Amazon.com Inc. has unveiled its own tiny streaming dongle to take on the Chromecast. For $39, the Fire TV Stick comes with significantly higher-end hardware than Google Inc.’s $35 dongle, as well as a physical remote.
But how will the new device stack up against everything out there? If you want to make your TV smarter through streaming, or want to cut the cord completely, there are a plethora of options from Silicon Valley giants like Amazon, Google, and Apple Inc., as well as smaller companies like Roku.
The Fire TV Stick plugs into an HDMI port on your TV and lets you stream from Netflix, as well as Amazon’s own Prime Instant Video service – currently a notable absence from the Chromecast’s lineup. It will also allow users to control it using a physical remote that’s included, whereas Chromecast relies on a user’s smartphone.
Amazon’s dongle also contains a faster double-core processor, double the memory and four times the storage of the Chromecast. However, like Amazon’s larger Fire TV, the Stick will have fewer apps that support it than Google’s when it's released this December – including HBO GO. Google is also planning an update to the Chromecast due later this year, that probably will support the search giant’s new Android TV software. But those who already stream a lot through dongles may tell you that hardware does not matter as much as the number of available services.
If you want to buy something now, and are a Prime customer with access to Amazon’s streaming TV, movie and music services, then the Fire TV Stick (on sale to members for $19 until Oct. 19) is a great buy. If you’re not a Prime customer or if you are interested in having access to the most streaming services available, you may want to opt instead for the Roku Streaming Stick ($50).
Roku, a spinoff of Netflix Inc., is the only streaming-player vendor that is not backed by a huge conglomerate. That allows it to play better with Amazon and Google, offering apps like Prime Instant Video and YouTube in addition to a number of others not available on the Chromecast, like Spotify and Time Warner Cable. The Fire TV Stick also pales in comparison to Roku’s support for what it calls “channels,” which also include HBO GO, Showtime Anytime and Disney.
Time Warner customers will get the most out of the Roku Streaming Stick, since it essentially turns the dongle into an extra cable box. The Chromecast will be better for casting your Android screen, but the Fire TV Stick might end up having more compelling gaming options.
Bottom Line: If you are looking to cut the cord, or just want to pick up a streaming dongle for an extra TV, your best bet is most likely the Roku Streaming Stick. If you would die without your Amazon Prime subscription and don’t want to spend much, the Fire TV Stick is a great deal at under $20. Hardcore Google Fans and Android users who love smartphone connectivity might do best to stick to the Chromecast.