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Nexus Q First Impressions

IMG_20120802_223321I hinted a bit in my Nexus 7 review that a hands on with the Nexus Q was coming extremely soon, and here it is. I guess you might be asking why is there not a review and why is this just a first impressions hands on article. Well I wanted to take a different approach now that Google has changed the game a bit with the Nexus Q.

The Nexus Q was originally pitched as a “Social Streaming Media” device—a device that would allow you to stream any of your Google Play Music, TV, Movies, or YouTube straight to your TV via the cloud and controlled all from your Android Device. If you read that and you thought to yourself that the Q doesn’t do much and wrote it off right away since there are tons of other little boxes out there that do the same thing (just not Google Play). Then you find out that it is $300, and if there was any thought in your mind that you might want this it is probably gone.

This is exactly what others thought, and they hacked it up and destroyed it in reviews before the device was even out. Personally I got really excited because I use all of these services (especially Google Play Music) and the Nexus Q is an extremely SEXY device [some may debate this].

So no review—not yet because, to be honest, everyone who received the Nexus Q is now part of a big Beta Test even though Google isn’t calling it that. Every single person who pre-ordered the Q got one for free, and it is now completely off the market as Google attempts to figure out what they need to change to make it a full blown product that everyone will pay for. With only a few days with the device I can say it isn’t ready at all—not because it is limited in functionality, but the software just isn’t ready.

Design

IMG_20120802_224514It is always good sign when you are extremely impressed with the box a product comes in and  the Nexus Q box alone really blew me away. It had a similar box style of the Nexus 7, but just everything seemed elegant and really well thought out. To me this is pretty impressive as Google hasn’t really made any physical goods for the masses. Their design team really hit it and made me feel like I really got what I would have paid for. The Nexus Q is a sphere obviously and it looks fantastic with a beautiful matte finish. It has a circle of lights that light up as you play back content and a little tiny single LED dot that faces towards you. To me the design of the Q is absolutely gorgeous to look at and is a standout piece in any room of the house.

There is a subtle beauty to something that doesn’t stand out in a design, but is extremely functional. The top half sphere can be twisted to the right or left to adjust the volume, and you can simply tap it to mute the device. Little things like this or the fact that the banana plug inputs are staggered in height to curve with the sphere. You can really tell their Industrial Design team at Google really thought about this device. Something else that a lot of people aren’t talking about is the built in 20W amp. This means if you wanted to use the Q as a dedicated music device you could place it anywhere with a set of bookshelf speakers and you don’t need a receiver at all.

Software

Setting up the Q revolves completely around your Android device as the Q has no remote or other input method. It may seem a bit janky but the setup goes a little something like this.

  1. Download Q App
  2. Turn on Bluetooth (detects Q devices)
  3. Turn on Wi-Fi (Send SSID to your Q)
  4. Enter Wi-Fi password for the Q
  5. Name and finish setup

Screenshot_2012-08-03-06-28-06When I was setting up the Q I didn’t fully understand why I needed to do all of this, but then I started thinking about it as basically the Q was just sitting there waiting for someone to say hello. Sending the Wi-Fi network via Bluetooth was really innovative and something I haven’t seen before. For a normal user this seems completely understandable. From there there isn’t too much to do in the Q app. You can adjust the color of the LEDs, the name, or even change the Wi-Fi network, but that is about it.

Screenshot_2012-08-12-11-07-52
Google pitched the Q as a device that streams Play Music, Play Movies & TV, and Youtube. If this is all you ever wanted from a device then the Q is the perfect device for you because it does these three activities absolutely better than any other device on the market. On any Android 2.3+ device these apps have been updated to be able to communicate with the Q. When you have Wi-Fi on and you enter these apps on your device a new “Play/Send to” icon will appear. Selecting this tells the app to automatically send any content to the Q. If you have multiple Q devices then a popup will appear asking you where you would like to play it. I tested these apps on both my Nexus 7 and Galaxy Nexus and the initial experience was a bit odd. The Nexus 7 had a hard time initially connecting and detecting the Q until I gave it a restart, and my Galaxy Nexus could only detect it in Play Music for a while and then a day later everything seemed to detect it.

IMG_20120812_110826So once everything is actually working on your devices everything just seems to work. You press play and nearly instantly playback begins on your TV or speakers. If you are listening to music you will get a nice visualizer on the screen and also the cover art and track appear. Adjusting the volume on the phone will also adjust the volume on the Q which is pretty cool, however there is one glaring issues, which is the volume display on the TV is huge and is pretty annoying when watching video. It sort of amazes me that since the Q is running Android (4.0 ICS) under the orb that Google didn’t take a few moments to customize this display. My hopes are that they take al input from users and tweak this immediately.

Wrapping it up

The Q does exactly what Google said it would do, nothing more and nothing less. This means no Netflix, no Hulu, and none of the other Android apps out there. Everyone seems to be knocking on the fact that it doesn’t do more than that and that it is $300 currently.  Google is pausing sales on the Q until they figure out a way to add more value to the Q from initial feedback. I want to make this clear after using the Q for the last 2 weeks it is obvious that controlling content playback from a phone or tablet is the best way to do it. No need to fumble with clunky user interfaces on the TV, just look down at your tablet and play around with the Youtube app or Google Music & Movies/TV their User Interfaces are beautiful and elegant. I hope that Google keeps with this method and doesn’t try to cram Google TV on this device. I want them to release an SDK for developers to put in more support for the Q. Imagine searching Netflix from your tablet and pressing play, or a full chrome browser one to one on your TV. This method works and it works extremely well, I look forward to seeing where Google goes from here as my first initial impression has been pretty fantastic. I can see why everyone would be so angry over the price and limited features, but the Q just does it so much better than any other little $100 box that you are going to throw under your TV. I see the Q as a platform and I see it only getting better from here as long as Google sticks to its guns and keeps your Android device the remote.

[The Nexus Q was provided free to all users that pre-ordered the device, including the one used in this first impressions.]

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