Chromecast vs. Apple TV (2020): Do You Want a Remote?
After a year of testing, I determined Apple TV is the best streaming device because it’s the fastest and makes it easy to find content. Chromecast is a different take on streaming, but in the end, it accomplishes the same tasks more slowly and complexly.
I’ll compare and contrast two streaming devices (Chromecast vs. Apple TV) by evaluating six categories: interface, content, speed, smarts, remote, and price.
- Interface: Your interactions come via a remote and TV screen interface.
- Content: The App Store has most apps you find on iOS with the greatest variety of 4K options.
- Speed: Apple TV HD zips through menus. It’s the fastest device I’ve ever tested.
- Smarts: Siri helps you find TV shows, open them in the correct app, and fast forward.
- Remote: Many customer reviewers don’t like the remote because it’s different than what they’re used to, but at least there is a remote.
- Price: Apple TV HD is $149 and streams HD content, while Apple TV 4K is $179.
Best for you if...
You want an intuitive interface that saves you time when searching for content, 4K content is important to you, or you like Amazon Video. You’ll be happy with Apple TV HD because there aren’t many differences aside from 4K picture, but buy the 4K version, regardless of TV type, to stay future-proof.
- Interface: Your smartphone is the interface. You find content via phone apps.
- Content: Most of the major services work, as long as there’s a "cast" button in the phone app.
- Speed: Your smartphone’s speed determines the interface speed, then it takes 15 seconds to appear on TV.
- Smarts: You can do cool integrations if you have other Google and Nest products.
- Remote: It doesn’t come with a remote, and there’s no option to add one.
- Price: Chromecast is $35 and streams HD content, while Chromecast Ultra is $69.
Best for you if...
You’re comfortable without a TV interface and prefer to control content with your phone. You don't need to re-sign into your content apps (e.g., Netflix, HBO, etc), you can hide it behind your TV, and you can control it via Google Home. But casting isn't the smoothest process and disconnections can happen.
- Unlike Chromecast, Apple TV is a computer where you can store your apps, and your interactions come via a remote and the interface on the TV.
- Apple TV has the most polished interface of any streaming device I’ve tried (that list includes two Fire TVs and four Roku devices).
- If you’ve used iOS devices, the experience will feel familiar. It’s like using a giant iPad, except the screen is your TV.
- Because Apple TV has a hard drive, you’ll need to download your favorite streaming apps in the App Store and sign in to all your apps. Entering passwords sucks, but Apple combats this in two ways:
- “Single Sign-On” lets you sign in once with your cable provider and then most of your apps automatically sign in.
- Rather than typing in passwords through the TV, whenever a text field appears on the Apple TV, you’ll get a notification on your phone and can enter text via your phone’s keyboard.
- Apple TV’s secret sauce is the “Watch Now” feature inside the TV app. Every show you’re watching from any service (excluding Netflix) appears in the TV app. For example, on my “Watch Now” list, I have Westworld (Season 2, Episode 1) and Shark Tank (Season 9, Episode 24). When I tap Westworld, the HBO app opens and plays the correct episode. If I tap Shark Tank, Hulu opens and plays the right episode. The best part is everything happens automatically and as new episodes are released or watched, your list changes in real time. Most of the time, you don’t even end up using the apps, and I stay inside the TV app.
- Unlike other streaming competitors (Amazon & Roku), who typically break even on their devices, Apple makes money on their hardware. This means you’ll never see an ad on Apple TV.
- My friends and I are constantly mesmerized by Apple TV’s screensavers. They’re over four minutes long, slow-motion drone videos. (Don’t buy Apple TV for the screensavers, but they’re amazing).
- Apple TV’s App Store has most apps you find on iOS devices. There are many more: Amazon Video, Vudu, Hulu, Netflix, Showtime, HBO, Sling TV, DirecTV, and YouTube TV.
- Apple TV has the biggest 4K library of any device, and any iTunes movie purchase you’ve been is automatically upgraded to 4K for free. Aside from iTunes, you get 4K content from Amazon Video, Vudu, Netflix, and others.
- The only weakness in Apple TV’s 4K library is YouTube. YouTube has one of the biggest selections of 4K content, but you can only stream in HD.
- The fourth-generation Apple TV zips through menus and was the fastest device I’ve ever tested.
- Apple TV 4K uses the A10X Fusion Chip (the same chip in iPad Pros) and is even faster than the fourth generation.
- Apple isn’t known for its polished AI, but Siri on Apple TV remote does everything it’s supposed to and does it well.
- You can hold down the remote’s voice button and ask Siri things like:
- “Skip forward two minutes” or
- “Open Silicon Valley,” which will open the show in the correct app and the correct episode.
- Ask “What did he just say?” to rewind the movie 30 seconds and see captions for those 30 seconds.
- Siri can perform Homekit tasks and be used as your “HomeKit Hub” to control your HomeKit devices when you’re not home.
- You can mirror your iPhone or Mac via AirPlay.
- Most people don’t like the Apple TV remote because it’s different from a typical remote. It’s made of glass and comes with a trackpad. I admire its simplicity, and the Siri button works well, but it’s prone to get lost, doesn’t work flawlessly from far distances, and it’s difficult to tell the front from the back.
- You can use your iPhone as the remote too with the Remote app or through the control center.
- Chromecast is unique because it’s the only streaming device without an interface. How does it work? Your smartphone is the interface. You find content via your subscription streaming services with apps on your phone. (Apps like HBO, Showtime, Netflix, etc.) Once you find content to watch, you tap on the “cast” button in the corner of the app, and the content is sent to your Chromecast and displayed on your TV.
- Chromecast’s lack of interface is polarizing.
- Pros: 1. Most people know how to operate their smartphone, so there’s nothing new to learn. 2. You don’t have to configure or sign into apps you don’t usually use. 3. You can use your phone for other activities while casting without interrupting the stream.
- Cons: 1. The stream doesn’t always work flawlessly, and it takes awhile to appear on the TV. 2. If your phone loses connection with Chromecast (which happens frequently), it’s hard to change what’s playing. 3. The cast button doesn’t always show up on your phone when it should. Force quitting the app usually fixes this.
- I prefer a TV interface, but there are exceptions where casting is a better option. For example, casting YouTube TV is a brilliant experience. It’s easier to sort through channels with your fingers than with a remote. It’s more intimate.
- You can stream most of the major services, as long as there’s a “cast” button inside the phone app.
- Compatible services include Netflix, YouTube TV, Google Play, Hulu, Showtime, Sling, Vudu, HBO, Amazon Prime Video, Spotify, and Pandora. (The entire list is here).
- Netflix, YouTube, and Vudu are the only 4K content options.
- You can do cool integrations with Chromecast if you have other Google and Nest products.
- Google Home users get playback commands with their voice. You can play, pause, skip and go back. It gets wordy and only works flawlessly half the time. For example, you could say, “Hey Google, stream Breaking Bad on Netflix to Living Room TV.”
- You can mirror any Android device.
- You can mirror your computer’s Chrome browser.
- Your smartphone’s speed determines the interface speed.
- How long does it take to for a casted video to show on the TV? Assuming you have reliable, high-speed Internet, it takes 15 seconds for the video to show on the TV if your Chromecast is already powered on.
- Skipping episodes takes a long time because there are many steps. You have to unlock your phone, find the app you’re casting, make your adjustments, then wait 1-2 seconds for your input to show on the screen.
- It doesn’t come with a remote, and there’s no option to add one. Your phone is your remote.
- You can control Chromecast with the Google Home app or inside the app that you’re casting from (e.g., Netflix, HBO, etc.).
- You can control the volume with your phone, but you can’t turn off the TV with your phone.
- Chromecast (3rd Gen) is $35 and streams HD content.
- Chromecast Ultra is $60 and streams HD, 4K Ultra HD, and 4K HDR content.