If you like using Google’s Chromecast to transmit a lesson from a notebook, phone or tablet to the classroom’s projector, you’ll love the company’s $100 Nexus Player. It may cost more than twice as much but can act as a Chromecast receiver, tap into a small but expanding variety of programming channels and includes a handy remote control.
Made by Asus, the Nexus Player is a flat black disc that looks like a big hockey puck. It has a 4.8-inch diameter and is 0.8-inches tall, making it small and light enough to use Velcro tape to attach it to the back of a monitor or stash behind a projector. There’s an LED underneath and the player has HDMI and micro-USB ports as well as a power input for its included AC adapter. In fact, all you’re likely to need to get started is an HDMI cable.
Inside is the equivalent of a mid- to high-range computer or tablet with a 1.8GHz quad-core Atom processor, 1GB of RAM and 8GB of solid-state storage. It uses Google’s Android 5 software, connects to a WiFi network and can work with Bluetooth devices. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have an SD or USB port for playing images or videos.
One of the easiest classroom items to set up, all you do is plug the Player in and connect it to a projector or large-screen display’s HDMI input. At that point, the Player connects to the local WiFi network and performs a software update. On the downside, it only connected intermittently using DHCP auto-IP addressing, so I immediately switched to using a static IP address and it worked fine.
With no buttons or controls on the Player, you’ll need to use the Player’s minimalist remote control. It has a circular switch as well as buttons to go back, pause-play and return to the Home screen, but lacks a volume control and the keys aren’t backlit for teaching to the light of a projector.
The remote does have a button with the microphone icon that allows the remote to listen to your spoken search terms. It works fairly well, but be careful what you say because the system can misinterpret your commands as things that are simply silly or grossly offensive.
Still, it misses a huge opportunity by not being able to link the wireless microphone to the projector or monitor’s speakers. In essence, with a little extra work, it could have been the basis for a room-wide PA system.
Overall, it takes the Player a few seconds to find and prepare the item you want to show. The video quality is surprisingly good, but there’s the occasional pixilation, stutter and freeze-up, but these might be due to the source material or online slow-downs. In fact, it looked great on a wide-XGA Casio projector and a 32-inch HD TV.
Once everything is set up, the player presents a variety of programming options as icons across the screen. This includes movies, TV shows and games. In fact, there’s a surprisingly nice gaming controller that costs just $40 and includes directional, back and function buttons as well as a pair of control sticks.
You can also use the player to connect with YouTube, Netflix, Hulu Plus and Songza, which pales in comparison to the offerings from similar systems like Roku, Apple TV or Netgear’s NeoTV. There are a lot of classroom-ready documentaries available on everything from the Manhattan Project to a look at worldwide poverty, but the Player lacks the ability to tap into Google Play’s ebooks.
Overall, if what you want is a Chromecast receiver and a way to play YouTube videos, like those from Khan Academy to English Lessons with Alex, the Player is a winner. If you want more, you’ll be disappointed because its programming choices are limited. Ironically, one major hole in its abilities is the Player’s lack of Web browsing, which is an odd deficiency in light of Google’s Chrome software and emphasis on the Internet.
That said, Google has ambitious plans for the Player that include content from a wide variety of sources, including TED and PBS Kids. I hope that this is just the beginning with a great variety of programming on the way. It’s available on the Google Play Store for $100, but includes a $20 gift card for use on the site, making it one of the cheapest ways to replace an expensive computer connected to a projector.
Google Nexus Player
+ Small and easy to set up
+ HD resolution
+ Chromecast receiver
+ Programming channels
+ Remote and game controller
+ Can speak commands
- Light on programming
- No volume control on remote
- Can’t connect to Web sites