Best media streaming sticks you can buy in 2018

Best media streaming sticks you can buy in 2018
Being the perfect alternatives to heftier Android TV set-top boxes, media streaming sticks are the perfect sidekicks for transforming your dumb TV into a much, much smarter one and streaming content from your Android or iOS phone on it.

Despite the seeming plethora of options, the major players in this tech niche are a few. Google, Amazon, and Roku are most likely to get your money should you opt to get one of these gadgets.

Of course, there are other options available out there, but to be honest, if we were to recommend the very best ones, we will have to forego many of these. Sticking with a bigger name is almost always a better option, provided that you get an adequate bang for your buck.

Roku Streaming Stick+

Price: $59.99

Pros

  • 4K HDR support
  • Lots of exclusive content
  • Comes with its own remote control and HDMI cable

Cons

  • Interface navigation could often be sluggish

The Roku Streaming Stick+ is quite possibly the best deal among the streaming sticks out there. It allows you to stream 4K UHD HDR content to your compatible TV. Of course, 1080p Full HD is also supported, but for all intents and purposes, using an Express+ for 1080p is a bit of an overkill and you'll be better off with a regular Roku Express.

As an added bonus, it comes with a remote control which can be used without the hassle of touching your phone. We have to admit that even though we know our way around, a user-friendly remote is definitely a boon to the overall experience. It even comes with its own HDMI cable, though you are very likely to have one around.

Probably the biggest selling point of the Roku Express+ is the abundance of free and exclusive content. Aside from movies and TV shows available on The Roku Channel, users can also watch live content from ABC News, PeopleTV, Newsy, and many others. Of course, the plethora of popular streaming services and apps you're likely to use--Netflix, YouTube, Hulu--are already supported on the Roku Express.

A big plus of the Roku Express, similar to its larger brother, are the interface and the remote control, which definitely add up to the user experience. Overall, a great offering.

Roku Streaming Stick

Price: $49.99
Get it on Roku's store

Pros

  • Perfect for Full HD 1080p TV sets

Cons

  • Sluggish performance

This alternative to the Google Chromecast will serve the needs of those content enough with 1080p Full HD media.Overall, the Roku Express is pretty much a similar ordeal to the Express+, but only suited for up to 1080p resolutions. It's also a great fit for your secondary TV, which are usually 1080p Full HD or lower ones more often that not.



Amazon Fire TV


Pros

  • Support 4K, 4K HDR, Dolby Atmos
  • Loys of supported video and music services
  • Alexa-powered remote

Cons

  • Ugly design

The "flagship" Amazon streaming box "hijacks" your dumb TV's HDMI port and transforms it into an Alexa-enabled venue to consume all of your content. The Fire TV is a direct competitor to both the Roku Express+ and the ChromeCast Ultra as it supports both 4K UHD and 4K UHD HDR video as well as support for the Dolby Atmos audio standard.

You get Netflix, Amazon's own Prime Video, Hulu, HBO, SHOWTIME, NBC, and a trove of other media streaming services, the Fire Stick will throw at you all of the content you could possibly munch on and then some. Spotify, Vevo, Pandora, and Amazon Music are also a go.

You get an Alexa-powered remote control to go along with your Amazon Fire Stick, which is a superb boon to the overall user experience and usability of Amazon's streaming gadget. That's especially true for folks that are not as tech-savvy as most geeks out there. The power of Alexa and the hundreds of thousands of commands and recipes available seems perfectly tailored to work aside the Fire Stick's remote control.

It's just like an Amazon Echo that you hold in your hands.
 
 

Amazon Fire TV Stick


Pros

  • Compact
  • Great for Full HD TV sets

Cons

  • Some services are missing
  • Voice search doesn't work with many third-party services

The regular Amazon Fire Stick is Amazon's answer to the Roku Express and the Google Chromecast. It has no 4K UHD or HDR (HDR10) support, but does just about anything the larger device does. It does have Dolby Audio, though.

Paired with an Alexa-enabled remote control, the Amazon Fire Stick is great value at $39.99 Coming along with over 500,000 movies and TV shows from Netflix, Amazon's own Prime Video, Hulu, HBO, SHOWTIME, NBC, and a trove of other media streaming services, the Fire Stick will throw at you all of the content you could possibly munch on and then some. Spotify, Vevo, Pandora, and Amazon Music are also a go.

You get an Alexa-powered remote control to go along with your Amazon Fire Stick, which is a superb boon to the overall user experience and usability of Amazon's streaming gadget. That's especially true for folks that are not as tech-savvy as most geeks out there. The power of Alexa and the hundreds of thousands of commands and recipes available seems perfectly tailored to work aside the Fire Stick's remote control. 
   

Google Chromecast Ultra

Price: $69


Pros

  • 4K HDR is a go

Cons

  • No remote control
  • Not very usable on restrictive networks
Google's Chromecast has long been the de facto synonym for a streaming stick, though technically it's more similar to a hockey pug in appearance, if you will. The Ultra version of the device stands out with its ability to stream regular 4K UHD and HDR 4K UHD content, which is a major selling point of the thingamajig. It can hook up to any TV's HDMI port and intercepts any content sent through any of the many cast-enabled apps available on both iOS and Android devices. But the best part is that you can cast content from just about any other eligible source, be it a laptop or a tablet.

Among the cons of the Chromecast could be its constant needs to be connected to an existing network, be it a local or a regular Wi-Fi one. That's a bit unfortunate if you intend to use the stick on, say, a restrictive hotel Wi-Fi as Chromecast don't play well with networks that require complex logins or other form of authentication.

Another drawback is the Chromecast's lack of a dedicated interface or a remote control. Ultimately, you will have to fiddle with your phone or tablet to select and play new content. This might not be the perfect solution for a big portion of users.

Regardless, if you are looking for a super-capable media-centric extension to your phone, the Chromecast Ultra is probably the safest bet. 

Google Chromecast

Price: $35


Pros

  • Perfect for 1080p TVs

Cons

  • No remote control

The regular Chromecast is very affordable right now, especially if your "dumb" TV set isn't physically possible of displaying content above 1080p Full HD. There's no fancy HDR support either, but observing the rather slow and questionable adoption of this up and coming standard, we wouldn't fault you for holding on to standard quality 1080p video quality for a couple of years more. Thus, we'd argue that the regular Chromecast is a better deal than its Ultra companion. 

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