When Google announced the new Chromecast I was stoked. The idea of no longer having to pull out my phone just to watch TV felt heavenly, but unfortunately Google decided to not release it in the Netherlands. While there were some overpriced grey imports available I didn’t ended up buying one until I was notified about FNAC France where I could import one for a total €65.
Quick Chromecast 2020 review:
Allow me to make one thing perfectly clear: the 2020 Chromecast is not a Chromecast, but instead a fully fledged Android TV setup box taking advantage of the Chromecast name. Yes you can cast to it as usual, but there is so much more which I feel gets lost in the re-usage of the name.
Essentially, almost anything an Android phone can do the Google TV can do. Wifi is stable, bluetooth has been added which enables the use of wireless input devices and headphones (with latency compensation). It runs full applications which you can navigate using the included remote which also includes a microphone for voice search and typing, and an IR blaster to serve as an universal TV remote. The single USB-C 2.0 port works fine with powered dongles which opens the door to ethernet, SD cards and USB devices. In short, a lot of new features but with a major setback: a mere 4GB of user available internal storage. Still, that should be enough for your average user making this an awesome little device.
Unlocking the true potential
Enabling developer mode to unlock features
There are several “hidden” features packed into the 2020 Chromecast such as storage expansion through external devices, ADB and the option to sideload (unsupported) applications. All of these options are tucked away under developer mode which can be easily unlocked. After the first-time setup, head to Settings -> System -> About and tap the OS Build around 10 times. That’s it. No exploits, no cracks or other bullshit, just the freedom to use your device the way you want.
Going out and back into the settings you will now spot a new item called “Developer options”. Here you can enable ABD, installing applications from untrusted sources (aka sideloading) and some other tweaks which may or may not benefit you. Storage expansion is not listed here, but instead you will be given the option in the storage screen once you add an external storage device. How do you do that? Well…
Adding new hardware (storage, ethernet etc)
To add new hardware by means other than bluetooth you will need a few items:
- USB-C dongle with USB-C power delivery: I can not stress this enough, PD is mandatory otherwise the Chromecast will not be able to be powered. Aside from that, the other connections will depend on your use-case. I myself went with USB-C 3.0 dongle, with gigabit ethernet and 2 USB-A ports. Keep in mind, the USB-C port on the Chromecast is uses the slower USB 2.0 standard. I simply went 3.0 for the dongle as future-proofing and reusing with other devices.
- USB power supply: The included power supply unfortunately doesn’t provide enough juice to power the Chromecast and other USB devices. Any old 2A phone charger should work just fine. If you want to buy one cheap, I use the €7 IKEA Kopla charger.
- USB storage: Any old USB stick should do as long as it’s formatted to FAT32.
- Wireless keyboard with touchpad: You will need one to use unsupported applications and comes in handy for emulation. Microsoft Microsoft All-In-One Media keyboard (US int, ANSI layout) or the Logitech K400 Plus are both perfect for the job.
- Ethernet cable: wired connection goes brrrrr!
Setting things up is piss simple, just plug everything in and that’s it. If you notice the Chromecast has issues with detecting USB devices, try power cycling everything by simply replugging the power supply. If you enabled developer mode you can also use USB storage to expand the internal storage just like on Android. Unfortunately file explorers on the Chromecast can NOT access the drive. The best solution here is to use an old SD card or USB drive to expand internal storage, and a USB drive as removable storage to easily get files to and from the Chromecast.
Quality of Life: Button Mapper Pro (one-time €2.60 in-app purchase)
Update: I found another app to remap buttons that doesn’t have any limitations with the remote. See this post for details!
Nice as it is to have a remote, being able to remap buttons the way you want is even nicer. Button Mapper Pro allows you to do exactly that with the remote and all other connected input devices. You can pick different actions for single press, double press and hold presses essentially giving you access to 3 additional buttons more per button. When it comes to the remote there are some limitations however. Below is a table of how I set up my remote and which keys can not be altered.
|Button||Single press||Double press||Hold press|
|Navigation wheel||Keep stock||Keep stock||Keep stock|
|Enter||Keep stock||Keep stock||Keep stock|
|Back||Keep stock||Keep stock||Can not remap|
|Assistant||Can not remap||Can not remap||Can not remap|
|Home||Home (stock)||Settings||Force close application|
|Mute*||Can not remap||Can not remap||Can not remap|
|YouTube||Can not remap||Can not remap||Can not remap|
|Netflix||Ziggo Go (Dutch cable TV)||Plex||Netflix (can not remap)|
|Standby||Can not remap||Can not remap||Can not remap|
|Input||Can not remap||Can not remap||Can not remap|
|Vol +*||Can not remap||Can not remap||Can not remap|
|Vol –*||Can not remap||Can not remap||Can not remap|
Aside from the remote, you can also remap buttons on other peripherals such as controllers and keyboards. For instance, on my keyboard I remapped the function keys to launch specific Google TV applications and the macro keys above the touchpad to home, back, and open “App Launcher” which lists my sideloaded apps. Being able to now blindly press a button and immediately watch cable TV is a real timesaver when compared to having to navigate a bunch of menus. Definitely worth the €2.60!
Adding a webbrowser
Google really dropped the ball here by not including a webbrowser. Luckily you can always just install one yourself. For browsing with the remote options are limited to TV-Bro (open source) and Puffin (subscription based). Both apps feel clunky to use and browsing can be a bit of a pain. This is why instead I’d recommend using a keyboard with touchpad and sideloading an Android browser app.
To sideload, you must first need to obtain the APK file. I highly suggest APK mirror as they’re a reputable source for Play Store APK’s. While on the subject, Aptoide is a third-party app-store that gets recommended a lot but they have been proven to host applications that are modified to contain spyware and malware. In other words, don’t use Aptoide! As for which browser to use: Firefox has broken rendering as of writing, Chrome works perfectly, Opera works perfectly and comes with a build-in adblocker.
With the APK file obtained you now need to get it onto your Chromecast. For this you will need a file manager. Personally I use Solid Explorer as its supported on the Chromecast, my phone and Chromebook. From here you can drop the APK onto a USB drive, plug it into the hub, browse to it through Solid Explorer and press install. You will be asked to give permission to Solid Explorer to install packages, to which you just have to hit yes once. Alternatively if you’re a bit more tech savvy, Solid Explorer also comes with an build in FTP server for file transfers over your local network. It’s what I prefer to use as I’m a lazy fuck who doesn’t want to get up to swap USB drives.
The 2020 Chromecast is a beast at emulation, capable of running games up to the PSX/PSP era. The easiest way to play is by installing RetroArch through the play store and putting some ROMs on a flash drive. However I did notice the performance with 3D titles tends to be worse when compared to stand-alone applications. These also take up less space together which for me was all the reason I needed to drop RetroArch. Instead I now use
As for game streaming, the Steam Link app works perfectly as long as you’ve got a decent connection. Keep in mind you need a keyboard or gamepad (ie XBOx One controller) for all of these.
Aside from installing all applications from your streaming platforms you’re subscribed to, I highly suggest looking into setting up Plex server. For the initiated, Plex is can be seen as a Netflix for media files stored on your computer. Through Plex you can play these files anywhere in the world while keeping track of your watch progress. You can even share libraries with friends so they too can enjoy your media! Now obviously you shouldn’t use Plex with pirated content like anime, movies or TV-shows, because that would be piracy and piracy is bad. Then again, if you would it sure is a hell of a lot more convenient than tracking down which of the million streaming services has that one movie you want to watch…