Cord Cutting Guide
Streaming Sticks and Dongles: The Best Options for Smart TV Sticks
Dec 11th, 2019
So you’re thinking about cutting the cord (or you already did it!) and you’ve been squinting at your computer to watch Netflix to see how long you can put up with a tiny screen. You may not need cable, but you need a bigger screen. This is a solution that won’t break the bank. And that TV you bought in the days of cable that’s just sitting there, unused and neglected--you can bring it right back to life without needing anything but a little streaming stick.
Let’s start with the basics: What is a streaming stick and how is this going to make your lazy days better?
A streaming stick is a TV dongle that allows you access streaming services and content from a mobile device or interface native to the streaming stick. They’re super portable, very affordable and don’t even require a separate electric outlet (just the HDMI port of your TV).
We’re here to help you find the best smart TV stick for your streaming needs. We broke down the offerings of the three most popular brands on the market so you can get to watching that much faster:
Roku Streaming Stick
You’ll love this if… You love a good binge-watch session. There’s a selection of free movies and in-season TV shows available through Roku.
Which Apps Can I Watch? The usual suspects like Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video, HBO Now and HBO Go, as well as Pandora and Spotify. Roku also has additional offerings in the sports, lifestyle and travel categories.
Remote? Yep! Plus, you can download the Roku mobile app to use your device as a remote.
What About Voice Control? If you feel like flicking through channels or options but can’t bring yourself to pick up the remote, you can use it’s voice control feature to change the channel and volume.
Compatible with: Alexa, Google Assistant
Tell Me More About the Different Prices: The Roku Streaming Stick costs $49.99, but it’s fancy sibling, Roku Streaming Stick+, is ($59.99). The Stick+ gives you all of the things listed above, plus a higher picture quality (4K and HDR) and 4x wireless range (courtesy of a much stronger receiver), so your streaming remains smooth, even when the stick is not close to your router.
You’ll love this if… You love (and own) other Google products. Chromecast does some of its best work when it teams up with Google Home. You can even check your Nest cameras! Google Home also lets you utilize voice control to cast shows and movies to your TV.
Which Apps Can I Watch? Anything you can watch on your computer, tablet or phone, you can mirror on your TV.
Remote? Nope, but you can stream directly from your device by tapping the Cast button in any compatible app.
What About Voice Control? Of course! Because this is the device for Google fanatics, your Google Assistant can control your Chromecast as well.
Compatible with: Google Assistant.
Price: You can purchase a Chromecast for $35. There’s also Chromecast Ultra, which is a hybrid of a Smart TV and streaming stick and a bit more expensive. We covered it here.
Amazon Fire TV Stick
You’ll love this if… You love a full entertainment experience. Of course you can stream video content, but you can also access music services such as Amazon Music, Apple Music, Spotify, Pandora and iHeartRadio. (Some subscriptions might be required.)
Which Apps Can I Watch? Like Roku, Amazon Fire Stick gives you access to all of the major TV apps (Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video) and music apps (Pandora, Spotify).
Remote? Yep! And it has voice control powered by (no surprise) Alexa.
What About Voice Control? Does it ever. Amazon Fire Stick has Alexa built it, which means “the most comprehensive voice experience of any streaming media player.” That includes the ability to check the weather or adjust the lights in your home. You can even use voice control to order pizza from Domino’s. (Yes, really.)
Compatible with: Amazon Echo, of course.
Tell Me More About the Different Prices: We’re glad you asked. The standard Amazon Fire TV Stick ($29.99) will get you all of the goods listed above, but Fire TV Stick 4K ($39.99) gets you all that — plus a higher quality picture (4K Ultra HD with support for HDR, HDR 10, Dolby Vision, HLG, HDR10+).