Wherever Google goes, Amazon follows. Google’s foray into the TV streamers began with its Chromecast device, the nifty, HDMI dongle, that neatly connects to your TV and silently draws power from a USB cable. For a long time, its only real competitor in the portable TV streamers market was the Roku stick, arguably a better albeit slightly more expensive option. Now however, with the introduction of the Fire stick, the space just got a little more crowded.
As far as form and connectivity goes, there isn’t much difference between the two. Amazon has gone for a simple, flat design, as opposed to the curvy rear end of the Chromecast. Both draw power from a USB connection, although the fire stick comes bundled with a wall charger that can be used to power the dongle directly from a power source. Now here is the catch. Connecting it via USB port would mean a 45 seconds delay every time you try to boot the device. No such problem with the Chromecast. The Amazon device boots instantly when connected with the wall charger though.
As far as the interface goes, Amazon has done a neat job. Its user interface is slick and powerful, with a left handed menu and large tiles dominating the screen space. Chromecast on the other hand, doesn’t have much of an interface, as most of its functionality is through the Android app. And this brings us to the next point – the App. The major difference between the two sticks here is that, the Chromecast needs an app to do pretty much anything with it, even increase the volume, while the Fire stick can work as a standalone system, controlled by a remote. The app functionality is more of an extra for the Fire stick.
Yes, the remote. First of all, it has one, which makes the experience a lot closer to what you would expect with a TV. Unlike the Fire TV box, the Fire stick does not ship with a voice enabled remote, however you can get one for an additional $30. And it doesn’t end there, for an additional $40, you can get a game controller which makes playing games a far more immersive experience. Even though not all games work equally well, this is a definite plus over the Chromecast, which has – well – only a smartphone app doing all this work for it.
The Fire Stick, however, is heavily loaded towards using Amazon’s streaming service and content. The same is evident from its interface which puts Amazon instant content at the fore, and the lack of customisability of the home screen means you can’t do much with that. Accessing your favourite app, say Netflix, may hence be only possible by digging through layers of menu options every time. Given the way Amazon makes money, this is not a big surprise. Using the First stick, you can’t help feeling that a Prime subscription of Amazon instant is the way to get the best out of the device.
Both devices support most of the popular streaming apps that are on the offer today, however, Chromecast supports most of them through a mirroring app, and not natively out of the box. This is another way in which the Fire stick scores over the Chromecast. The problem with mirroring is that the experience is not always equally smooth. Often there is a tiny lag, which can become a major pain, say, while playing games.
With the Chromecast priced at $35 and the Fire Stick at $39, there seems to be some solid reasons for going for the later, least of all the remote and the natively supported apps. But if you believe in keeping things simple, Chromecast, with its app and web support, may still be the right thing for you.