If I were to pick my top app to receive Chromecast support as soon as possible, it would have been MX Player. Despite a seemingly simple UI that lacks a lot of bells and whistles, MX Player can handle multiple file formats and sizes thanks to hardware or software decoding and supports gesture controls during playback and pinch-to-zoom.
However, Google seems to have a different opinion, and the first media player that got welcomed on the Chromecast was the relatively obscure Avia. I decided to take it for a spin, as it’s the only option that is available worldwide — Real Player Cloud doesn’t work in my region — and sends local files directly from my devices to the Chromecast without having to host them on another device like Plex‘ requirement. Read on for my assessment of the app.
An Average Media Manager
I’ll be brutally honest here, if you don’t have a Chromecast, you should probably stay away from Avia. It is an average media manager at best and you can easily find many other better options out there, either as all-in-one solutions or as separate music, photo and video apps. However, for the purpose of this review, I will talk about Avia’s features as a media library.
Avia’s UI couldn’t be qualified as ugly, nor will it ignite your imagination and win awards. It is adequate and functional, with a Holo’ish approach that still marries a lot of gradients and shades — a very un-Holo mistake. There’s a sliding side-menu because that’s all the rage nowadays, a list and thumbnail layout, and theme support that is only unlocked with the purchase of the $2.99 Pro expansion. Don’t hold your breath though, two themes are available and they don’t really change the experience that much.
Videos can be browsed by date, playlist, rating and folder, as well as added to playlists and shared. When opened, the video player features all the regular controls along with a screen ratio button that will allow you to watch the file at its original resolution, stretched to the full screen, or adjusted for the best fit. Subtitles are handled as well.
That’s where Avia’s features stop and its weaknesses show up. There are no gesture controls for the playback, which makes sliding back a few seconds a matter of artfully holding the play position progress point and minutely moving it backwards. Subtitles can’t be downloaded by the app, known movies and TV shows don’t have their metadata fetched from the internet, there’s no in-app rotation lock, and most importantly, Avia will only play the formats that your phone can already handle. You can’t force software decoding to play more formats and codecs as with MX Player, which makes Avia a real hit-and-miss video player.
Photos are organized either by album, date, playlist or rating. The photo browser is as rudimentary as the video player, with options to swipe between photos, rotate them, and start a slideshow. There’s nothing the Avia app adds to your device’s default Gallery.
Music is browsed by artist, album, genre, playlist, rating and folder. Again, the music offers very basic functionality including playback controls, shuffle and repeat options, and queue management. A few “unique” functions, and I use that term loosely, are event ticket searches and a choice between a DJ mode (adding songs to the top of the queue) and a Jukebox mode (adding songs to the bottom of the queue).
Avia’s redemption as a media manager comes in the form of its support for cloud-stored files. Link your Facebook, Dropbox and Picasa accounts to the app, and it will index all your media on those services and show it as you browse your Albums in the app. Music, photo and video files can then be streamed and opened when you choose to.
A Superb Chromecast Sidekick
Despite everything that I have said above, Avia is currently the most used application on my Nexus 7. Why? Because normally, I watch a lot of videos on the tablet since I can’t be bothered to transfer them to a USB stick to play them on my TV. But a week ago, I acquired a Chromecast and Avia works beautifully with it, making it super simple to watch my locally stored videos on my TV. The option is only available with the purchase of the $2.99 Pro expansion, but is worth it because it takes Avia to new strengths by directly casting your files, essentially giving any non-smart TV the equivalent of a WiFi/DLNA-powered smart TV featureset.
Gone are the supported video codec woes with Avia, because the Chromecast will be the one doing the decoding. So for example, even though Avia stuttered every second while playing a 480p mkv file on my Nexus 7, the same video played smoothly on the TV while casted through Avia. Another bonus is that Avia will wait a couple of seconds before starting a video’s playback to make sure the Chromecast has received enough of the file and avoid buffering later on.
The app also supports all the Chromecast quirks, with the media continuing to play on the TV even if you switch to another app or turn off your Android device’s screen. Controlling playback is smooth, with a Notification continuously showing the media controls, and a Now Playing window appearing inside the app while you’re browsing for other content.
The only issue I faced was with casting images, as there’s a noticeable “Loading” screen between photos. I thought this was due to the 10MP size of my camera images, which were being sent over WiFi to the Chromecast, but the lag also happens when handling small VGA images and while in Slideshow mode. I would have thought that loading the next image should happen while the current image is being shown during a slideshow, instead of waiting for it afterward.
Should You Buy Avia?
I’ll answer this question in a methodical way:
- If you don’t have a Chromecast, I wouldn’t recommend trying Avia since there are far better media managers and media players for Android.
- If you do have a Chromecast and you only care about casting local videos to your TV, you should try Real Player Cloud first, in case it’s available in your region. It looks better, has a specific tablet UI, supports more video formats, and adds a cloud upload option along with the playback of locally stored videos.
- If your media isn’t necessarily on your Android device but is hosted on another server computer in your house or if you have used Plex before, then you should definitely try the PlexPass membership for a month and download the corresponding app.
- If you don’t fit in any of the above categories — ie. you own a Chromecast but Real Player Cloud isn’t available in your region, or you want to cast more than videos but you don’t want to use another server or Plex — then Avia is your only and last option. It isn’t necessarily a bad one, as it works quite well with the Chromecast, but there is room for improvement on so many fronts that it is currently just a band-aid solution.
I have no doubt that there will be more and more apps supported on the Chromecast later on, but in the meantime, Avia does the job, with the bare minimum requirements, but it does it nonetheless.