Google Nexus Q Hands On

The Nexus Q is the first bit of hardware that Google has built all by itself from the ground up, according to the dev team that unveiled the minimalist, spheroid home entertainment hub.

Google's streaming media player is "a cloud-connected jukebox where everybody brings their own music to the party," according to Google director of engineering Joe Britt. It's also really black and really round. With the thin LED strip girdling the Nexus Q at the equator, the device looks like nothing so much as a dark force object in Lego: Star Wars.

I got my hands on the device and found it to be a pretty good gadget for simple home entertainment operations like making a music queue but a little too feature-heavy to quickly learn how to perform more complicated tasks.

The Nexus Q is a "small, Android-based computer" that's permanently dialled into a user's Google cloud content. It works by syncing with an Android 4.1 Jellybean device, which serves as nothing but a remote control. So the Nexus Q isn't pulling music, movies, YouTube video, eBooks, etc. from the tablet or smartphone with which it's synced—it's just directed by the mobile device.

Right now, the only device that works with Nexus Q is the Nexus 7 tablet from Google and Asus that was also made available at yesterday’s Google I/O opening keynote. Future Jellybean-based devices will also work with the streaming media player and so will tablets and handsets running earlier versions of Android, according to Google. The search giant isn't saying if non-Android devices will ever be able to work with the Nexus Q.

The Nexus Q is powered by a Texas Instruments OMAP chipset, optical video/audio and HDMI, dual-band Wi-Fi, Ethernet, NFC, and Bluetooth. It draws 25 watts and takes "just a few minutes to set up out of the box," according to Google.

The 4.6in sphere weighs in at just under 1kg and lets users stream content from Google Play and YouTube to speakers and screens in the house. Nexus Q can be paired with bookshelf speakers via the built-in 25W amp, or connect to an AV receiver or HDTV.

Google's black orb is about the size of a cantaloupe. The aforementioned LED strip flashes in time with music as it's being played but doesn't do much of anything when you're playing other media. There are capacitive touch sensors in the device's northern hemisphere that allow you to cover a small blue light with a finger to mute and un-mute the Nexus Q. Twisting the upper hemisphere adjusts the volume.

Google's Nexus Q demo at Google I/O has the media player positioned as the central focus of a spare living room set-up that features a big flat panel and half a dozen comfy chairs that serve as remote control stations outfitted with Nexus 7 tablets in a semicircle around the Nexus Q and the TV.

When you play around in the sandbox with the Nexus Q, you'll discover that this non-hierarchical platform adds a couch potato twist to the age-old game of fighting over the remote control. Now you can do that without ever leaving your seat.

The Nexus 7 has a simple remote control interface that allows users to queue up music, play movies, or search the Internet through the Nexus Q. You can attach as many Nexus Q remote controls as your network will carry, according to Google. The deal here, though, is that nobody gets to be alpha dog at a Nexus Q party—if you're playing music, for example, you can be polite and add it to the end of the queue or you can force your song on everybody else in the room immediately.

So the Nexus Q, if it takes off, will likely spawn a type of streaming media etiquette that will probably only occasionally deteriorate into fistfights. The nice thing here is that the Nexus Q's home screen interface on the Nexus 7 tablet is simple and clean—there are only a few navigation options on the home screen, so "Oops, I pushed the wrong button, sorry, but let's just listen to my song since it already started" isn't likely to fly with veteran Nexus Q users.

I did have one complaint about the home screen, which is that Google seems to have opted for such a light, wispy touch with the primary icons that fat finger syndrome could be a problem.

Once into the music player or the YouTube player, the interface gets way more complex. Not in a good way. There are too many buttons whose functions aren't immediately obvious in this first iteration of the Nexus Q. The saving grace is the home button, ubiquitous in all mobile interfaces now, that lets you start all over again when you mess up.

Queuing up music is pretty straightforward, though, and the Nexus Q seems like it'll primarily be a music player in most use cases. In the demo set-up, there were a couple glitches when streaming an HD movie and a bit of time lag when jumping ahead in the film. It's also nice that Google's rigged it so the Nexus Q knows where you've paused a movie if you've decided to do something else with the device.

The $299 Nexus Q is available for pre-order now via Google Play and it will start shipping in the U.S. in mid-July. There’s no word on UK pricing or availability yet.