Streaming sticks and dongles used to exist solely as low-budget alternatives to bigger, more powerful set-top boxes. Nowadays, though, these tiny little tech marvels can perform nearly all the same tasks as their larger brethren, but at more manageable prices (and sizes). With options from Google, Roku, and Amazon, which one is the best? We pitted them all against each other and discovered that theand are the best low-cost streaming devices.
We’ve been using these streaming devices for years, watching as they’ve evolved into highly capable media devices. To see how we picked our winners, read on…
Google Chromecast (3rd gen)
Google Chromecast Ultra
Roku Streaming Stick+
Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K
|Video||1080p||4K UHD||4K UHD||4K UHD||4K UHD|
|HDR||n/a||HDR10, Dolby Vision||HDR10||HDR10||HDR10, HDR10+, HLG, Dolby Vision|
|Controller app||Android, iOS, MacOS, Windows, Chrome OS||Android, iOS, MacOS, Windows, Chrome OS||Android, iOS, Windows Phone, BB10||Android, iOS, Windows Phone, BB10||Android, iOS|
|Voice search||Yes, via Home app||Yes, via Home app||Yes||Yes||Yes, via app or remote|
|Available here||, Various retailers||, Roku|
Ease of use
Even though they let you access the same content, the Chromecast and Chromecast Ultra function quite differently than the other devices on this list. Since Chromecasts use your mobile device or computer to “cast” content to your TV, they’re devoid of a traditional menu-based user interface, a remote control, and onboard storage. In fact, in a world of smart devices, the Chromecast is perhaps the dumbest of them all.
But when it comes to simplicity and ease of use, that’s a very good thing. Chromecast devices leave all the smarts to your mobile device, simply acting as a conduit through which your TV can access content. Find what you want to watch or listen to on your personal device, “cast” it at the Chromecast with the tap of a button and, voilà, it’s on your TV. That includes any content you can put on a Chrome browser window, i.e., anything on the web. It’s not that the other options here are complex — in fact, they’re all quite manageable, and some of you may get along better with the traditional remote-powered user interfaces you’re likely already used to — but the Chromecast takes the top spot here for overall intuitiveness.
Winner: Chromecast, Chromecast Ultra
Well, technology moves fast, so the winner in this category is generally the most recently released product. As of our most recent update, that would be the Roku Premiere+ and the Fire TV Stick 4K, but as the Fire TV Stick 4K packs a bit more punch, that is our pick. Moving on!
Winner: Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K
Sure, the Roku devices will let you play Angry Birds and a handful of other cute games, but the Fire TV Stick 4K has access to a huge library of more advanced titles (like Machinarium and Minecraft). These games are highly appealing to casual gamers and represent more than just a novelty. Chromecast’s games are fine, but you won’t find much to please the console crowd. Most are multiplayer party titles such as Risk, Scrabble, and Monopoly. Amazon recently dropped support for its own game controller in newer models, but you’ll find third-party solutions if you really want to get your game on with your Fire TV Stick 4K.
Winner: Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K
When it comes to the sheer number of available apps (not counting games), the Roku devices, with access to thousands of apps (or channels, as Roku calls them), win by a landslide. You can also use the official Roku app to select content on your smartphone.
Chromecast apps (“Cast Enabled” apps) also number in the thousands now, but support for the casting platform between PC, Android, and iOS devices varies, which can be frustrating. The good news is that, unlike Roku and Amazon Fire TV, any Android or iOS app can be Cast-enabled if the developer chooses, making for an ever-growing selection.
Speaking of making that choice, Amazon and Google recently announced an end to their feud over video services, and the latest update to the Amazon Prime Video app now supports Chromecast natively. Conversely and perhaps more importantly, you can now download the YouTube app on Amazon Fire TV. This announcement notwithstanding, Roku is still king of the app mountain.
Winner: Roku Premiere+, Roku Streaming Stick+
We’ve owned one Roku device or another for the last several years but also have put some serious time into testing Fire TV set-top boxes and streaming sticks. As we’ve now come to use both the Roku and Fire TV interfaces regularly, this has become a tough call to make. The Roku interface is extremely user-friendly — some might even call it “bubbly” — whereas the Amazon Fire TV interface has a little more techno-flash, yet is still very able to take care of business. While we generally prefer the service-agnostic Roku interface, Amazon uses Alexa for all sorts of voice-control functions that Roku can’t compete with, though Roku does support rudimentary voice-activated requests through any separate Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant devices you may have.
For its part, Chromecast does have decent functionality via the Home app, but it doesn’t really have a traditional user interface, per se. Instead, you will be navigating apps and content libraries through your phone, tablet, or PC. While that does technically put it behind the other devices, as long as you’re comfortable with your casting device of choice, Chromecast is incredibly simple.
Winner: Roku Premiere+, Roku Streaming Stick+, and Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K (tie)