This week, Google announced the Nexus Q streaming media player. Available for pre-order at $299, the black orb streams audio and video from a limited number of sources including Google’s TV and movie cloud now known as Google Play as well as YouTube.
On the surface, the Nexus Q has very appealing aesthetics. It’s a black sphere with a satin touch coating and flattened bottom. When music plays, a fixating band of color swirls across its equator (lit by 32 RGB LEDs). Volume is controlled by turning the top of the sphere. A light at the top can be tapped to mute the device. Lots of great design ideas make this black orb stand out. However, great design is more than just aesthetics and as I point out later, the Nexus doesn’t have what it needs on the software side.
One could argue that home theater devices shouldn’t stand out. Plain black boxes such as the Apple TV and the Roku were designed not to be noticed and take away from the viewing experience. However, the Nexus Q was designed be a social device. More than a conversation piece, there’s functionality to build play shared music play lists for parties or impromptu social gatherings.
While I understand what Google is trying to do, it feels half-pregnant at best. At $299, it’s expensive compared to other media streamers on the market including the Apple TV ($99), the Roku ($50) and the Boxee ($179). Why is the Q so much more? While manufacturing in the USA contributes to the higher cost, it’s probably driven more by the inclusion of a built-in amplifier to power a pair of speakers. So, Google is not aiming for the consumer with an A/V receiver, even though the Nexus Q will work with one. On the other hand, it doesn’t include a built in speaker. So, you can’t just drop the Q in any room and start a party. The lack of the built-in or small tethered speaker is a big miss. The third-party speakers that Google is featuring with the Q cost an additional $399.
Yes, a built-in speaker may have pushed the price up, but it would have challenged the current home theater paradigm where you need lots of components to enjoy your content.
One has to wonder why Google came out with a product that competes with their own Google TV boxes. It doesn’t seem that Google has learned anything about pricing from their first generation Google TV stand-alone box. At $299, the now discontinued Google TV Logitech Revue was a flop. However, if you want to use Google’s ecosystem for watching movies, TV shows and listening to music, you can do it for a lot less with Vizio’s new Google TV box called the Co-Star for $99. You could always pair up Vizio’s Co-star with a Jambox for the same price as the Nexus Q. That would be a much better solution for a dorm room, den or kitchen.
Speaking of ecosystems, that brings up another hurdle the Nexus Q faces. Most folks are already using iTunes or Amazon’s music store. The only way the Q tries to integrate with other ecosystems is to suggest that users export their music from iTunes into the Google cloud. Unfortunately, the Nexus Q can only stream content from Google’s cloud or YouTube. Even Apple allows Netflix on the Apple TV. Google TV provides a plethora of third-party audio and video streaming services. From what I’ve read, there’s no way to directly stream from an Android tablet or smart phone a la Airplay, yet.
Traditionally, Google has been one of the most open software vendors. Most of Google’s services are accessible from a large number of standardized web browsers and all sorts of devices. You can your export data from Google services fairly easily. However, the Q is an unfortunate departure. An Android tablet or smart phone is required to manager the device. It’s amazing that it can’t be managed with a web browser (yet).
In conclusion, while its futuristic aesthetic is pleasing, the Nexus Q is a niche device not destined to gain mass market appeal in its current form. If you want to read a thorough hands-on review, the Verge has one. By the way, the first time I saw the Nexus Q, I thought I had seen it before. If you remember the Toclafane from season three of Doctor Who, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Video clip follows:
Update (7/31/2012): Google has decided to delay the release of the Nexus Q given the poor reviews. However, apparently folks who pre-ordered will be getting a complimentary orb!