CHROMECASTWhen we wrote about Roku and Amazon Fire Stick for bringing in extra movie channels, games, and apps on your TV, we neglected to talk about Google’s Chromecast, which is cheaper: $35 online or $30 at Walmart.

The $49 Roku stick easily won our test against the $39 Amazon Fire Stick. But we didn‘t have a “Chromecast.” So last week we went out and bought one and tested it thoroughly. The results were disappointing.

Chromecast sounds great in theory: just about anything you see on your phone can theoretically be mirrored on your big TV. They call it “casting.” In our tests, however, it didn’t always work and was highly frustrating to handle. Now we’re sorry we gave two Chromecasts as gifts. No wonder we never heard back from the recipients; they’re probably still trying to make them work.

The Roku and Fire plug-in sticks are ready out of the box, and come with a handy remote control. The Chromecast is designed to work with your phone, tablet or laptop as the remote. (Forget the iPad Mini though; it’s incompatible.) To start watching anything, you have to add apps.

We used a Samsung Galaxy S3 smartphone as the remote and added Netflix, Google Play Movies and Pandora radio to our phone. Unfortunately, we couldn’t add the Amazon Instant Video app; it’s incompatible with the Galaxy S3, one of the most common phones around. So our Prime membership, which normally brings in free movies, is worthless on Chromecast.

Feeling miffed, we turned instead to the YouTube app and cast Ken Burns’ much acclaimed Civil War series onto our TV. The sound and quality were excellent, and we could even do email on our phone while it was playing.

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