How to Use a Chromecast as a Quick Information Dashboard

If you’ve got a Google Chromecast, why not make mornings easier by turning your TV into a dashboard that shows you things like local weather and traffic, news, and even your to-do list?

Google’s Chromecast platform has become a bona fide hit in the home theater market, thanks to it’s cheap entry point and easy accessibility from almost any smartphone. The gadgets are awesome at simple audio and video streaming, but there are a few more things you can use them for as well, like turning your television into a web-connected dashboard to start your day. It’s a fantastic use of the tech that you already have, and a good habit to get yourself into before work or school.

The Android app we’ll be using to do this is called (appropriately) Dashboard Cast. It lets you configure a set of widgets designed to use a TV’s generous display size to put as much relevant information in a single place as possible. Just set up the widgets however you like, press the Cast button, and send the app’s output to any Chromecast-equipped display.

My customized dashboard, with weather, calendar, note, RSS, and map widgets.

The implementation is pretty simple, but Dashboard Cast has the tools you’ll need to put news, weather, web content via RSS feeds, and customized reminders on the screen. The default widgets at the time of writing are:

  • Clock: tells the time
  • Weather: gathers National Weather Service data for your phone’s location
  • RSS widget: scrolling text and images from any RSS feed
  • Calendar: shows upcoming events from your personal Google calendar
  • Stock: updating info from manually-inputted stock picks
  • Map: a live updating Google map, complete with weather and traffic data if available, for any point in the world
  • Music: streaming music from any online MP3, OGG, or M4A stream or playlist. Also includes BBC music stations.
  • Note: text notes input directly into the app

The presentation may be simple, but it offers enough options to allow a surprising amount of customization. If you want a Spartan all-white look, that’s easy enough, but you can also cycle photo backgrounds, as well as use custom colors and transparencies for the various widgets. You can even load up your own background images from Google Photos, Flickr, or Imgur.

The coolest feature in Dashboard Cast is the ability to automatically cast to a television based on an alarm. In the left-hand settings column, tap the “Alarm” option, and then set the time that you wake up in the morning. The app begins casting at the appointed time—if your television is set to to automatically turn on when it receives the appropriate input, it will be waiting for you just like your coffee maker.

Dashboard Cast is free with ads, and you can pay $2.50 to remove them. Unfortunately, it’s only available for Android—hardly surprising, since Chromecast is a Google platform. But if you’re an iOS user, there’s a somewhat more cumbersome alternative using the Chrome browser on a laptop or desktop.

Any version of Chrome can cast a full tab to a Chromecast-compatible device. To emulate the experience that Dashboard Cast provides, you can set up an old-fashioned “home page” with more or less the same information, and then manually cast it to your television in the morning. Web dashboard services like NetVibes, ProtoPage, uStart, and igHome are ideal for this: set them up, cast them, and then enjoy the information streaming to your TV.

It’s less than ideal compared to the “set it and forget it” operation of the Dashboard Cast Android app, but it works. Hopefully, the makers of Dashboard Cast will port it to iOS in the future, or someone else will create something similar.

Image credit: ABB Photo/Shutterstock

Michael Crider has been covering technology on the web since 2011. His interests include folk music, football, science fiction, and salsa verde, in no particular order. He wrote a novel called Good Intentions: A Supervillain Story, and it's available on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter if you want.