Is the Nexus Q Cool?

Google had revenue of $38 billion last year. So why would they mess around selling a consumer electronics gizmo? Frankly, I don't have the faintest idea. But they have served up a juicy meatball of a nice product.

Actually, the Nexus Q is more like a Magic 8-Ball. Overshadowed by the simultaneous announcement of the Nexus 7 tablet, and the new Jelly Bean iteration of the Android OS, the Nexus Q is a 2-pound sphere that will connect your Android phone, audio/video content cloud, and your stereo and TV. As a media player, the Q is akin to Apple TV, Boxee, and Roku, but of course it's Google and Android-centric. Android devices control the Q and direct which files stream through it from the Google Play cloud (or YouTube) to your stereo and TV. If you tire of the millions of songs on the Google Play cloud, you can upload 20,000 of your own for free.

Every successful product today must have a "social" hook to it, and the Q is no exception. Google calls it "the first social streaming media player" because anyone connected to it via the same Wi-Fi hotspot (or through Ethernet) can control it with their Android apps and put their content in the playback queue. Feeling antisocial? No problem. Turn off the Guest mode, and keep your friends (and their poor taste) off of your Q.

The Q uses a dual-core ARM processor (the same as in some Android smartphones) and it contains seven intricately nested circuit boards. Uniquely, the sphere acts as its own volume control. Rotating the top dome on its base does the honors. An "audiophile grade" power amplifier (2 x 12.5-watt class D) is onboard, so you can hook up speakers directly. Or, use an optical or HDMI cable to connect to something better. Just for fun, there are 32 RGB LEDs around the perimeter of the sphere.

Interestingly, reportedly, almost all of the parts inside the Q are made in America, and the Q itself is manufactured in America (Silicon Valley, to be more specific). While Google isn't claiming any political agenda, it's another signpost in an emerging trend back to onshore electronics manufacturing. Bravo.

At $299, the Nexus Q isn't cheap. And I don't think Google will sell a ton of them. But you know what? If a Magic 8-Ball can help integrate phones with home entertainment, then that's a good thing for home entertainment. With its proven success in phones - and deep pockets to fund new ventures - I think it's terrific that Google is turning its sights on audio/video. Creative products like the Q are just what the industry needs.

For an alternative view of what the Nexus announcements mean, check out Geoff Morrison's Show Me the Content. For Geoff, no streamer or tablet can make it out of the gate without a significant content library. The question is whether Google Play can really compete with the huge libraries of Amazon and iTunes - and nothing else matters.