Smart TV sticks are a brilliant way to breathe new life into a TV even when it’s far from new. But how do you choose which of the best streaming sticks to buy?
To help make that decision easier, we compare two of the most popular brands, Google and Amazon. Amazon’s Fire TV range may be more extensive, but Google has worked hard to improve its streaming devices, as proven by their latest release, Chromecast with Google TV.
Streaming sticks now offer a range of features, including voice control, HD streaming and access to apps such as Disney+, Spotify and YouTube. We will be comparing these features and the device’s price and design to determine which streaming player should come out on top.
To make this fight as fair as possible, we will be focusing our attention on the brand’s most iconic streaming devices, the Amazon Fire TV Stick and Google Chromecast. However, we have also included a breakdown of every device offered by Amazon and Google so that you can see what’s on offer and whether it’s worth spending a little more.
Find out more about Amazon’s smart home devices by reading our Amazon Fire TV Cube review and Amazon Echo Dot review. Or, if it is Google’s Chromecast that has piqued your interest, try our Chromecast vs Chromecast Ultra explainer and Chromecast with Google TV review.
Chromecast vs Fire TV Stick: what’s the difference?
For less than £40, both the Google Chromecast and Amazon Fire TV Stick allow you to watch your favourite streaming services on older or ‘non-smart’ TVs. And while both devices do this job well, some features or apps are only available on specific smart TV sticks.
Here are the key differences between Google Chromecast and Amazon Fire TV Stick as we talk through their designs, apps, channels and streaming quality.
The Google Chromecast is the cheaper of the two devices at £30. You don’t get a remote for that price, but the device has a bendy HDMI cable that makes it easy to squeeze into a port even when space is limited.
The Amazon Fire TV Stick is less than £10 more expensive at £39.99. For that extra £9.99, you get HD streaming, voice search via the Alexa Voice Remote and more comprehensive TV controls.
If you like the look of the Fire TV Stick but want to save a little bit of money, there is the Amazon Fire TV Stick Lite. At a price point of £29.99, it still offers HD streaming and voice control, but the device comes with the ‘Lite’ version of the remote that does not have volume or power buttons.
While both the Amazon Fire TV Stick and Chromecast are set up to slot into the HDMI port found on the back of your TV, this is where most of the design similarities end.
The Google Chromecast is a black, round dongle with a short, flexible HDMI cable. This bendy cable allows you to fit the Chromecast between any other devices that might be occupying other ports.
The design of the Amazon Fire TV Stick is a black USB-style stick, similar to that of the NOW TV Smart Stick. It is small and thin and can, again, fit between any other products plugged in behind the TV. Both are then connected to power adaptors and are hidden from sight when in use.
The Amazon Fire TV Stick also comes with an accompanying remote. The Alexa Voice Remote is small and black, like the Fire TV Stick itself, and has 11 buttons in total. This includes a voice button that you can activate Alexa with by holding down and speaking your request. The others include controls for power, volume and play/pause.
Both devices stream in full HD. This makes both devices a great option if you intend to use them to get better use out of an old TV.
In the case of the Fire TV Stick, Amazon boasts it is also 50% more powerful than its 2019 predecessor and comes with support for Dolby Atmos Audio.
If you have 4K TV, you might want to consider investing in either the Chromecast with Google TV or Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K. These devices are more expensive, at £59.99 and £49.99 respectively, but offer 4K streaming so that you can get the most from your TV.
Apps and channels
To watch a streaming service via Google Chromecast, it needs to be compatible. This list used to be relatively limited but has expanded to include all the major services and apps, including NOW TV, Netflix, YouTube and Amazon Prime Video.
The Chromecast may be preferred if you intend for multiple people to stream with it. The media player allows for easier switching between accounts because each member of the household can stream straight from their smartphone, tablet, or PC, so there’s no need to re-login to your accounts or share passwords.
With the Amazon Fire TV Stick, it is all done through the Fire TV homepage, and there’s no need for a secondary device like a smartphone or tablet. All the apps and channels are then accessed from here, and you navigate using the remote or voice commands.
Voice control is available on both the Google Chromecast and Amazon Fire TV Stick via their specific voice assistants. With the Chromecast, it is via Google Assistant, and the Fire TV Stick’s voice commands are processed by Alexa.
As we’ve mentioned, this is done via the accompanying remote for the Amazon Fire TV Stick. Alexa is activated using a button on the remote, allowing you to turn up the volume or search the Fire TV homepage.
For the Chromecast, this is done through Google Home devices (also known as Google Nest). For example, you connect any Google smart speaker, such as the Google Nest Mini, to the Chromecast and then speak your commands to Google Assistant to control the TV. However, this does mean you need a Google Nest speaker to take full advantage of voice control and get the most out of the Chromecast device.
Verdict: which smart TV stick should you buy?
The Google Chromecast is cheaper and simpler to use, but if you want a more rounded experience, the Amazon Fire TV Stick is the better choice.
Like the Chromecast, the Fire TV Stick offers full HD streaming, but there’s no casting required, so you navigate the Fire TV homepage and find the app or streaming service you want to use. This means you control everything via the Alexa Voice Remote, and no secondary device such as a smartphone or tablet is needed.
Both devices offer a good range of apps, including all the most popular streaming services. Voice control is also available with the Chromecast and Amazon Fire TV Stick. The voice control via Alexa is marginally more practical. Still, if you have a Google smart speaker, the voice control with Google is hands-free – an option not available with any of Amazon’s Fire TV devices except the more expensive Fire TV Cube.
However, there is one other consideration. If you share a living space with several other people, you may prefer the Chromecast for the fact that once you stop casting, no one else can access your accounts or passwords. This gives you the benefit of watching your favourite shows on a bigger screen without having to sign in and out of accounts each time.
Amazon Fire TV Stick:
Chromecast overview: what Google smart TV sticks are available?
Google currently has two Chromecast devices available; the original Chromecast and the Chromecast with Google TV.
With an RRP of £30, the Chromecast is Google’s original streaming device. This round, black dongle plugs into the TV’s HDMI port and allows you to send your favourite shows from your smartphone, tablet or laptop to your TV. It doesn’t come with a remote. Instead, you control it via the device you’re casting from.
Chromecast with Google TV
Released in September 2020, the Chromecast with Google TV is the brand’s latest smart TV stick. Features include 4K HDR streaming, a remote with voice control via Google Assistant and access to apps including Disney+, Prime Video and Netflix.
Fire TV Stick overview: what Amazon smart TV sticks are available?
There are four smart TV devices in Amazon’s range. These are:
Amazon Fire TV Stick Lite
The Fire TV Stick Lite is the cheapest Amazon device available. The device is completely hidden behind the TV when used and offers HD streaming and voice control via Alexa. The lower price point does mean that it lacks volume and TV controls on the remote. Read our full Amazon Fire TV Stick Lite review.
Amazon Fire TV Stick
Many of the standard Amazon Fire TV Stick features are similar to that of the Fire TV Stick Lite. It still streams in HD, but one of the major difference is that it has volume and power buttons on the remote.
Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K
This smart TV stick is the cheapest way to get 4K streaming with a Fire TV device. It comes in the same USB stick-style as the cheaper models, supporting Dolby Vision and Atmos.
Amazon Fire TV Cube
As the most powerful Fire TV device, the Amazon Fire TV Cube is a smart TV stick combined with an Amazon Echo speaker. Unlike the Fire TV Sticks, you do not have to hold down a button to ask Alexa requests. It gives you better control over other Alexa compatible devices, too, so you can control your soundbar, thermostat or lights with your voice.
Thinking of upgrading your TV? Our guide on which TV to buy is a good place to start. Or find the best smart home offers with our round-up of the best Amazon Fire TV Stick deals and best Alexa speakers.