Don’t compare it to Chromecast
I set out to compare the Fire TV Stick with Chromecast and soon realized that was a mistake.Chromecast has only one function, play whatever video your phone/tablet/computer tells it to. Chromecast turns your television into a big-screen peripheral for your device. That works for a wide range of situations but sometimes you need additional functionality, especially when a phone/tablet/computer isn’t available. This is where set-top boxes like Roku, AppleTV and the original Fire TV become useful. Fire TV Stick doesn’t compete with Chromecast, it competes with those set-top boxes; and that’s a good thing. There’s room for Fire TV Stick AND Chromecast behind your television. For the money you would spend on one of those expensive boxes, you can buy a Fire TV Stick and a Chromecast. They’ll give you all of the functionality you care about and you’ll still have enough money left over for a Chinese dinner with your movie.
Exactly what you need, no more, no less
Fire TV Stick has two main advantages over competing products: price and performance. When you compare it to set-top boxes you find that it provides most of the same features: It streams video from all the usual sources, it has an app ecosystem, it even plays games. It falls short only in very specific areas: It hesitates for a fraction of a second when making menu selections, it doesn’t run video games that have whiz-bang 3D lighting and smoke effects, it doesn’t take up space around your television. In most cases, those limitations won’t apply to you. When you factor price into that consideration, Fire TV Stick is a product that can’t be beat!
It’s time to move past the four-way directional
The one negative aspect of Fire TV Stick is its remote control. I think the Chromecast team are the only product designers on the planet who understand that everyone who streams video has a smartphone in their pocket. Chromecast taught me how unnecessarily complicated remote controls make television and the best interface is no interface at all. Fire TV Stick has a very straightforward interface, but it still has an interface. You HAVE to use the four-direction remote control to navigate a huge hierarchy of menus. Amazon provides a free companion app to use your phone as a remote control. It will give you some extended functionality, like voice search and a keyboard, but it’s still just a remote control. There’s no way to simply push content from your phone or tablet to the screen as you would with Chromecast.
A better video game console than you deserve for $40
I was very pleasantly surprised with the library of video games available to Fire TV Stick. You won’t be playing the latest First Person Shooter with its realistic reflections and ray-traced atmospheric lighting. But you can play Sonic the Hedgehog with no noticeable lag. I bought the double dragon trilogy just for the hell of it and remembered how bad I am at those games. But what really surprised me was that my all-time favorite game, Carmageddon, was available. Even though the game is around 20 years old, it’s 3D and it’s fast-paced. Though I had trouble with the controls, I was able to play enough of it to see that performance was flawless. One side note about the controls, I didn’t purchase the official Amazon Game Controller. I already own a Nyko Playpad Pro and found it almost fully compatible with the Fire TV Stick. So far every game has worked perfectly, except the steering in Carmageddon. Even without steering, I was able to get halfway through the first track and waste two opponents. Yeah, I’m that good at Carmageddon. I assume steering would work with the official controller, and I love the game enough to seriously consider that purchase.
Unless you have a very specific need that only one of the more expensive boxes can provide, Fire TV Stick is the answer for you. At $40 it’s almost an impulse buy and you get a lot for your money. Even if you own a Chromecast, Fire TV Stick is still worth consideration. I own three Chromecasts and I still see a place for the Fire TV Stick behind my television.
Matthew Wilber is a professional web developer and frequent blogger. Read more at mwilber.com