Google's Nexus Q takes on Microsoft, Apple in the living room

Google's Nexus Q takes on Microsoft, Apple in the living room

Summary: Google's Nexus Q is expensive and odd-looking, and it doesn't play well with devices outside of the Android world. It's a pretty weak competitor to Microsoft's Xbox 360, Apple TV, or even Sonos. Here's what's wrong.

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The Nexus Q is certainly not for everyone's taste. For starters, it's ... well, let's call it distinctive in appearance. It is most certainly made to be seen as well as heard.

It's also pricey, at $299 without speakers or cables, and it works only with Android devices.

Put those pieces together and you have to wonder whether Google is deliberately trying to limit the market for this product to diehard Google loyalists.

In the industrial design of its new media player, Google has broken out of the box, quite literally. The Nexus Q is a black orb, 4.6 inches in diameter, with a ring of 32 LEDs that "shift and change color in time to your music," Google says. I guess that makes it a 21st Century lava lamp.

It also has its own 12.5 watt/channel amplifier and ports to connect to a living-room audio system or an HDTV. (If you want even more details, read the full specs.)

The odd thing about the Nexus Q is that it doesn't include a remote control. Instead, you must control it with an Android phone or an Android tablet using the Google Play and YouTube apps for Android. Nothing else will work.

The new $199/$249 Nexus 7 tablets will fill that role quite nicely, but when you add in that cost you're up to at least $500. Add in Google's $300 Triad Bookshelf speakers and $49 speaker cables with banana plugs, plus sales tax, and your total is over a grand.

But hey, you can watch YouTube videos and stream your music collection on that setup.

These design and pricing decisions are very odd indeed.

Microsoft's Xbox 360 already owns the living room, having sold roughly 70 million units. It has announced and demonstrated its Xbox SmartGlass controller app, which will "work with Windows 8 PCs and tablets, and iPads, iPhones, and Android devices." At Amazon, the Xbox 360 with Kinect costs 5 bucks less than that odd-looking little Google orb.

Apple TV might still be a "hobby" in Cupertino, but at $99 it's actually a great deal if you're an Apple loyalist. You can use any iOS device, including iPhones and iPads, to push content to an Apple TV via AirPlay. Or you can buy music and stream TV shows directly from iTunes. It doesn't have its own amplifier, like the Nexus Q, but if you already have a decent audio system it's an easy addition. And you just know that someday, probably soon, Apple is going to deliver a big, big upgrade to Apple TV that will make Google's offering instantly obsolete.

The Xbox 360 and Apple TV also have other advantages that the Nexus Q can't match. You can run both boxes using a remote control or an app. They have access to impressively large ecosystems of content and apps (and games, in the case of the Xbox 360). With years of experience, Microsoft and Apple have mastered the supply-chain and manufacturing issues, unlike Google, which is a newcomer to the large-scale hardware business.

Google TV, of course, is the logical competitor to both Microsoft and Apple here, but it appears to have been left behind in favor of the newer, hotter Nexus Q.

In fact, the Nexus Q in its current incarnation looks like more of an answer to Sonos, which offers wireless audio systems that you can control with iPads and iPhones and Android devices and via apps on a PC or a Mac. The Sonos 3, which is the same price as the Nexus Q, includes a more-than-adequate speaker and appeals to all sorts of people who don't want to be locked into an all-Android environment.

There's no question that Google has created a pretty device in the Nexus Q. The fact that it's made in the USA is admirable and justifies at least part of the premium price. But it's hard to imagine that anyone but Android diehards will find it worth buying.

Topics: Security, Android, Smartphones, Mobility, Mobile OS, Microsoft, Laptops, Hardware, Google, Apple, Tablets

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31 comments
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  • its step 1

    Release early, release fast, release often.
    [ should have been Nexus Q Beta ]
    lokanadam@...
    • And *when* they fail kill quickly.

      Sounds about right.
      dave95.
      • LOL while that is funny the sad truth is...

        they have shown many times they are willing to do that.
        TheBottomLineIsAllThatMatters
      • LEAN Startup model?

        As "User name not displayed" says, this is the going trend in software and hardware -- rapid iterations, quick release. So Google loses a couple million dollars? To them, the chance that the idea takes off and increases Google Play sales and Android ecosystem is worth far more. Neat device, probably too pricey for what it offers. They need to get on board with other systems that can be run off of the device w/o needing a phone or tablet (Hulu Plus, Netflix, Last.fm, Pandora, etc.)
        teeroddesigns
  • That doesn't work for hardware

    You can't just upgrade your hardware with a download.
    Ed Bott
    • Of course you can

      If the firmware of my TV can be upgraded so can this.
      But I agree with you it's way too expansive for what it does. Plus how do you fit this thing in a TV cabinet?
      RF68
      • "Of course you can..." Get many updates to the GoogleTV?

        Isn't that the closest (digital:-) analog?

        The question about updates is all about manufacturer support. Almost nobody squawks when Google kills Beta Wave, because nobody had any hard cash invested in it. (Yes, we treat our time as near-worthless.)

        But a product that depends on future expansion before it's more than an oddity? You had better be willing to take good odds on your $299 bet that Google is onto something that it's going to expand.
        WaltFrench
    • It's a version 1 product

      It's a version 1 product and all this talk of a super duper Apple TV is crazy, it doesn't exist. At least outside of rumours and Apple's labs.

      I bet an iOS app comes too. Google is more cross platform than Apple are.
      bradavon
      • That's the only way this will sell...

        ... but they'll have to market the device as an ultra-premium A/V device that makes the AppleTV 3 look pathetic in comparison. Which it doesn't, unfortunately.
        Champ_Kind
  • Its just a marketing tool

    Lots of over priced tech toys are just marketing tools to try and establish a "cool" factor. I can't imagine ever buying a Q, even on "close out".

    What matters is how much of the software finds its way to things like the upcoming Visio $99 "Goggle TV" box that appears to come with a killer remote (assuming the mechanical build quality is decent).
    wally_333
  • $300

    For that money can it play Call of Duty? If not forget it.
    Xenon8
    • It doesn't, Google doesn't have an OS that supports real games

      The problem with Google is that it's legacy OS's like Android and Chrome OS are based on the web, while gaming consoles like Xbox 360 were designed to run 3D intensive graphics and animations using hardware acceleration, I think Google wants to go opposite, they want to convert a web based system into a 3D framework, take for example WebGL, and is still inferior to OpenGL or DirectX, and the main problem with Google is their programming language choice, html+javascript+xml will never be as efficient as C++
      Gabriel Hernandez
      • Um

        I thought the Xbox ran Windows 2000.

        So it requires Android, the author said Apple TV requires an iphone. How is that worse?
        LarsDennert
        • Original XBox was based on NT5 kernel

          and 360 was based on NT5.1 kernel, but both had lots of tweaks and mods to the code (considering that the original XBox did NT5 and games with a paltry (even for that time) 64MB of RAM and the 360 is PPC).
          Champ_Kind
      • Legacy OSes

        How on earth is Android OR Chrome a "legacy OS"? Though I don't care for either much, by NO stretch of the definition of the term can you call either of these "Legacy OSes". (And yes, there is no apostrophe in plurals, even of acronyms.)

        @Lars Dennert
        Not only did the author NOT state that the AppleTV requires an iPhone, he even goes so far as to state the exact opposite.
        .DeusExMachina.
  • Cool looking but much too expensive......

    I can install MythTV on a small server and do all of that and more for half that price. I use many things Google, but this one, no way. Sorry Google...try again.
    linux for me
  • What about Roku?

    There are currently more than 2.5 million Roku boxes out there, and somehow they were overlooked? Not only are they cheaper than anything else you've listed here, but they do as much or more.
    trevor@...
  • Prices is wrong

    We are a "target" household (Android, but no X-Box), but the price is too high as it stands. I would just get a cable from my phone to the Surround Amp and play my music that way (use MHL cable). In fact I plan too, and my phone does TV, movies and sound very well already. I can't really see the need for the Q.
    dimonic
  • Pretty Much With You ... until ...

    @EdBott wrote, "There???s no question that Google has created a pretty device in the Nexus Q. The fact that it???s made in the USA is admirable and justifies at least part of the premium price."

    A black orb that pulses like a 2012 lava lamp? Perhaps that's its most unique feature in terms of what you can do that you couldn't have re-purposed an old XP box, or Apple or any number of other systems for? No thank you.

    And the "Made in USA" label shouldn't reflect more than a handful of dollars, at most. The circuit board is apparently assembled overseas, using some US and some international parts; an iFixit teardown of the device would be unlikely to find more than $150 of total cost, meaning the USA plastic, metal and assembly shouldn't count for more than a handful of dollars. I think Google is aiming for Apple-like margins on what is certain to be a low-volume product.
    WaltFrench
    • "At least part..."

      I think the larger part of the premium price is because Google has no experience in manufacturing, and no scale to take advantage of.

      It is a pretty little thing in its own way, but only a Google diehard will love it.
      Ed Bott