There are two ways to think about Google’s Chromecast streaming dongle in 2018.

You could consider it as only a streaming device, committing Google’s vision of using a phone or tablet as your only TV remote. This unconventional approach has its upsides, but it’s less appealing than it used to be as low-cost streamers from Roku and Amazon have become faster and more versatile.

Alternatively, you might view Chromecast as a secondary streamer, living alongside the Roku, Fire TV, or Apple TV that you already own. You won’t have to give up a proper remote control, but can still use Chromecast to launch videos from your phone, screen-share from an Android phone or laptop, view Google Photos on the big screen, and control your TV with Google Assistant voice commands.

For $35, Chromecast isn’t an expensive streamer either way, but it’s better as a supplement than a centerpiece in your living room.

New look, minor upgrades

The new Chromecast isn’t much different from the second-generation model from 2015. The new design has rounder edges, but it’s still a small puck that hangs behind the TV on a 3-inch HDMI cable, and it still uses the TV’s USB port or a wall outlet for power. (You’ll likely need to choose the latter if you want the Chromecast to turn the TV on when it connects to your phone.)

The way you use Chromecast hasn’t really changed, either: In lieu of a remote control and TV-based menus, Chromecast uses the streaming apps on your iOS or Android device as the interface. Apps that support Chromecast will show a cast button that links your device to the television, and whatever video you select will begin playing on the larger screen. You can also use the Chrome browser on a laptop or desktop to launch video from websites that offer that feature.

chromecasthulu Jared Newman / IDG

Instead of using TV-based menus, you control Chromecast through the apps on your phone, tablet, or laptop.

What’s different, then? The new Chromecast supports 60-frames-per-second video at 1080p resolution, versus either 720p at 60 frames per second or 1080p at 30 frames per second on older versions. In practical terms, this means certain YouTube and Twitch videos will look sharper without sacrificing smoothness, and the Chromecast will be somewhat future-proof if live TV services graduate from 720p to 1080p streaming. (You’ll still need a $69 Chromecast Ultra for streaming in 4K and HDR, however.)

Google says the third-generation Chromecast is 15 percent faster than its predecessor, though this only affects load times, since your phone or tablet handles the actual navigation. While the second-generation Chromecast was plenty fast already, the latest version is a significant improvement over the original 2013 model. In my tests, the new Chromecast loaded a Netflix video in 7 seconds (17 seconds faster than the original), a PlayStation Vue channel in 9 seconds (7 seconds faster than the original), a Hulu video in 8 seconds (9 seconds faster than the original), and a Google Play Music track in 5 seconds (4 seconds faster than the original).

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