Meet the Google 'Death Star'

July 13, 2012: 11:41 AM ET

Google's new, orb-shaped gadget won't destroy planets. It will, however, stream media and beam colored lights about the living room.

FORTUNE -- Google's Nexus Q is a stunner.

At 2 lbs. and 4.6 inches in diameter, the company's new digital media hub integrates 33 LED bulbs into its metallic black shell that change color and intensity, or stay off, if that's what users prefer. It's cool to the touch and even cooler to look at, surely one of the best-looking devices of its kind out there.

Yet elegant as Google's (GOOG) veritable mini-Death Star may be, it's lacking when it comes to features. At $299, its many times the price of a Roku LT ($50) or Apple TV ($100) though it does less. Currently, the Nexus Q lets users access Google-related services like Google Play Music, Google Play Movies & TV, and YouTube, but users looking to tap into services like Netflix (NFLX), Hulu, Pandora, Spotify, and MLB.TV will be disappointed. Also, streamed music and videos must be purchased from Google Play, while media from non-Google sources must be uploaded to the company's servers first before it can be played back.

MORE: Amazon's Kindle Fire: Hope or hype?

There's another catch: as it stands, you need a phone or tablet loaded with Android 2.3 or above to control the Nexus Q. It doesn't come with a remote of its own like many Roku devices do, and there's no other way to control it. If users are packing an Android device however, set-up is a breeze: download the Nexus Q app from the Google Play store onto the phone or tablet and it quickly communicates with the Nexus Q to get things started.

What the Nexus Q does do, it does fairly well. We played movies and music for hours, and while there was a noticeable delay getting, say, Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon started, high-definition playback was sharp and smooth. Switching between many of the songs that came pre-loaded on our Nexus 7 tablet was also quick and easy. Users have the choice of adjusting volume via the simple Nexus Q app or by rotating the top of the Nexus Q device itself. (Tapping the Nexus Q mutes sound.)

While the Nexus Q makes for a pretty piece of hardware, it's a device only early-adopting aesthetes will appreciate, and only then to a limited extent given devices for a fraction of the price offer access to more services and fuller content libraries. That may change as Google updates the device on the software side -- hopefully opening it up to third-party services in the process -- but for now, it's little more than a gorgeously crafted curiosity.

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JP Mangalindan
JP Mangalindan
Writer, Fortune

JP Mangalindan is a San Francisco-based writer at Fortune, covering Silicon Valley. Since joining in 2010, he has written on a wide array of topics, from the turnaround of eBay to the evolution of net neutrality. A graduate of Fordham University, Mangalindan has also written for GQ, Popular Science, and Entertainment Weekly.

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