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Chromecast streams media at nice price

Google’s Chromecast works wirelessly from a smartphone or tablet to stream video and music to a high-definition TV. (Associated Press)
Google’s Chromecast works wirelessly from a smartphone or tablet to stream video and music to a high-definition TV. (Associated Press)

A new device from Google makes it easy to stream video from several popular services to a high-definition TV. Chromecast is tiny enough to dangle from a keychain when not in use, but it packs a big punch for a low price.

At merely $35, Chromecast is irresistible. Using your home Wi-Fi network, it streams some of your favorite shows from some of your favorite services, including Netflix and Google’s YouTube. It takes only a few minutes to set up, and the device worked flawlessly.

Chromecast joins Roku, Apple TV and several other devices meant to project Internet content onto TVs. In the early days of online video, people were content watching movies and shows on their desktop or laptop computers. But as these services become more popular and even replace cable TV in some households, there’s a greater desire to get them playing on television sets, which tend to be the largest screens in living rooms.

That’s especially true when your computer is a phone or tablet and has a smaller screen.

Chromecast, which is about the size of a thumb drive, plugs directly into the HDMI port of an HDTV. A USB cable must be inserted at the other end of the Chromecast and connected to a power source, either a wall outlet or a USB port on the TV.

It was easy to sync Chromecast with an Android phone, and it was an even nicer experience with Google’s new Nexus 7 tablet. There’s something to be said for turning touch-screen devices into remote controls for Netflix.

Chromecast is merely a physical conduit to services already signed up and paid for.

To watch a movie, simply choose it from the Chromecast Netflix app. Once it’s playing on the big screen, it’s easy to pause, play and forward through content with a swipe of the finger. “House of Cards” continues to play even after powering off a phone completely, as the video passes through a Wi-Fi network, which remains on. More apps are coming.

Unlike many of the other streaming devices, you still need a phone, tablet or regular computer to control your viewing with Chromecast. Roku’s streaming box, for instance, lets you sign into accounts, choose content and rewind video with an included remote. Roku does make a separate streaming stick, similar to Chromecast, but that works only with TVs that have a technology known as mobile high-definition links, or MHL.

For now, there are only a handful of apps available to use with Chromecast. But they are among the most popular Internet video services. Video from Apple’s iTunes isn’t likely to come to Chromecast anytime soon, but you can expect many more to be added if the device takes off. (If you really need iTunes, you’ll need an Apple TV. Roku doesn’t have it, either.)

At $35, Chromecast is cheaper than other streaming devices, which run about $100 each. I can think of a lot of worse ways to fork over $35.

Smartphone cradle, app detect toxins, bacteria

Afraid there may be peanuts or other allergens hiding in that cookie? Thanks to a cradle and app that turn your smartphone into a handheld biosensor, you may soon be able to run on-the-spot tests for food safety, environmental toxins, medical diagnostics and more.

The handheld biosensor was developed by researchers at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. A series of lenses and filters in the cradle mirror those found in larger, more expensive laboratory devices. Together, the cradle and app transform a smartphone into a tool that can detect toxins and bacteria, spot water contamination and identify allergens in food.

Microsoft Office comes to Android, not tablets

Microsoft is bringing a pared-down version of its Office software to Android phones, but it won’t work on Android tablets just as it doesn’t on iPads.

The software requires a $100-a-year subscription to Office and won’t be sold separately.

Microsoft Corp. is trying to make its subscription more compelling, without removing an advantage that tablet computers running Microsoft’s Windows system now have – the ability to run popular Office programs such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

With a subscription, customers typically get to use Office on up to 10 devices, including five iPhones or Android phones. A subscription can be more expensive than buying the package outright for just one or two computers.

Like an iPhone version released in June, the Android software is designed for lightweight use.