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Best media-streaming stick: Our favorite tools for transforming the boob tube into a full-fledged smart TV

Jared Newman | July 7, 2016
Our buyers guide and hands-on reviews will help you choose between the current offerings from Roku, Amazon, and Google.

In any case, the Roku Streaming Stick is hard to beat as a secondary TV device or for travel.

Runner up: Google Chromecast

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Jared Newman

Right now, Google’s $35 Chromecast is a wiser streaming stick purchase than Amazon’s $40 Fire TV Stick ($50 with voice remote), and not just because of the price. You can read our full review here.

Chromecast’s blessing—and its curse—is that it has no remote control or on-screen interface. Instead, you use a phone, tablet, or laptop to select videos in apps like Netflix and Hulu. Hit the Cast button in those apps, and Chromecast starts streaming the video directly from the internet.

Because the stick itself isn’t burdened by a full menu system, using it never feels slow; the process of selecting a video only gets smoother and faster as you upgrade to newer phones and tablets. Case in point: I still use my original Chromecast from 2013, and I haven’t felt the need to upgrade to the 2015 version, whose main improvement is support for a newer Wi-Fi standard. For a secondary TV, that ability to set it and forget it makes a lot of sense. (A couple of caveats: Chromecast doesn’t support captive portal for hotel Wi-Fi networks, and it doesn’t provide native support for Amazon Prime video.)

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Jared Newman

Amazon Fire TV Stick

That’s not to say the Amazon Fire TV Stick has no merits. You can read our full review here.It remains the easiest way to access Amazon Prime videos because so much of that content splays out on the home screen, and it’s the only streaming stick with an optional voice remote (a $10 add-on). There are also some enthusiast applications, such as Kodi and HDHomeRun View, that other streamers don’t support natively. Unfortunately, the Fire TV Stick is too prone to sluggish transitions and lengthy loading times, so switching apps and digging deep into the interface can become tiresome. While Chromecast feels future-proof, the Fire TV Stick is bound to be a liability as streaming apps become more advanced.

Keep in mind that the Fire TV Stick is nearly two years old now. I suspect we’ll have a new version to reevaluate this year. Until then, most users should consider the Roku Streaming Stick or Chromecast.

How we tested

I spent several weeks testing both the Roku Streaming Stick and the Amazon Fire TV Stick, comparing performance and features against one another, and against their higher-powered siblings. I have previously reviewed Google’s second-generation Chromecast.

 

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