arguments for using Chromecast is that your phone is a better TV remote than an actual remote. Plus, you don't have to sign into apps on a TV because you're already signed into everything on your phone. This was a major advantage a few years back, but TV manufacturers and competitors like Roku and Amazon have caught up here too.

Roku, for instance, offers a companion app that lets you control the TV with your phone. Fire TV, like Chromecast, lets you use a voice assistant to find and play content. TV manufacturers like Samsung have also worked to make setting up your TV easier. You can just use Samsung's SmartThings app to set up your TV and sign into your services - no typing passwords into a TV required.

The world has changed. It's easier and more affordable than ever to stream TV shows, movies and sporting events to your TV. Its abilities are baked right into TVs for major brands, too. Chromecast, we did love you – honest – but you've not kept up. It seems your time is almost up.

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