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Roku Streaming Stick vs. Chromecast: Which dongle should dangle from your TV?

Lincoln Spector | Dec. 1, 2014
Last fall, Google released the first pint-sized streaming device: the $35 Chromecast. The $50 Roku Streaming Stick soon followed. They look like flash drives, both plug directly into an HDMI port, and both are reasonably priced. You can access a huge selection of online streaming services with either device, which you can control via a smartphone or tablet.

Not everyone agrees. Some people hate physical remotes, pointing out that they can get lost, and require extra batteries. Those people can use the virtual remote included in Roku's apps for iOS and Android. Each app not only simulates the physical remote, but also offers other tools, allowing you to easily select channels, and play your phone's locally stored music, photos, and videos on your TV, although the file formats are limited.

The Chromecast doesn't have a physical remote. There's an app (iOS and Android) for setting up the device, but you control playback directly with whatever mobile app you're using. If you're watching Hulu Plus, for example, you pause and rewind with the Hulu Plus app.

If your device goes into lockdown mode while you're watching your Chromecast, you can just press the power button, and basic controls will appear on the lock screen, a nice touch.

Who wins? The Roku wins this one. For the simple tasks, a physical remote is easier to grab and easier to use. You don't even have to look at it.

Advanced remote control

Roku's physical remote is much less useful when it comes to Internet streaming. If you've ever tried to enter search text — or worse, your email address and password — by using the arrow keys on your remote to select one letter at a time, you know exactly what I'm talking about.

The Roku app makes a significant improvement. An icon on the virtual remote screen brings up your device's keyboard, allowing you to simply type. If you have a password manager on your device, you'll be able to paste in passwords without even typing them. But I couldn't get the typing feature to work with every Roku channel, such as YouTube and Vimeo.

Logging into services and searching for content is easy with the Chromecast, because you're using each service's mobile app to do it. Scrolling pages, tapping icons, and typing text come naturally in these apps. With very few badly designed exceptions (Vudu on a phone comes to mind), this really is tap and watch.

Who wins? Chromecast wins this category hands down.

Power consumption

Both of these sticks sip small amounts of energy when in use. When streaming a 1080p HD broadcast, the Roku uses about 2.4 watts. The Chromecast did only a little worse, with 2.5 watts. I call that a tie.

What about when they're not in use? After all, neither of these devices have an Off button. As long as they have access to electricity, they'll use it. And they'll use almost as much when not streaming as when streaming. When not streaming, the Roku burns 2 watts, and the Chromecast 1.9 watts. (Again, basically a tie.) Either one of these will burn more than a kilowatt-hour in a month of no use.

 

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