Last year, Google rolled out an updated app-like experience for YouTube on Chromecast. Unfortunately for everyone that owns one, Google has broken the ability for this app to sign in to your Google account. This means you can’t see your personalized recommendations in it or browse things like your playlists or categories, and if you use the fancy new app experience to select videos, you’ll be forced to watch ads even if you pay Google a subscription to remove them. In short, the new YouTube app on an older Chromecast is now a substandard experience, and Google’s even telling customers who complain that the change was “intentional.”
You might remember when the “full app” experience rolled out late last year, delivering an Android TV-like YouTube app for older Chromecast devices. This included the ability to navigate around the app with a remote or using your phone to select videos, supplementing the old cast-only system that required you to select a video on another device.
It was a polarizing change, as some liked the simplicity of the older cast-only system and interface, which was free of superfluous details and distraction — all it could do was act as a receiver for content you sent to it. Like it or hate it, the new version looks like the YouTube app on other platforms, with a more fully-featured remote-driven interface that’s more visually busy with recommendations and options.
Whatever your feelings regarding the new app, it worked as designed for the last six months or so. But recently, we’ve seen reports that the app is no longer allowing customers to sign in. This might sound like a minor annoyance, but it causes bigger problems.
Not being able to sign in means that everyone using the on-device “app” experience for YouTube on an older Chromecast is basically using a generic free account. That means they are missing any customization or recommendations that might be tied to their viewing history. And if they use the app to select content, it means they will have to view YouTube’s ads even if they pay Google a subscription to have them removed.
I should stress that if you cast content the old-fashioned way from the YouTube app to a Chromecast, that still works as it did before, and those with a premium subscription won’t see any ads if you play content in that way. But if you like and use the new app, it’s broken. Worse, according to the YouTube Twitter account, this change is by design.
In just over six months, Google intentionally broke and downgraded its brand new YouTube experience for its older Chromecasts. That has to be some kind of record.
Testing this change was a surprisingly obnoxious experience. Many of you may not be aware of this, but you can’t actually set up a Chromecast from a Pixel anymore. We’ve reached out to Google to confirm explicitly why that is (if I were to guess, I bet it’s because Google’s still throwing a fit and refusing to license Sonos’s patents), but if you try to set up a Chromecast from a Pixel, or even just connect one that’s been living in a box and off Wi-Fi for a while, you’ll get a not-particularly-verbose error that points you to a wildly unhelpful support page, which only tells you in a roundabout way to try to use a phone other than a Pixel to do the job instead. Using any other non-Google phone works fine and as expected, but Pixels fail with perhaps the least descriptive error you’ll ever see.
Google-loyal customers with both a Pixel and a Chromecast don’t just get screwed; Google won’t even be honest about what’s happening.
I have to assume Google is being dumb and vague here because it doesn’t want to acknowledge that the issue is solely its fault, and the last thing it wants to tell a two-times-loyal customer is that they’d have fewer problems with a phone from a different company.
Even without these issues, the new YouTube app is honestly a pretty poor experience in my testing. I hadn’t had the opportunity to use this new version since the feature landed in December (my Chromecast was retired before that happened), but even on my Chromecast Ultra it’s substandard, and I can’t imagine what it might be like on an older or less powerful model. Navigating using your phone as a remote is laggy at times to the point you might double-up on inputs, and tapping the Chromecast icon in the app again to open the remote will kill the casting session if you’re a bit too fast or impatient. When my Z Fold3 sits too long, the software-based remote for the YouTube app stops working. And without account-based sync, the subscription and library tabs in the app are entirely superfluous and unusable.
Even though you can’t sign in, in my testing, you can still save settings like autoplay and restricted mode preferences, though one of our tipsters claims that the settings aren’t retained long-term, and autoplay can kick back in randomly.
Combined with taking away the ability to sign in and all that related functionality, the new YouTube app for older Chromecasts is seriously lacking in basic and expected features. Frankly, I can’t believe Google or YouTube consider this reasonable to ship to potentially paying customers. We spent a few minutes trying to come up with a group noun for “an embarrassment,” and I ultimately had to settle on “a Google of embarrassments,” as in: “Using a Pixel to set up and test the straight-up ruined YouTube app on Chromecasts is just a Google of embarrassments.”
We’ve reached out to Google regarding both the change to sign-in on the app and the new restriction in using a Pixel to set up a Chromecast, but the company did not immediately respond to either inquiry. In the meantime, there are a few potential workarounds.
Customers with YouTube Premium that don’t want to suffer through ads can essentially ignore the new app and continue to cast content from their phone as they did before it existed. A community specialist on Google’s help forums (a title given to “Google partners who lend their expertise to help maintain our communities”) says that the YouTube team is aware of this issue and working to resolve it. However, the same response claims that signing in “isn’t supported since we released [the app] and it hasn’t changed since then,” disagreeing with customer reports, so it’s not clear how authoritative this claim is. Some customers that had previously signed in using the app on multiple accounts report success logging back in after switching between them, though that may vary.
If you grew to like the app and want the full experience back, you can always upgrade to something like a Chromecast with Google TV, which supports the Android TV version of the YouTube app. And if this little episode has you feeling a little wary about picking up additional Google hardware, there are a lot of other great streaming devices out there.
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