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Best Streaming: Fire Stick vs. Roku Stick vs. Chromecast

Streaming video to your HDTV via a dongle or stick was quite cool a few years ago. Now, it’s just one more functionality we expect from our TV; it’s the way most of us binge-watch shows on Netflix, Amazon or Hulu in comfort.

Amazon, Roku and Google have been battling for domination in the stick/dongle market for a while now, with the Fire Stick, Streaming Stick and Chromecast respectively (although the new Chromecast is more like a disc than a dongle). Is any one of those products better than the others?

Since they all work fine with most devices and common applications, it really depends on the features you find most important.


Design

All three sticks/dongles are easily compatible with HDTVs, but there’s one quirk that might make the latest version of the Chromecast a better choice for some. Since it’s not a stick but connects instead via a short cable, it doesn’t “stick out” a few inches so it’s easier to plug into a port when there’s not much room between your TV and the wall or cabinet.
Roku
Image credits https://www.cnet.com/

The new Chromecast design is quite cool-looking while the Fire Stick and Roku are both modern-looking sticks – but who cares? In most cases they’ll be behind your HDTV and you won’t be seeing them anyway.

Both the Roku and Fire Stick come with remote controls; the Chromecast is a “dumb” device that you can only control from your phone or device (the other two can also be controlled via app from your phone, if you prefer). Roku’s remote is nice in that it has shortcut keys for the most commonly-used apps like Netflix, while Amazon’s allows you to add a voice-command option similar to that on the company’s Echo (for an extra price).


Performance

There’s no question which stick is more powerful; the Fire Stick has much more processing power and storage than the Roku, so you can scroll through the interface much more quickly with the Fire Stick. It’s also more responsive because it pre-loads the applications you watch most often. The Roku Stick, on the other hand, may have a little lag before your program comes up. (Chromecast doesn’t rely on internal processing or storage, so its performance relies on your phone’s performance and you’ll usually find it pretty fast to respond).
ChromecastImage credits https://www.google.com/chromecast/tv/chromecast/

All three sticks/dongles now support dual-band WiFi, which wasn’t supported on the original Chromecast. However, only Chromecast reliably supports 4K.


Content

First things first: it’s not easy to watch Amazon Prime Video on the Chromecast, and that may be a deal-breaker for you. You have to bring up your Amazon account on your phone using Chrome and then use the Google Cast extension – and that’s the simple way to do it. Chromecast’s game selection isn’t very good, either, but the dongle has one big advantage over its competitors; you can easily cast or mirror content (even websites) via Chrome from any device, including your desktop computer.
Amazon
Image credits https://www.cnet.com/

The Fire Stick and the Roku Stick each let you stream all major content sources, with Roku holding a big edge in the number of smaller and niche providers it supports. The Fire Stick still supports a large number of services but always defaults to Amazon Prime, which is understandable but can be annoying when you’re trying to find something interesting to watch. Roku’s on-screen interface is simpler to figure out and its search function is more robust, but there’s no huge advantage to either one once you’ve used them for a little while. Amazon does have a lot more games available, though.


Price and Verdict

Price shouldn’t really factor into your decision unless you’re exceptionally frugal. This is a one-time purchase that will run between $35 and $60 or so depending on your choice.
tv-sticksImage credits http://time.com

More important is your mindset. If you’re happy to just cast from your phone and don’t want to bother with a remote or with scrolling through pages of options on your TV screen – and if you don’t need Amazon Prime – the Chromecast does just fine, plus it lets you easily cast from your computer. It’s also what you need for a 4K HDTV.

If you want something more full-functioned, the Roku Stick and the Fire Stick each has pros and cons, but you’ll probably be happy with either one.
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