The Nexus Q is Google’s first direct entry into the streaming media device market, joining with Jelly Bean Android devices to provide a rich and integrated media playback experience. Unfortunately, the Nexus Q is also extremely limited at this junction, and extremely overpriced for its lack of functionality.
Designed in the Future
The Nexus Q is undeniably a bold statement in design, seemingly directly mocking its competitor’s rectangular puck design with the extreme contrast of a solid orb design. About the size of a grapefruit, the construction is top notch, with smooth action on the front-top hemisphere that rotates to control volume. On the back, 4 banana plugs provide amplified power to standard stereo speakers for direct hookup like a stereo AV receiver (though using banana plugs on speakers is actually fairly uncommon), and a selection of ports provide power and other connectivity. Annoyingly, all the ports (usb, hdmi, power, network, and optical) are actually recessed from the surface of the device, making connection difficult depending on the design of the cable used. The included power and HDMI cables fit perfectly, but it will be difficult to use other 3rd party cables in general.
The built in NFC system (near field communication, similar to RFID) works well with the Galaxy Nexus I tested with it, allowing me to quickly pair the phone to it and begin streaming media. In lieu of NFC, the Q also has a Bluetooth chip which you can use to pair with a phone or tablet. It also contains a Wi-Fi chip to eliminate the need for a physical network connection.
A Future Without Direction
Unfortunately, the Nexus Q itself is pretty lackluster. If all you want to do is play media from your heavily invested Google Play account or YouTube, then the Nexus Q is a great device. Video plays back smoothly (when it’s not buffering) and the sound from the amp is adequate. Unfortunately, if you are invested in any other online content, such as Netflix, Hulu, or Pandora, you are out of luck. You can’t play network stored media either, or anything that’s not on your phone itself. You can forget about music not from Google Play or showing photos on your TV even if they are on your phone. Don’t even think about trying to mirror your on-device apps like Angry Birds or Skype.
Google suggests this is just a starting point for the device, and that more improvements would come later. Though at $300, it’s a cripplingly limited device that costs as much as an fully featured iPhone and Apple TV pair or a Sonos system.
The Nexus Q is a great marvel of product aesthetic design and simplicity, akin to some of their competitors. Unfortunately, like many Google properties, the Nexus Q is clearly a “beta” project missing any sense of functionality at a cost significantly higher than any of its full featured competitors. Modding enthusiasts might enjoy such an elegant device as the Android backend opens it up to a wealth of opportunities (such as the already started XBMC conversion), but at $300, I would have expected so much more.