Cable television is slowly going the way of the dinosaur. Replacing it are a variety of videos streaming services and devices that use the Internet as their preferred medium to deliver content to viewers. Some of the most disruptive devices are new streaming sticks, devices that plug directly into your television’s HDMI port and project videos from your smartphone to the screen.
Two of the most popular devices on the market in 2016 are the Amazon Fire TV and Google Chromecast. Both devices are similarly priced, $35 for Chromecast and $39.99 for the basic Amazon Fire TV Stick setup. The prices are very close, so we’ll need to delve a little deeper into each device’s user experience, performance, and streaming library.
Chromecast vs. Amazon Fire TV Stick
Google markets Chromecast as the cheaper, more user-friendly streaming stick option. You simply plug the Chromecast device into your television set, and go on using your smartphone as normal. When you come across content you want to watch on your television, press the Cast button on your phone and your video will start playing on your TV. It doesn’t get much easier than that!
The Chromecast environment is extremely open, and is compatible with a huge library of apps produced by various developers. It’ll cast your favorite podcast app just as intuitively as it casts YouTube. This is really the plug-in-and-go option of the streaming stick choices.
In comparison, the Fire TV Stick is only minimally compatible with your mobile device as a remote. Users need to download the Fire TV Remote app to control the device from their smartphone. Otherwise, they can get a physical remote for Fire TV, which will do the same thing. This creates a slightly different set of steps for streaming on each device:
If you were streaming YouTube on your phone, you would plug Chromecast into your television, open up YouTube on your phone, and press the Cast button to stream the video through your television. Now you can use your phone for other tasks while the video continues to play.
On a Fire TV Stick, first install the device in your set’s HDMI port. Then open up the Fire TV app and navigate to the built-in YouTube screen, or navigate to YouTube on the physical remote. Both will bring you to an adapted YouTube interface to begin your search. Users can also purchase a physical remote with voice control for $10 more. At $49, the Fire TV Stick with voice remote is considerably more expensive than Chromecast.
Amazon markets the Fire TV as the best performing streaming stick on the market. The Fire TV boasts a VideoCore4 graphics-processing unit and 8GB of storage. This is twice as much memory as Google’s Chromecast, and four times the storage capacity.
This allows the Fire TV Stick to make use of ASAP (Advanced Streaming and Prediction) software. ASAP looks at the user’s viewing history to learn what movies and shows they like the most. The Fire TV Stick can then store them in memory so that they can be played instantly when the user s ready. Once your Fire TV Stick gets to know you, you’ll never have to wait for it to buffer again
In terms of wireless performance, the Fire Stick TV can operate on both 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz Wi-Fi bandwidths. This means that the Fire TV stick might perform better in high-density areas where a particular band is crowded. Chromecast is limited to the 2.4Ghz band only. The Amazon Fire TV Stick is head and shoulders above Chromecast in terms of performance.
With Chromecast, users have access to over hundreds of thousands of movies and shows, and millions of songs. Content can be streamed from popular apps like Hulu, Netflix, and HBO Now. Users also have access to all of Google’s apps such as Play Music and YouTube.
Chromecast does not have easy access to Amazon Prime video apps, but users have learned to tweak some settings to make the device operational with its competitor’s apps. If you want to cast a video from Prime through your Chromecast, you should change the Prime Video settings in your computer/laptop web browser to use Adobe Flash Player instead of Microsoft Silverlight.
Afterwards, your Chromecast will be able to mirror your device’s screen on the television as you watch Prime. This will drain your battery much faster than simple casting, and of course any changes you make o the phone screen will show up on the television. It also means you’ll initially need at least two devices to make Chromecast work with Amazon streaming services, but at least it is possible.
The Fire TV Stick has privileged access to Amazon’s massive library of Prime videos and media from the outset. This makes the device an easy choice for anyone who uses Prime for most of his or her streaming content. The Fire TV will instantly link to Prime, as well as most of the other popular apps that work on Chromecast.
Both Google’s Chromecast and Amazon’s Fire TV Stick offer great alternatives to paying for traditional cable providers. They offer easy an easy solution for users who stream content on the web to enjoy it on a bigger screen. In that way, $30-50 for either device might be well worth the price of just a few months’ cable bills.
Still, neither device is a full replacement of television. Both limit the content that their users have access to. Google has been criticized for blocking third party apps from being cast, though their restrictions have eased in recent months. Amazon is similarly accused of placing the Fire TV Stick in a ‘walled-garden.’ Neither provides the full capability to stream any and all media from your smartphone onto your television screen.
Ultimately, both are hindered by their approach to the market, and also their openness to developers. Chromecast positions itself as a simple streaming solution with a very easy to use system. The cast button is so inconspicuous, Chromecast can barely be said to have a user interface. The device is slim, but can be slow. Some users complain of buffering problems.
The Fire TV Stick positions itself as the superior performer with incredible technical specifications. With the addition of ASAP, buffering is hardly an issue with established users. The UX leaves much to be desired though. The remote app is clunky to use, especially when competitors like Chromecast allow users to stream directly from the source app. The physical remote is also a step backwards, adding another tool/device to the living room. While the voice remote is a cool feature, the extra cost makes it a liability for some buyers.
Chromecast vs. Amazon Fire TV Stick Conclusion
For those looking to break into the streaming stick market, Chromecast might be a good place to start. It is a cheaper option and provides access to the widest variety of apps (sans Prime). Once you plug it in, you can start streaming in seconds. It is extremely easy to use, even for the technically inept. It would make a great gift to someone who didn’t know there were better options than cable out there.
For buyers who use Prime for the majority of their streaming, the Fire TV Stick might be a better choice. With no additional setup necessary, users can quickly start streaming from Amazon services to their sets. If price isn’t a problem, the voice remote can ease some of the clumsiness of the Fire TV Stick’s UI.
Overall, both devices will give users access to similar apps and content. The difference lies in the user experience. Chromecast users have an easy time accessing most apps and videos they want to stream. They have to do a little more work to use Amazon branded services, and also have to deal with relatively slower speeds overall. This could be a frustrating situation for some users, especially those who live in high-density areas with shared Wi-Fi like urban apartments. It could be worthwhile for these users to choose a faster device to avoid the frustrations of waiting.
Amazon Fire TV Stick users have a less than optimal interface, but they can still access the same content as Chromecast users. They will also have an easier time using Prime. This is one of the most popular streaming services around, and for many users might be the place they do the bulk of their streaming anyway. A Fire TV Stick would be an excellent companion to a frequently used Prime account. Finally, since the Fire TV Stick has superior hardware and ASAP technology, users will also have a generally better time with loading and buffering speeds. This agility in loading content might make up for some of the unwieldiness of the device’s controls.
In short, Chromecast is a good fit for a broad base of users, while the Fire TV Stick is optimized for those wanting fast performance, a device that’s more “futureproof”, and compatibility with Prime Instant Video. These are rough distinctions. Ultimately, the decision of which device to buy will depend on your specific needs in a streaming stick.
Also we’ve taken the guess work out of the equation for you and tracked down the best prices online for both the Chromecast and Amazon Fire Stick.