I am exactly the person who should be excited about Google's "social" media player: I have room in my life for a streaming media gizmo — right now I lean on my Xbox 360, but have always been Roku curious — I use an Android smartphone as my primary device and I'm always in the market for innovative gadgets. That, and it simply looks like a gadget you want to own. I was immediately taken with it. With its round body and bold LED stripe, it looks like a cannonball fired out of the world of Tron. Yet, painfully, I find myself the opposite of excited.
Make no mistake, the Nexus Q is one hot little piece of hardware. It does a lot of amazingly smart things. At the same time, a few key choices by Google effectively knocks the legs out from under Q, and put a wall up between user and device.
So, yes, that's not a typo: here are the zero reasons why you should plunk your money down for the Nexus Q.
1. All Your Media, All In One Place
The Nexus Q wants to help serve two kinds of media: video and music. To facilitate this, you have two options in Google Play and YouTube. Your choices begin and end with the pair.
It's a bit like enjoying Google-approved content in a vacuum while knowing about the media-rich world that lies beyond. Even Apple, a company so careful about its ecosystem, allows its Apple TV to serve as a gateway to Netflix, YouTube, Vimeo and more. For tunes, Sonos's streaming music players pull from your own personal library and the likes of Pandora and Spotify.
The Nexus Q is great if everything you do is tied up in Google Play. It's perfect, in fact. But in every other conceivable scenario it's next to useless. It's all or nothing.
2. Lose The Remote: All You Need Are Apps
I love that the Nexus Q lets you use your smartphone or tablet as a remote. The lack of a remote isn't an issue. It's the fact that you can only use Android devices — both to control the Nexus Q and to take advantage of its much emphasized social features.
It's a Google product, I get it. But it's also a social product. If I'm sitting in a room with five friends and they all have iPhones, I'm now either passing around my phone or just ignoring the social features entirely. And while, really, you could probably skip the idea of a social playlist and be no worse off for it, it's something the Nexus Q has going for it that other devices don't, and a fun feature to show off. You can't, unless you're friends with Androids.
3. Music In Every Room, Made Easy
The Nexus Q does in fact make listening to music in every room of your house easy. You can see a list of all your hardware all at once, and manage the playlist running on each in a jiffy. The Nexus Q itself has an amp built-in, so all you have to do is plug speakers into each one and the group will communicate with one another over Wi-Fi.
The one detail that undermines all this? It's $300. Google would do well to take a page from Sonos's playbook and release cheaper bridging devices rather than leave it all to the Nexus Q proper.
4. Not Just Another Black Box
You can't call the Nexus Q "just another black box," which Google is so quick to point out in its advertising. Of course you can't. It's a black sphere with mood lighting. I don't mean that in a disparaging way, either — it's a striking shape, and the LED band is even customizable so you can adjust it to your tastes.
That said, to call it a black box would be implying too much. Consider the Roku: it gives you access to a huge list of channels including Netflix, Amazon, Hulu Plus, Sony's Crackle and more, and you can get one for less than $100. The Roku knows exactly what it wants to do, and it does at a price that makes sense.
You can even stream music through Roku using channels such as Pandora if you want. That said, for the music features that the Nexus Q offers, Sonos's gear is still a better comparison.
5. The Right Device At The Right Price
The Nexus Q needs to decide what it wants to be. It's priced like the only streaming media box I'll ever need for music and video, but its walled-in features don't back that up. Google clearly put a lot into engineering the device, so it's a shame that, no matter how you rationalize it, the Nexus Q is still $300. At $300, there simply isn't a reason I can come up with as to why the Nexus Q is for anyone.
The one feature that could make the Nexus Q worth something is the idea that Android developers will get their hands on it and do something cool with it. Until then, you're paying a hell of a lot of money to access Google content in very specific ways.
If the Nexus Q was $100, I'd buy it. At $150, even, I'd consider it. If it worked with more than just Google's ecosystem and devices, $300 wouldn't come off as ludicrous as it does.