Officially priced at $35, though it can often be found for under $30, the Chromecast has proven to be one of the most useful and versatile tech purchases I’ve made in the past year.

As an example: months ago, before I started this blog, I decided I wanted a cloud-powered digital photo frame in my house, to retroactively justify my tendency to over-photograph every event, and because I had a ton of digital photos but no way to display them in my house.  After a bit of research, I determined that a cheap wall-mountable LCD TV, plus a Chromecast, was both the cheapest and one of the the most versatile solutions.  As a bonus, it can double as a poker time when I host a poker game.

Previously, I was streaming photos to it using a crash-prone app called Dayframe, but using it required that I run the app manually on my Nexus 7 and “cast” it to the Chromecast. As-of a couple of weeks ago, Google rolled out Backdrop, which allows me to replace the built-in photo stream with any of my Google+ photo albums.  Since I already had a “Favorites” photo album I’d been using for Dayframe, it took 5 minutes for me to configure both my “photo frame” TV and my primary TV with photos from this album.  It’s pretty awesome to have a couple of TVs filling your house with friends and memories:

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Google seems pretty determined to bring more and more functionality to it’s super-cheap dongle, and it’s hard not to recommend everyone have one at this point.  For less than $30, it quickly proves its utility, even if you don’t use it on a regular basis.