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Google Stadia Review
Google Stadia promised a new evolution for gaming, a big move into the streaming world. While its early version delivers on some fronts, it’s no threat to console or PC gaming models (yet). However, it fills a niche as an option for people who want to explore gaming without spending hundreds on hardware.
Google Stadia is a game streaming service that allows you to play games via WiFi on a variety of devices. You can play on your TV with the Stadia controller and a Chromecast Ultra, on a Pixel phone with the Stadia app, or on your computer through Google Chrome. With an ideal internet connection, you can stream games with up to 4K resolution. For a monthly fee ($10), Stadia grants access to a catalog of five free games per month, with two of those free games rotating each month, and the option to buy additional games even if they aren’t included in the Stadia Pro subscription.
With only one exclusive game title, Stadia might not have enough pull to lure avid gamers with existing gaming ecosystems. Existing Xbox or PlayStation players benefit from larger user bases (i.e. more friends to play with) and larger libraries of games. With Stadia, you may have to buy games you already own on another platform and restart your library or game progress.
Currently, only the Stadia Pro service is available via the Premium Edition bundle for $130 — a pretty low starting cost. Eventually, a free Stadia Base service will be available without the catalog of games.
Google Stadia Overview
|$130 (includes 3 months of Stadia Pro subscription — $10/month after that)
|90 days w/ Stadia Premiere Edition
|Number of games
|Google Pixel Phones, Chrome Web Browser, Chromecast Ultra, MacOS, Linux, Windows
|Night Blue, Wasabi, Clearly White, Just Black
How We Evaluated Google Stadia
We’ve spent years researching streaming services and video games and learning about the nuances of user experience. For Stadia specifically, we tested the game streaming service for a few months, fact-checked every feature, and scoured the internet for public opinion.
We took Stadia on the go and tried it out on multiple devices, played solo and tried to connect with our friends, and compared it to the gaming systems we already owned. As we analyzed Google Stadia, we considered the quality and range of its content catalog, how easy it was to set up and use, and how the system would fit into the lives of casual gamers and pros alike.
For this review, we looked at Stadia Pro service with its Premiere Edition — all that’s currently available. We also peeked into the future that Google Stadia promises, more exclusive games and a free Stadia Base service.
Play (mostly) anywhere
Google Stadia’s biggest draw is its unique ability to be played anywhere. This doesn’t just mean where you play (like the portable Nintendo Switch), but also how you plug in. With Stadia, you can play on many devices and with different controllers — pretty similar to streaming services like Netflix.
You can sign into Stadia using a Chrome browser or sync your Stadia account to your Chromecast Ultra. If you’re playing through Chrome, you’ll be able to use mouse-and-keyboard controls, and both Chrome and the Chromecast allow HID (Human Interface Device) compliant controllers that have Bluetooth capabilities, like DualShock 4s, newer Xbox One controllers, and Switch Pro controller. (Although, for now, playing through Chrome requires a wired connection; wireless only works through the Chromecast.) Most Pixel and many Android phones are compatible, although iOS users get a little left behind — they can download the app, claim games, and tinker with settings, but they aren’t able to play games directly on their device.
The one catch — you need a WiFi connection to do any of this. This is a significant constraint compared to the Nintendo Switch, which allows you to play games offline, on planes or road trips. Because Stadia is purely a streaming service, with no downloading data or game discs, you can only play when connected to the internet.
For a brand-new name in gaming, Google Stadia managed to round up some big titles. Its catalog will appeal to both casual button mashers and dedicated hobbyists. Some notable games include “Destiny 2: The Collection,” “Red Dead Redemption 2,” “Rise of the Tomb Raider,” “Mortal Kombat 11,” “NBA 2K20,” and “Just Dance 2020.”
Screenshot from “Destiny 2,” Stadia Pro’s flagship offering.
Of the 28 games currently available to stream on Google Stadia, only one title is exclusive to the platform. The game is called “GYLT”: a not-too-scary-but-still-spooky puzzle adventure game where you must navigate a monster-ridden world in search of a missing relative. One title isn’t quite enough to attract hardcore gamers, especially if you already own many of Stadia’s other titles, but it’s a solid first title from Stadia that will appeal to a wide variety of players.
We should note, however, that not all 28 games are free to stream. Though Google Stadia has presented itself as Netflix-like streaming subscription service, only five games are currently free to play. Each month, two games rotate out of the free selection, replaced by two new games. (“Destiny 2,” “Thumper,” and “Farming Simulator 19 Platinum Edition” seem to be permanent fixtures of the “Pro games” selection.) Still, that number pales when compared to the hundreds of games you can play for free with an Xbox Game Pass subscription.
Relatively low starting costs
With a starting price of just $130, Google Stadia has presented itself as one of the cheapest ways to game. Other consoles like Xbox One or PlayStation 4 start at $250 and can get up to $400 for advanced models and more memory bandwidth. Even the portable competition, Nintendo Switch, costs $300. Add in a couple of games, and you could be looking at half a grand to get started.
Stadia’s starting bundle includes three months of the Stadia PRO for free. After that, it’ll cost $10 per month to subscribe. A $10 monthly fee is pretty standard for the industry. Other gaming systems have a similar monthly fee to play games online and in multiplayer mode, like Xbox Live Gold or PlayStation Plus. Of course, on those consoles, you can play many games that don’t require online access. But for Google Stadia, that monthly fee is for access to a selection of its gaming catalog, similar to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate (but much, much smaller). If you cancel the monthly subscription, you can only play games you’ve purchased through Stadia.
While it doesn’t offer the most robust platform, Stadia is one of the cheapest gaming systems and most affordable way to play some of the industry’s most popular games.
Google Stadia is equipped to stream high-resolution games to your device, even while traveling. Google claims that Stadia is able to stream up 4K Ultra HD with HDR on a 4K compatible TV, although reports from developers show that Stadia isn’t quite delivering on those claims.
Rremember that, because Stadia is streaming all your gameplay, your internet speed and connection strength will directly influence the resolution. Google’s guidelines say that at least 10 Mbps is necessary for HD play, and 35 Mbps for 4K. Our testers found that speeds below 20 Mbps led to laggy gameplay, as did streaming other video while playing on Stadia.
A screenshot of our Chrome experience with “Destiny 2.”
One of the more unexpected results we found during testing was that the visual quality was noticeably better when playing through the Chromecast than it was when playing through a Chrome browser. Textures felt smooth and lighting looked dynamic when playing on our TV, but washed-out and jagged on Chrome (issues our testers didn’t have when playing games installed on that PC).
Stadia controller and captures
The Stadia controller is pretty much a minimalist mix between an Xbox and PlayStation controller, so we found the controls pleasantly familiar. The Premiere Edition comes with a controller, which you’ll need to play Google Stadia on a TV; all other controller options are only compatible when playing on a computer or phone.
The Stadia controller uses WiFi to connect to your TV when playing via the Chromecast Ultra. Note that you’ll have to use the Google Home app to set up the Chromecast, which means initial setup requries a lot of downloading and syncing. But to use the Stadia Controller when playing via app or Google Chrome on a compatible phone or computer, you’ll have to plug the controller in with a USB connection. Additional controllers cost $70 and come in three colors, Clearly White, Wasabi, and Just Black.
One of the features on the controller is a dedicated capture button, which allows you to record screenshots and short clips of your gameplay in your Stadia account. We love the idea, which mimics similar functionality on the Xbox One and PS4, but there’s one critical flaw: Captures can only be viewed in the Stadia app. Currently, the only thing you can do with those images and videos is view them or delete them — there are no options to download or share those captures. You can take a screenshot or record your screen, but the Stadia app also sticks to portrait orientation, meaning your landscape-oriented captures only display on a small section of the screen. It left us confused about the point of the capture feature since that content ultimately ends up stuck in the app.
We weren’t sure what we’re supposed to do with this, but it’s currently the only way to view your captures.
No cross-platform play
At this time, Google Stadia isn’t supporting cross-platform play. Cross-platform playing basically means you can play games online with players who are using other consoles, like Xbox or PlayStation or on a PC. Because Google Stadia is so new, this makes the pool of players for co-op games much smaller. When queuing up for strikes in “Destiny 2,” we regularly got stuck in matchmaking for several minutes, ultimately launching the strike without a full party. It wasn’t a great feeling to start the strikes with the message “LAST GUARDIAN STANDING” flashing on our screen. And encounters meant for multiple people are significantly less fun when you’re playing them solo. (In some cases, they felt impossible.)
The flip side is that Stadia’s model could make playing with friends in real life much easier. If a handful of your friends subscribe to Stadia, you can all play together in a room on different phones, a TV, or a computer — a lot easier than setting up three Xboxes and TVs in one living room. The days of playing “Mario Party” or “GoldenEye” with four people in a single room has largely been replaced by online co-op and matchmaking, but the versatility of Stadia makes us optimistic about more opportunities for playing in person again.
Google Stadia FAQ
Can I play Google Stadia in Hawaii?
No. Google Stadia is currently unavailable in Hawaii, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Google cites that, for Stadia to work, it needs data centers close by and have not yet invested in infrastructure in these areas.
Does Google Stadia work on the iPhone?
At this time, you cannot play Google Stadia games on the iPhone. There is an iOS Stadia app that allows you to sign in to manage the subscription and control the service on other devices. Stadia does work on Apple’s other system, macOS.
The Bottom Line
There’s a lot more to come from Google Stadia — its free service, more device compatibility, exclusive games, cross-platform play, etc. The Stadia Premiere Edition currently available may appeal to gamers who want a low starting cost, more flexibility in how they play, and haven’t already built an extensive library on another platform. We think it’s a particularly good entry point for people who want to test the video gaming waters — you can get a sense of what’s out there before committing hundreds of dollars to the hobby. However, if you do find yourself wanting to invest more, we’d recommend you do that on another console. Stadia is still lacking the features it would need to be a reasonable competitor to traditional gaming consoles, though we have our fingers crossed that the service will build out more thoroughly over time.