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A funny thing happened at Google's I/O keynote yesterday. While everyone was expecting a new tablet and Android update designed to escalate its war with iOS, which Google delivered, it also pulled a page from Apple's playbook and released a "one more thing" of sorts--a stunning, high-priced luxury device that everyone wants to hold in their hands.
It might seem like the Nexus Q is a competitor to Apple TV, but nothing could be further from the truth. Google clearly set out to make a drool-worthy conversation piece, and in that they've absolutely succeeded. From a design standpoint--before you start plugging in cables, anyway--the Q's spherical shape and LED ring are downright gorgeous, especially when compared to the boxy Apple TV.
But Apple's diminutive media player isn't dressed to impress; rather, it was made to integrate seamlessly into an existing home theater setup. Google's 4.6-inch sphere, on the other hand, is meant to be seen, and its quirky shape ensures it won't be hiding in a rack unit. However, most buyers who would consider it probably already have a speaker system of some sort, and it's doubtful that the Q's 25-watt built-in amplifier will suffice as a replacement.
Both devices play nicely with their respective line of handheld devices, but the Q doesn't just integrate with Android phones and tablets (smartly including versions all the back to Gingerbread), it requires an Android device. Where an iPhone or iPad simply enhances the Apple TV experience with Airplay, the Q does not work as a standalone device, which is strange because it doesn't actually stream content either. Instead, it pulls all of its media directly from Google Play onto its 16GB flash drive (which users can't access). But to watch anything, you'll need to buy into Google's ecosystem first.
Google's touting the Q as the first "social streaming" player, a so-called killer feature that basically boils down to a bunch of your friends fighting over who gets to play the next song (provided they all have their own Android phones and "tap" into the Q via NFC). Granted, you won't find that on Apple TV, but you will get an array of entertainment options not available on Google's device. Quizzically, there's no third-party app support. None. You can't stream Netflix movies from your Nexus 7. Heck, you can't even use it to play home movies or view a slideshow of photos.
At least Apple lets us have a little fun inside its walled garden.
Which brings us to price. Nexus Q costs three times as much as the $99 Apple TV, and that's before the $49 speaker cables and $399 wired bookshelf speakers (and, of course, an Android device). If Apple TV is a hobby, Nexus Q is an experiment to see how many Android users have money to burn.
There was a time when Apple might might have released a product like this. But as it stands, the Nexus Q is in a class by itself. I'm not so sure that's a good thing.