Without a smart TV, you can be left watching your favourite streaming services on a small smartphone, tablet or laptop screen. Fortunately, plugging a streaming stick into the back of your box can change this, giving you access to all sorts of apps, including Netflix, BT Sport, Disney+, Spotify and YouTube.
Over the years, each major entertainment and tech brand have brought out their own TV stick, giving you plenty to choose from. To help make this decision easier, we’ve pulled together our pick of the best streaming sticks we’ve put to the test.
Because while all of the best streaming sticks will allow you to watch streaming apps via the bigger screen, there are some features, design elements and channels that will be unique to a particular device.
There is also your budget to consider. Prices for TV streaming sticks can range from £24.85 for a NOW TV Smart Stick to upwards of £50 for the new Chromecast with Google TV. Deciding what you’re willing to pay, especially if you intend to use it to upgrade an old or unused TV, is key to getting a good deal.
In this guide, we’ll outline the key pros and cons for each device and whether we think its apps, channels, and streaming quality make it worth the price tag. Here is our top pick of the best streaming sticks we’ve reviewed for 2021.
Already have a streaming stick in mind? Read our guides to Roku vs Fire TV Stick for a one-on-one comparison or head straight over to our best streaming device round-up for more options. And, make sure you have the essentials with our pick of the best HDMI cables and cable management.
Best streaming sticks at a glance
When choosing a TV streaming stick, you’re likely going to be deciding from one of three major technology brands; Google, Amazon and Roku. However, each of these have whole ranges designed to serve different budgets, TV set-ups and streaming qualities. So, we’ve narrowed it down to the cream of the crop and here is our pick of the best streaming sticks.
- Best for new film releases: NOW TV Smart Stick
- Best for affordable 4K streaming: Roku Premiere
- Best for voice control: Amazon Fire TV Stick
- Best budget option: Roku Express
- Best for design: Chromecast with Google TV
- Best for affordable HD streaming: Amazon Fire TV Stick Lite
Best streaming sticks to buy in 2021
Here is a rundown of the best streaming sticks of 2021, including our top picks from Amazon, Roku and Google.
NOW TV Smart Stick
Best for new film releases
It’s hard to beat the NOW TV Smart Stick on its range of films, TV shows and live sports. Included in the price is a selection of free monthly passes to the likes of Sky Sports, Sky Cinema and Sky Atlantic. The exact NOW TV passes vary depending on the bundle you buy but can give you access to the latest film releases such as Emma and Joker, or fan-favourites such as Harry Potter, Transformers and Lord of the Rings.
Beyond the Sky content, the NOW TV Smart Stick also has all the usual apps, including Netflix, YouTube, Disney+, BT Sport and BBC iPlayer. Hidden from sight when in use, the smart TV stick only has a 720p resolution as default, although you can pay extra for HD. This makes the NOW TV Smart Stick perfect for upgrading an old TV but might not be the right option for a 4K one.
Read the full NOW TV Smart Stick review.
- Buy NOW TV Smart Stick (1-month Entertainment and Sky Cinema) for £24.85 at Amazon
- Buy NOW TV Smart Stick (1-month Entertainment, Sky Cinema and Sky Sports Day Pass) for £29.99 at Argos
Best for affordable 4K streaming
The Roku Premiere is the most affordable 4K streaming stick on offer. For less than £40, the smart TV stick streams in 4K HDR and has all the apps you would expect, including Spotify, Netflix, NOW TV, Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video. The accompanying remote and free app also allow you to search the homepage with your voice, and there’s a second remote built into the app for when you lose the first down the back of the sofa.
However, one of the best features about the Roku Premiere, and something unique to the brand, is the Private Listening mode. Found in the app, this function allows you to stream audio via your phone so that you can listen with headphones on. This allows you to watch the picture on the TV screen without disrupting anyone else in the house. It is a brilliant tool for anyone who sleeps unconventional hours or for when everyone wants to watch their own thing.
Read the full Roku Premiere review.
Amazon Fire TV Stick
Best for voice control
The Amazon Fire TV Stick is one of the best well-rounded streaming sticks. Offering HD streaming, voice control via Alexa and support for Dolby Atmos audio. It is 50% more powerful than its 2019 predecessor, so we found there to be very little buffering whether we were loading a 30-minute Amazon Prime Video TV series or a feature-length film.
One of the improvements we were most excited to see was TV controls on the remote. This is a simple upgrade, but it now means you don’t have to switch between remotes to control the volume or turn off the TV.
Of course, because it is an Amazon device, it is kitted out with all the Amazon subscription services you could ask for, including Amazon Prime Video, Audible, Amazon Music and Amazon Photos. We would particularly recommend the Amazon Fire TV Stick if you have several Amazon accounts to help keep track and access them all in one location. If you’re after a 4K Fire TV device, try the more sophisticated Amazon Fire TV Cube.
Read the full Amazon Fire TV Stick review.
Best budget option
If you’re looking for cheap as chips, you can’t go far wrong with the Roku Express. Despite the price difference between the Roku Express and its bigger brother, the Premiere, Roku hasn’t scrimped on the Express’ features. Like the Roku Premiere, it comes with voice control, Private Listening mode, an extra remote via the app and all the same streaming services and channels.
The only significant difference is the streaming quality. While the Roku Premiere offers 4K streaming, this device only streams in HD. However, that is still an improvement on the NOW TV Smart Stick‘s standard offering.
The only real downside to the Roku Express is that the little streaming box has to be visible to the remote so, you can’t hide it behind the TV like the Amazon Fire TV Stick or NOW TV Stick. That being said, it is pretty tiny, so it’s unlikely to disrupt your set-up majorly.
Read the full Roku Express review.
Chromecast with Google TV
Best for design
The Chromecast with Google TV is one of the more expensive streaming sticks, but it is also one of the newest. Google has worked hard to improve the Chromecast Ultra, and the new device is the first to come with its own remote.
There’s a dedicated Google Assistant button on the remote to activate voice control, whether to search the Google TV homepage or turn the volume up. However, if you prefer, you can also control it via the Google Home app and cast from it, too.
When it comes to watching TV, it streams up to 4K HDR, so the picture quality is sharp and bright. The Chromecast with Google TV can also be connected to Google speakers such as the Google Nest Audio to create a fuller sound or a multi-room system. If you already own a Google device or are looking for a streamlined, 4K experience, the Chromecast with Google TV is for you.
Read the full Chromecast with Google TV review.
Amazon Fire TV Stick Lite
Best for affordable HD streaming
As the cheapest Fire TV Stick from Amazon, the Fire TV Stick Lite is simple but effective. Like the standard Fire TV Stick, it streams in HD, gives you access to all the same apps and channels, and can be voice-controlled via the remote.
However, the remote is where you find the main difference. Unlike the Fire TV Stick, it does not have TV controls, so you will have to rely on the main TV remote or Alexa to change the volume. This is hardly a massive deal, but it is something to consider if you know it will cause you mild annoyance or if you’re always losing the remote.