Monday, July 27, 2015

Samsung Revisited and How ChromeCast Makes Everything Better

At the start of the year I bought a Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5 and reviewed it. My assessment at that time still reflects my thoughts on the device; a great screen but it is, ultimately, a game device for the kids. The problems at the front of my mind these days are:

  • Space is limited (16Gb on-board with a 32Gb micro-SD) which hinders game-caching leading to slow load times, hinders updating and means constant juggling as apps get installed
  • User management is annoying. Unlike Windows, where all users can be made equal, with Android there is the owner (the main administrator) and all others. In my case my wife is the primary user but I am the tech in the family but, to do tablet maintenance, I am forced to log in as her.

There have been a delight though. Outlook for Android (released after my review) is great. It automatically filters the inbox to the mail that matters. If I can figure out how to do this in Outlook 2013 I will be in Outlook nirvana. Every weekend I fire up Outlook on the Samsung to make sure there are no important emails I have missed

In terms of the apps I use today with the Samsung, these are:

  • The games my son plays (Jurassic World, Clash of Clans etc.)
  • Outlook for Android
  • My Bar Free (you tell it what is in your bar, it tells you what cocktails you can make)
  • Chrome (not often used but there when I need it)
  • Netflix (more of this later)

In my original review I lamented that I had not found a television remote app for the Samsung to control my television. With ChromeCast that is now moot.

The Netflix Workout

My journey with ChromeCast started with Netflix. I got a free six month subscription to Netflix via my internet provider. As I am on a plan with unlimited bandwidth, binge watching soon ensued. The chief problem is my TV is a plain LED TV, nothing smart, not even a USB port. Every time I wanted to watch Netflix, I had to hook up one of the house laptops to the HDMI port of the TV. Then, to browse programs, I kneeled at the media altar working the touchpad of the connected laptop. In a world of remote control, this was too much like exercise.

A bit of research revealed that there were devices available which plugged into the HDMI port and communicated wirelessly to a computer.

Miracast vs ChromeCast

Given I am talking about Android, I will not dwell on Apple TV, which does similar things for Apple. For the rest of us, it seems to be a choice of two: Miracast and ChromeCast. Miracast is, in effect,  a wireless HDMI standard; whatever is on your device screen is transmitted to the television.

For my purpose, Miracast was cheaper but had disadvantages. The first was flakiness, which I had experienced at clients who tried to use Miracast for meeting room presentations; connection was temperamental. More importantly though, whatever is on your screen gets transmitted to the television. So, no screensaver, no using the device for anything other than transmitting, the device is, effectively, locked.

ChromeCast works differently. ChromeCast is a dongle which plugs into the HDMI port of the television but it is, in effect, its own Android device. It is like an Android computer whose screen is the television and whose keyboard is your device which connects to it via your home wireless network. This means that once ChromeCast is transmitting, you can use your controlling device to do other things like read email, browse etc.

How ChromeCast Works With Apps

With apps on the Samsung, you look for the ChromeCast icon image and this means you can stream it to your television at the press of a button. Netflix is one such app but there are plenty of others. I am also a fan of Pandora and YouTube which also work.

Another is the OneDrive app. What is nice about the OneDrive app is if you have movies stored in OneDrive/OneDrive for Business, you can stream them to the television through ChromeCast without leaving your armchair. OneDrive is now my media player, thanks to ChromeCast.

One final cherry on the ChromeCast pie is the ability for it to control the television through the HDMI port. While I cannot get my old Viera to turn on, starting a cast will automatically change channel to the HDMI channel which is quite a neat trick.

ChromeCast for Windows

For Windows, ChromeCast works with the Chrome browser. This provides lots of options. Firstly, if you browse to, say, Netflix or YouTube and click the ChromeCast icon, the app opens on the ChromeCast dongle, just like it would from an Android device. You also have the option of streaming the screen or, interestingly, a tab on the Chrome browser.


This also opens the option of playing with browser options and add-ons. While you cannot mess with the settings in the Android version of Chrome, you can in the Windows version. This means you can, in theory, alter the settings and use Chrome add-ons, to display precisely what you want in Chrome and then cast the tab from your Windows device. This provides a similar experience to the Android device with the power of Windows Chrome and with the ability to minimise the tab and do other things on the device while still streaming.


For a modest price, the ChromeCast has revitalised my Samsung, turning into an internet streaming device for the media I do not own and turned my OneDrive into an online media player with unlimited storage for the media I do own. Similarly music is just a couple of clicks away with no armchair departure required. No more plugging laptops into HDMI cables and it works with everything I own, Windows and Android alike. I could not be happier.

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