Amazon just announced the Fire TV stick, a cheap streaming media dongle, which looks a lot like Google's Chromecast, and the Roku streaming stick. But there some important differences that might make each device slightly better suited to different people.
We'll have a full review of the Fire TV stick soon; you can check out our Roku and Chromecast reviews as well. But in the meantime, there's still plenty to dissect as far as what each of these streaming dongles can offer.
Specs aren't everything, but it's worth noting that the Fire TV Stick is positively juiced compared to its competitors. It's got 8GB of built-in flash storage and 1GB of memory, compared to 2GB of built-in storage and 512MB of memory on the Chromecast, and 256MB of storage and 512MB of memory on the Roku Streaming Stick.
That extra memory should make the Fire TV Stick cruise faster than its competitors. The built-in storage might not mean much—these are built for streaming more than storing—were it not for Amazon's ASAP service, which automatically downloads stuff Amazon predicts you're likely to watch so that you don't have to wait for the content to buffer.
Additionally, the Fire TV Stick uses dual-band Wi-Fi, where the others only have single band Wi-Fi. Still, rumor has it the Chromecast is about to get a Wi-Fi boost.
Each of the three dongles gets you access to an enormous world of media over Wi-Fi, but each goes about it a little differently. We'll dig into the particulars in more detail below, but here's the basics of how each device works.
Chromecast: You can beam content over to your TV using a smart device or your computer. Some apps come Chromecast-ready, so they jump over to your TV with sweet native smoothness. You can also beam anything that's running in a Chrome browser over.
Roku Streaming Stick: You primarily interact with the Roku Streaming Stick through a TV-based interface. You navigate through different channels using either Roku's app or the included remote. There's some limited mirroring, too.
Fire TV Stick: Basically splits the difference between Roku and Chromecast. There's an on-screen interface you use to navigate content from downloaded apps, a bit like the stick's grown-up Fire TV sibling. You can also beam stuff over from your phone.
Here, it's also worth mentioning Microsoft's $60 wireless display adaptor. It doesn't do apps. It only mirrors, and it's not really competitive with the products we're discussing in this post.
Chromecast: You can only control the content sent to you Chromecast from your phone, tablet, or computer. There is no separate hardware remote.
Roku Streaming Stick: You select content on the Roku Streaming Stick using either the included remote or the Roku app for Android and iOS. Unlike more expensive Rokus, the Stick doesn't support private listening or motion control for games.
The popular apps chart from the Fire TV Stick's product page (above) does a good job of breaking down native support for the main services people would want to use: YouTube, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu Plus, Netflix, Twitch, ESPN. All the sticks have mostly everything.
And as you can see, each device has its hole. Fire TV Stick doesn't support HBO Go. Chromecast doesn't support Amazon Instant Video. Roku doesn't support the now Amazon-owned Twitch.
If you want to spread out past the basics, Roku definitely has the most extra services, with "thousands" of channels available. Both the Fire TV Stick and Chromecast have hundreds of additional apps. And Chromecast's mirroring powers mean that anything that fits in your browser can make it to your TV screen.
There's no real competition when it comes to games. The Fire TV Stick supports hundreds of games, and the stick is designed specifically to work with Amazon's game controller. Both Roku Streaming Stick and Chromecast offer some games, but it's not central to their design.
If your favorite app isn't supported, the mirroring options on each of these devices will help you get additional content up onto your TV.
Fire TV Stick: You can mirror the content that's on your Android (or Fire OS) device on your TV. Which means that if you can display the media on your phone, it can be displayed on your TV.
Chromecast: As with the Fire TV Stick, you can mirror your Android device. Chromecast also adds mirroring on iOS and on computers through the Chrome browser, which means that if you want to display the content on your computer or your iPhone, the Chromecast might be a better bet.
Roku Streaming Stick: Support for mirroring is pretty limited, but the Roku app will let you throw over media that's stored locally on your phone or tablet.
If you're a Prime subscriber (you should be!), the Fire TV Stick is getting blown out for $20 until Wednesday morning, which makes it a pretty incredible deal. After Wednesday, though, the Fire TV Stick goes up to $40, which puts it smack between the cost of the $35 Chromecast, and the $50 Roku Streaming Stick.
It's hard to say that one of these is necessarily better than the other, especially until we get a chance to play with the Fire TV ourselves. But if you're thinking about buying one, hopefully this'll help you prioritize.