Chromecast for frequent travellers

December 9th, 2014

A quick guide to using Chromecast for those who travel frequently


I bought a Google Chromecast yesterday. Well that’s not strictly true. I actually bought a Chromecast over a week ago, used my Amazon Prime account, and eventually received it nine days later. So much for one day delivery.

Google Chromecast - a great streaming device for frequent travellers or those on business

Now, I already have an Apple TV, and I’m thrilled with it – I have my digital home sorted for all of my streaming needs. But I bought the newer Chromecast device for two reasons:

Firstly, it was a steal.
I took advantage of one of the many deals to be found on Black Friday. Ok, so I bought it on the day after (Grey Saturday?) but I managed to get the Chromecast for the bargain price of £18. As of the time of writing, it’s back up to £34.98 on Amazon UK. For a useful device like this, that’s a great price.

Secondly, my wife and I were due to go away the following weekend. This is why I’m not currently Amazon’s biggest fan, with the package having arrived after we got back (I say arrived, I had to go and collect it because, helpfully, my parcel was ‘delivered’ after we’d left).

Rant over, but it’s relevant – the main reason I purchased Google Chromecast is because I saw the potential it had for portability.

Having put the dongle (autocorrect: dingle) through its paces for a few hours here are some observations – specifically with the frequent traveller in mind.

WiFi available
Practically all hotels have wifi these days. Granted, access is often pricey (we’ll address that shortly) but, hey, you’re on business, the company can pay, right? As far as they know you’re downloading important spreadsheets, not streaming Breaking Bad on Netflix.

If you have a WiFi connection available, Chromecast is a dream. Streaming is dead easy, as long as your device is on the same network as the phone or tablet you’ll be casting from. That said, you’ll need to set the device up to be on the right network.

Out of the box the Chromecast creates an ad-hoc network that your phone, tablet/iPad, or computer can connect to. After connecting to this you can select another network with Internet access that will be used for casting. Unlike other solutions such as my trusty Apple TV, Chromecast needs a direct connection to the Web. This is because streaming, once initiated (cast), is device-independent – the Chromecast streams directly from the Web, and continues uninterrupted even if the casting device is disconnected or powered off. Neat.

However. What to do if you’re not setting up the Chromecast for the first time, which is likely the case if you’re often away on business and in a different hotel every night.

Changing of the guard network

Google Chromecast can only remember one WiFi network at a time, and you need to be on the same network to cast from one device to another, as well as to change settings on your device. Cue panic, as you realise you’ll have to factory reset the device (hold down the button on the Chromecast until it starts flashing then disconnect USB power, fyi).

But wait!

Thankfully Google thought this through (well, you’d expect it, wouldn’t you?). If you power on your Chromecast and the network it has stored can’t be found, it will automatically create its trusty ad-hoc network, so you can connect to it and select another WiFi access point to connect to. It’s essentially the same process as setting up a new device. Good, that’s that covered. What’s next?

Oh.

Lack of WiFi. Panic?

Uh oh. WiFi not available. Perhaps you’re staying in a medieval-themed hotel. Perhaps you’re on a desert island (yet still, for some reason have access to a tv with a hdmi port and a usb for charging – yeah, I threw that in here, to be honest I’d be surprised if you had access to a television at all).

Or maybe, perhaps worst of all, you’re working for a company that’s, dare I say it, too cheap to pay for hotel internet access.

I’m just going to wait a moment whilst I let the urge to rant pass over me…. aaaand it’s gone.

So what to do if you don’t have an available WiFi network? Well, don’t fret, there are ways around it.

Obviously, you’re going to need some sort of internet connection, so I’m assuming you have the ability to share your the connection from your phone (or other device). I can’t speak for Android/Windows devices here, as I’ve only had experience with doing this on iOS, and truth be told, it is a little fiddly. But you can cope with it, you’re a strong, confident business-person.

If you have some sort of personal hotspot, and assuming your device has signal, the first hurdle is setting it up. Obviously, if you’re going to be using it often this only needs to be done once, at least until you connect the Chromecast to another WiFi network. As before you’ll need to open the Chromecast app on a device connected to the network, problem is, this can’t be the same device doing the ‘hotspotting’. So you’re going to need another device to connect to the hotspot created from your first device. This is a bit of a pain, truth be told, but let’s face it, it’s not uncommon to carry two or three pieces of technology around with you these days, especially when you’re travelling.

Still with me?

If you have the second device to set the Chromecast to the hotspot then you’re almost done, but in the Chromecast app you’ll have to manually enter your network details, as the Chromecast won’t automatically recognise networks created from a mobile device, at least not with Apple devices.

The required details are your SSID/Network Name (usually your phone/tablet’s device name) and security details (iPhone/iPad hotspots use WPA2 and a manually assigned password). I’ve noticed it’s easier to cast from this second device as well, as not all Chromecast-enabled apps recognise the Chromecast from the device sharing its connection.

Extend your network

Perhaps a slightly preferable option is to have a small portable router (click for a nice example which can be USB powered, you can also use an Apple Airport Express, which you find fairly cheap on eBay if you look for previous generations). You can use a router like this to extend your hotspot’s network to something the Chromecast can see without the need for manual connection, as noted above. This might be slightly easier for connecting the Chromecast to the network – obviously there’s a bit of setup involved for the router, but if it’s all you’re using the router for this only has to be done once (check the instructions with the router or search the web for tips on extending wifi networks).

If nothing else, this will probably give you a better range on your WiFi network (useful for those really big hotel rooms your employer is paying for), and should make connecting other devices to the hotspot easier too. There may just be one other advantage, though…

Restrictions

Well, I have to throw this in. Unlike the Apple TV, it seems there is no way to set the DNS for the Chromecast’s network connection. This is an easy way to ensure you can get location-restricted content (think Netflix, iPlayer) which you may not be able to access if you’re travelling abroad. Whilst you can’t do this on the Chromecast itself, you should be able to set the DNS for your router in this way. You’ll have to look up how to do this for yourself! I haven’t had a chance to try this with a hotspot yet, maybe it won’t work, but here’s to hoping!

And speaking of hoping, I hope this guide has been useful. Get in touch to let me know!

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