First things first: This is going to be a two-part first look at the Google Nexus Q media streamer for the simple reason that I am not yet able to stream media to the preview hardware handed out at Google I/O. See also Group test: what's the best speaker set?
Why? Although Google's Nexus Q website says you can control the device with a Nexus Q app that will run on any Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) smartphone or tablet, it turns out that the app currently runs only on Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean), which Google also previewed at its developer conference. Google's PDF user guide explains that support for earlier Android devices won't be available until the Nexus Q ships to consumers, which Google says will be "soon"--two to three weeks. See Apple TV (2012) review.
It's interesting, by the way, that the Nexus Q itself is based on Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich). It's downright weird that Google has limited the product's market to Android device owners, and restricted its functionality to playing music you own or have bought from Google Play, as well as YouTube videos plus movies and TV shows you've purchased or rented from Google Play. Even Apple didn't hobble Apple TV thusly.
I had planned to use a couple of older Android phones for my test run (I wanted to verify that several Android users can, if authorized, contribute to a playlist), so at this writing I don't have a Jelly Bean device. I'll update this post once I do, but in the meantime I can share a few impressions based on the setup I was able to complete.
An Attempt to Out-Apple Apple
Unboxing the Q, I couldn't help feeling that Google is trying to out-Apple Apple in its packaging and presentation. You get the same minimalist approach, only in black instead of white. Here's the box, once you remove the sleeve.
After you open the black seals (a second one is on the back of the box), you see the flat bottom of a Magic 8 Ball-sized black sphere--and nothing else.
As with Apple's products, the rest of the box's contents are concealed until you lift a cardboard tab. But there isn't much more to find--just a charging cable and a quick-start guide on a single cardboard square.
The guide explains your cabling options (the Q connects to analog or digital audio systems, or to a TV via a Mini HDMI cable), directs you to download the Nexus Q app from the Google Play store, and provides a URL to visit for additional help. Honestly, it makes Apple's printed manuals look like War and Peace--but I'm not sure less is more in this case. I wound up seeking guidance by clicking through much of the FAQs on the Nexus website.
Anyway, I also snapped a photo showing the ports on the back of the Nexus Q.
Note, by the way, that the Nexus Q doesn't come with AV or ethernet cables (the ethernet hookup is for those users who prefer a wired network to Wi-Fi for media streaming). You must bring your own. That's pretty cheesy for a gizmo that Google expects to sell for $299--and don't forget, it doesn't come with a remote control, either.
I'm also disappointed that the Nexus Q doesn't support 5GHz Wi-Fi--at this point, I believe that a streaming-media product should support dual-band 802.11n wireless, because in neighborhoods with multiple 2.4GHz networks, you really need the additional bandwidth of the 5GHz spectrum.
Swivel Up the Volume
At a full 2 pounds, the Nexus Q is surprisingly heavy for its 4-inch diameter. And when you lift it from the box, you realize that it's not a one-piece sphere: The top half or so is a swiveling dome. The Nexus Q site says that swiveling lets you raise or lower the audio volume on whatever the Q is streaming without having to use the phone or tablet app; tapping the dome can mute audio (this is something I'll test).
I connected the Nexus Q to my HDTV using a Mini HDMI cable, to a HomePlug AV powerline switch using an ethernet cable, and to a power strip with the one cable that did come in the package. Immediately, the edge of the Q's swiveling section lit up in blue--the specs say that the device has 32 perimeter RGB LEDs, and apparently they can change colors and pulsate based on the music you play (looking forward to seeing that!).
A single LED in the middle of the dome also lit up, looking like a blue dot (it's a mute indicator). My TV, meanwhile, displayed a black screen; at the top, "welcome" in several languages cycled through, and the URL of the support site appeared in smaller letters at the bottom.
When I positioned the Nexus Q right in front of the display, a blue outline similar to the shape defined by the Q's LED lighting appeared in the middle of the display. Here's what it looked like.
Although I found the blue lights interesting as a design statement, I also found them somewhat distracting, even without a TV show on the big screen. I'm going to look into whether users can turn off the lights, among other things. Stay tuned.
Part two on next page >>.