While there exists a lengthy list of devices that can stream video content through apps, there is a short list of those that are portable – the kind that fall into the smart stick category. There is Google’s Chromecast, Roku’s Streaming Stick and now Amazon’s Fire TV Stick. I own a Chromecast and have checked out Roku’s version as well, so I was interested to see how Amazon fared in this area. Amazon already has their Fire TV box, along with a bunch of other manufacturers who have streaming boxes, and many of those work well, but having an HDMI stick can be quite handy, even if you give up a few features or performance.
With the Chromecast going for $35 and Roku’s Streaming Stick available for $50, the Fire TV Stick falls right in between at $40 and has some advantages over those other two, though not without its own disadvantages.
Surely at less than half the cost of many of the streaming boxes, the Fire TV Stick is an excellent deal, and one that comes with a healthy dose of apps to choose from. The biggest advantage, and feature is of course its integration with Amazon. If you are an Amazon user, and even better, if you have Amazon Prime, the stick will be quite handy.
Setup is a cinch, as users will simply connect the stick to an available HDMI port, while power is provided through a USB port – the USB cable and wall adapter come included (as does a remote control). Amazon says it recommends using the wall adapter for power and it does indeed turn on and prepare the stick faster than if you power it through a USB port on your TV or in my case, my home theater receiver. Still, with two of my power centers already lacking any additional connections (I have a lot of devices connected), I opted to use my receiver’s USB port, which worked fine, even after dismissing the warning that I should use a wall adapter.
Once connected and powered on, the Fire TV Stick features a handy welcome and how-to video introduction that will make it easy for anyone who is new to this sort of thing to understand how it works. I did find it odd however that there is no indicator light to tell you that the stick is powered on, which the Roku and Chromecast have.
About the size of packet of gum, it’s travel-friendly and the device is supposed to have compatibility with “captive portal” Wi-Fi, which is something you see at hotels and such. I’ve tried using the Chromecast in a hotel and have not been able to use it, because those Wi-Fi systems require a web portal to authenticate you, which can’t be displayed on the Chromecast. Hopefully this feature will come sooner than later but I’m excited about it.
The Fire Stick outputs video at 1080p and has 1GB of RAM, 8GB of internal memory and uses a dual-core processor and a dual-band Wi-Fi antenna rounds out the important specs. When comparing pure specs, the Fire TV Stick trumps the other two sticks on paper. Both the Chromecast and Roku Streaming Stick have 512 MB of RAM and use single-core processors, while the Chromecast has 2GB of internal memory and a single-band Wi-Fi antenna. The Roku Streaming Stick has 256 GB of internal memory and does have a dual-band Wi-Fi antenna.
I did also like that the Fire TV Stick includes a remote (batteries are included too). The remote has a click wheel, a back, home and menu buttons, as well as buttons for rewinding, pausing/playing and fast-forwarding.
Amazon also offers an Android app that allows for voice search and text search, along with navigation. I downloaded it on the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, and found it to work pretty well. You pull down the microphone icon and hold it while speaking to search for something, while swiping left and right or up and down navigates the screen. Still, I wouldn’t subplant the remote itself for using the app since the app is a little slower by comparison and isn’t yet available on iOS, strangely enough.
The user interface is nice and large, with big icons and categories to choose from, be it games, apps, videos, etc. Amazon’s ecosystem is front and center, which is understandable, but I didn’t like that other apps are hidden, except for a Recent(ly used) section. Other than that though, I did find it easy to use which is highly important, especially when you consider that many folks will get this as a gift for Christmas that may not be familiar with this stuff.
As for apps, you’ll find many of the big hitters, such as Netflix, Hulu, Showtime Anywhere, Watch ESPN, Spotify, WWE Network and VEVO to name a few. Sadly, HBO GO is still nowhere to be found, but Amazon has finally struck up a deal with the network and the app is expected to be released onto the device by the end of the year.
You can also stream content using the AllCast app, that you’ll need to have on your Android phone, but I find the Chromecast (and Apple TV) to perform better in this regard, both in simplicity and quality.There are also games a plenty, and far more to choose from than on the Roku and Chromecast. Some of them play just find with the remote, though for higher end games, like GTA: San Andreas, you’ll need to use Amazon’s dedicated controller, which costs about the same as the Fire Stick. If you really want to game on this thing, I’d suggest considering the Fire TV Box which performs better. One other area that users, especially adults will dig is the parental controls. You can setup a PIN to limit video playback or purchases, or block content altogether.
All things considered, the Fire TV Stick is an exceptional steal at $40 due to the amount of content found on the device and for its ease of use. It’s only $5 more than the Chromecast, which it edges out on almost everything except screen-sharing, and $10 cheaper than the Roku Stick, which does offer even more apps. Regardless of which way you go, the Fire TV Stick is a great little device that also has a lot of future potential given its integration with Amazon.
Final Score: 4 out of 5