If you’ve ever thought about picking up a Fire TV but aren’t quite sure if you want to drop money on Amazon’s device, you’re not alone. Fortunately, the Amazon Fire TV Stick offers the same, powerful streaming service as the larger alternative.
Of course, the reason it costs much less is because the Amazon device missing a few things that make the original so awesome. That being said, the new Amazon Fire TV Stick is still worth every penny, if you’re looking for the easiest and most portable way to check out all your favorite shows and movies.
Amazon’s first streaming box
So what is Amazon Fire TV Stick and what can it do? Well, first let’s start with their earlier attempt at a streaming box with the Amazon Fire TV which was unveiled in April of 2014, and made available that same day.
The sharp-looking streaming box boasts 2GB of memory and a powerful quad-core processor, allowing users to search within video apps like Netflix at incredible speeds. Even more impressive is the fact that it comes with a voice search feature that actually works and rarely messes up what you say.
However, what people didn’t find all that exciting was the price tag, especially when most of us already own expensive devices capable of streaming shows and movies—video game consoles like the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, computers, tablets, and Smart TVs, to name a few. It’s hard to justify dropping one hard-earned Benjamin just for a few extra features and an exclusive game called Sev Evo, which failed to impress.
Amazon’s answer to the price woes from critics was the Fire TV Stick, which essentially serves as a barebones alternative to the original, more powerful, box. Drawing obvious inspirations from Google’s Chromecast and the Roku Stick, the Fire TV Stick works by simply inserting it into one of your TV’s HDMI ports. Some smaller drawbacks worth noting are the lack of a matte finish on the remote, which makes it feel cheaper, as well as the need to take up an HDMI port.
The latter can be a big deal to people who use a lot of devices that require the same port, like game consoles, Blu-ray players, etc. Also worth noting is that the Fire TV Stick needs to be plugged into an outlet via an included HDMI extender, since it is unable to remain powered by your HDTV. Not a big deal, but, unlike the original Fire TV, it’s one more wire, HDMI port, and wall outlet you have to worry about.
The Amazon Fire TV Stick features
Video – Amazon Fire TV Stick – Hands On
One of the neatest features that comes with the Amazon Fire TV Stick is the captive portal support that lets you connect with Wi-Fi from a hotel room, friend’s house, etc. This means you can take your games, shows, and other media content on-the-go with ease.
The Fire TV Stick also has the ability to connect to Wi-Fi signals requiring web authentication, which is common at a lot of colleges and hotels. Prime members can now browse and search hundreds of Prime Playlists, which offer content based on a number of options: artist, decade, mood, and more.
The hidden PIN entry feature also makes sure your device PIN isn’t displayed on the TV screen while you enter it to make a purchase (those of us with sneaky children know how convenient this is). In addition, the Fire TV Stick features a few convenient shortcuts, such as putting the stick to sleep by simply pressing and holding the remote’s home button.
Like the Fire TV streaming box, the stick lets you tap the “fling” icon on any Fire tablet or phone to send video and audio directly to your television screen. Other services like Netflix and YouTube can also be sent to your TV, thanks to support for standards like DIAL. Display mirroring is also a possibility with your Android or Fire OS device—some devices even allow this without the need for extra software or apps.
If there’s one thing that has made Amazon’s Fire TV the default streaming device for people who already own other devices capable of running Netflix and HBO Go, it’s the incredible interface.
Praised by critics and users alike, the interface is not only very attractive, but also easy to familiarize with and navigate. This is a big plus for both the Fire TV and Stick, since many potential buyers looking to pick up one of these often don’t consider themselves very tech-savvy.
As you can see from the image above, the left side of the interface features a neat list of every category available: Prime Video, Movies, TV, Watchlist, and more. Simply select one of them to open up even more categories, if available. For example, selecting “TV” shows you separate groups of titles recently added to prime, the latest TV shows, recommended shows, and more. At any time you can easily choose something else from the list on the left, and everything is displayed with large, colorful images.
Of course, both the Fire TV Stick and Fire TV are perfect for you if you’re all about Amazon. We say this because both systems link to your Amazon account, which means you can continue clicking and watching whatever you want—even if it isn’t included on Prime Instant Video. This is more convenient than it sounds, and makes the entire experience all the more enjoyable.
Fire TV Stick specs
Simply put, the Stick is the Fire TV box pretty much cut down by 50%. Whereas the box has 2GB of memory and a quad-core processor, the Stick has only 1GB of memory and a dual-core processor. This doesn’t mean your searches will be significantly slower or that the Stick isn’t powerful, but it certainly doesn’t compare to the box for obvious reasons. So if you were wondering why the Stick is half the cost of the box, that’s why.
The remote that comes with the Stick, as mentioned before, feels more plastic-ky and likely to break. Not only that, it doesn’t feature voice search like the Fire TV box’s Amazon Fire TV Voice Remote. Instead, using voice search with the Stick requires you to either buy the better remote, which you can pick up for around $30, or download the free Fire TV Remote App on your smartphone device. It is currently available for iOS, Fire, and Android phones.
Worth mentioning is that if voice search is a big deal for you, we strongly recommend you just go for the Fire TV box instead of the Stick. This is because the box already comes with the remote that has voice functionality, whereas the Stick doesn’t. If you’re going to spend $40 on the Fire TV Stick and another $30 for the superior remote, why not just toss in another $30 and get the more powerful box?
Fire TV Stick vs Chromecast vs Roku
As with any new device, people want to know how the Fire TV Stick holds up when compared to similar devices. When it comes to the Chromecast, which—as of this writing—already boasts 17 million units sold in its 22 months on the market, there aren’t too many key differences. They both cost around $40, take up one of your HDMI ports, and do a good job with what they were meant to do: stream content.
That being said, the Fire TV Stick does have small but significant factors that make it slightly the better of the two.
One of these factors is the remote. Whether you go with the lesser-quality Stick remote or the better Fire TV box one, it’s more convenient than being forced to use your computer, tablet, or smartphone to communicate like you have to do with the Chromecast. It doesn’t sound like a big deal until you find yourself having to minimize Facebook or other apps you enjoy while watching shows just to skip an episode or perform any other actions.
When it comes to the Roku Stick, Amazon’s alternative wins in the price category, since it offers everything the Roku does—for $10 less. The only upper hand that Roku has is its universal search, allowing you to look up your favorite actor or actress and see every show or movie he or she has been in. We say “universal” because the Roku search even displays options on various services: Amazon, HBO Go, and more.
In comparison, the Amazon Fire TV Stick only lets you look for Amazon titles. Not a deal-breaker, but it can be annoying if there’s something on Netflix you’d really like to watch. Even so, it’s worth noting that the Roku Stick is slower when compared to the more powerful Fire TV Stick. So while the universal search is neat, it doesn’t feel worth it if you find yourself buffering every few minutes and taking longer to load everything.
Last and probably least is how every device looks, with Amazon’s Stick being the clear winner. The Roku Stick’s size and purple color tends to look weird and distracting, considering that black is the popular color for TVs and other devices probably sitting around your set. While some may find that the Chromecast looks appealing, the odd circular shape at the end may make it look toy-like and less attractive. The Amazon Stick looks sleek and draws no attention to itself.
As a gaming platform
We’re willing to bet that most people who have purchased a Fire TV Stick probably didn’t have games high on the list of reasons why they wanted it. Both the Fire TV Stick and original streaming box are capable of playing games, but they’re very unlikely to replace the dedicated video game console you probably have sitting under your television set. You may end up messing around with the few free games that come with it, but other than that, the Fire TV Stick is by no means a Wii U, PlayStation 4, or Xbox One—even if you grab the gamepad.
But if you are interested in the Fire TV Stick’s ability to play casual games, know that it has a much-reduced library of titles when compared to the Fire TV streaming box. Not only that, but the games the stick does have run slower and less smoothly, since a dual-core processor is no match for a quad-core processor.
So should you buy the Amazon Fire TV Stick?
Is the Amazon Fire TV Stick worth it? You bet it is. With the Fire TV Stick, you will have to wait a few more seconds to load screens, but the streaming box’s speed is the only significant thing you’re losing. To be honest, it’s not even that much of a difference. You’re also not getting a remote with voice search, but it’s a minor setback when you consider the money you’re saving by picking up the cheaper stick instead of the more expensive box.
Like we covered in the comparison section, the Amazon Fire TV Stick is the way to go if you’re set on picking up an HDMI device that lets you stream shows and movies on your TV. It more than surpasses the competition with its great price, friendly user interface, more powerful specs, and better remote.