Google announced its new Chromecast Ultra in 2016 –a digital media player in the dongle form factor. That’s a form factor that a few other companies use too, including Amazon with its Fire TV Stick.
HOWEVER – Amazon just seriously upped the ante with a HUGE update to its Fire TV Stick devices which brings the company’s awesome Alexa to the device. That means you can leverage ALL of Alexa’s skills – and she has a lot of skills – from your HDTV, using the Fire TV Stick.
Amazon also released a new version of its Fire TV Stick, which we’re calling the all new Amazon Fire TV Stick; it’s now available for £39.99 direct from Amazon. And this is what you get with it:
- The next generation of our bestselling Fire TV Stick. The most powerful streaming media stick, with the fastest Wi-Fi and most accurate voice search-now including the Alexa Voice Remote.
- Over 7,000 apps, games and Alexa skills, including Amazon Video, BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, Netflix, YouTube, and more.
- Launch apps and control content with the included Alexa Voice Remote. Simply say, “Launch Netflix” or “Skip ahead 5 minutes” and Alexa responds. Plus, play music, search for local restaurants and more. Just ask.
- 8 GB of storage and 1 GB of memory for apps and games, a quad-core processor, plus 802.11ac Wi-Fi for fast streaming and smooth performance.
- Easily find what you want to watch with search results from Netflix, Amazon Video, Prime Video, and other third-party apps.
- Amazon Prime members get unlimited access to Prime Video, featuring thousands of movies and TV episodes, including The Grand Tour, at no additional cost. Plus, two million songs with Prime Music.
- Pick up where you left off. Bring hit shows and movies with you when you travel. Plug your Fire TV Stick into a TV’s HDMI port, connect to Wi-Fi and continue watching.
- Play current favourites or quickly discover what to watch next directly from the Home screen.
“Not only are we shipping a new Fire TV Stick – a faster and more powerful successor to our fastest-selling UK device ever – we’re also rolling Alexa out to every single Fire TV device in the UK,” said Jorrit Van der Meulen, vice president of Amazon Devices International.
“This will allow millions more customers to access Alexa, meaning they can get answers to questions, use Alexa skills, manage their smart home, or even find things to watch and control playback, just by asking.”
Both are excellent options. But Amazon has one MASSIVE trick up its sleeve with its Amazon Fire Stick – you can easily run Kodi on it and that, dear readers, will do more for your content selection than a VPN ever used to with Netflix in the UK.
You can read our FULL primer on Kodi in order to get better acquainted with the tool. There is a bit of a steep learning curve with the software, but once you’re up and running and have a few addons installed, you’ll never look back – just be sure to stick with it until its working.
Chromecast Ultra, which is the third-generation of Google’s market-dominating stream dongle, is an absolute beast. Not only does it support 4K, but it also has a raft of improvements to how it works, its overall efficiency and supported apps.
The question is, now that Google has a new Chromecast out, is it better than the Fire TV Stick? We looked at both to find out.
Fire TV Stick VS Chromecast Ultra: Design and Specs
On the design front, though both devices are dongles, they take different shapes. The Chromecast Ultra takes the form factor of a disc-shaped dongle that gets plugged into an HDMI port on the side or in back of your TV. The Fire TV Stick takes the form of a USB stick-like dongle with an HDMI port on the end, which you simple slip into the HDMI port on your television. Both devices get plugged into the HDMI port in the back of your TV–in other words, they’ll be out of sight, so do design matter that much?
As for specs, here are the full specs for the Fire TV Stick:
- Output: HDMI
- Processor: 1.2GHz Broadcom Capri 28155, dual-core 2xARM A9
- RAM: 1GB
- Storage: 8GB flash
- Max. Output Video Resolution: 1080p
- Dimensions: 84.9(L) x 25(W) x 11.5(H) mm
- Weight: 25.1g
- Connectivity: 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi
And here are the specs for the Chromecast Ultra:
- Output: HDMI
- Processor: unknown
- RAM: unknown
- Storage: unknown, but 256MB flash likely
- Max. Output Video Resolution: 4K w/HDR (HDR10 & Dolby Vision)
- Dimensions: 58.2 in diameter, 13.7mm (H)
- Weight: 47 g
- Connectivity: Ethernet, 802.11ac Wi‑Fi
As you can see from the specs above, there are several differences between the two. Most importantly, video output. Here, it’s a win for the Chromecast Ultra. Why? Because the Ultra supports video resolutions up to 4K and also supports HDR on top of that. HDR stands for High Dynamic Range and it allows for a more vivid color pallet in video and games including brighter whites, deeper blacks and more natural colors. The caveat here is though more 4K content is available every day on streaming services like Netflix and Prime Video, HDR content is still very limited (you also need a TV capable of 4K and HDR viewing). That being said, 4K alone handedly beats the 1080p quality the Fire TV Stick puts out (the larger Fire TV digital media player does off 4K support-but on the Stick, btw).
The Chromecast Ultra also wins on the Wi-Fi front, supporting 802.11ac, while the Fire TV Stick only supports the slower 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi. For streaming devices, you want the fastest Wi-Fi capabilities possible.
But when we get to RAM and storage, the Fire TV Stick whallups the Chromecast Ultra because it features 8GB of built-in storage and 1GB of RAM. The actual storage and RAM specs of the Chromecast are unknown, but it’s likely only got 256MB of 512MB of storage and around 512MB of RAM. Why the big discrepancy? Because the Chromecast isn’t meant to download and store much information on the device itself–so it doesn’t need the space or RAM speed. It’s only meant to stream content. The Fire TV Stick, on the other hand, allows video, games, and apps to be stored locally on the device.
Fire TV Stick VS Chromecast Ultra: OS and UI
When it comes to UI, the two devices couldn’t be any more different. The Fire TV Stick runs Android with a custom HTML5-based skin. You’ve got various-sized tiles representing different content (movies, games, TV shows) and then on the left fifth of the screen you have a list-type menu which allows you to navigate everything from search to movies to games to settings.
The Chromecast Ultra, on the other hand, doesn’t have any kind of user interface. Since the Chromecast Ultra is essentially just a bridge between your mobile device and your TV, everything you do with it–every way you interact with it–is handled through your mobile device. With the Chromecast Ultra you’ll see no TV interface you navigate around. Because of this, if you don’t have a mobile device on you, the Chromecast Ultra is almost worthless as it by itself doesn’t allow you to browse through or watch any content.
Fire TV Stick VS Chromecast Ultra: Content and Channels
Speaking of content, both devices are pretty well stocked–just in different ways. For the Fire TV Stick and its dedicated interface you get your movies and TV shows via Amazon Prime Video and third party apps like BBC iPlayer, YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, HBO GO, Showtime Anytime, PBS, CNBC, ESPN, and more. With the new Apple TV you also get content in the form of apps and games. Apps can include things like weather and shipping apps and games will be along the lines of casual games that you see on Android smartphones.
The way the Chromecast Ultra handles content is a bit different. As it has no interface, all the content you view on your Chromecast Ultra-connected TV is streamed (or “cast”) directly from your mobile device. This includes movies and TV shows, as well as apps and games. Because of the wealth of movies and TV shows available on Google Play, and the large number of apps that support Chromecast Ultra (Google Play Movies, BBC iPlayer, HBO Go, Hulu Plus, Netflix, Pandora, Vevo, YouTube, and more) you’re likely to pretty much find the same content available on both devices.
Fire TV Stick VS Chromecast Ultra: Remotes
The huge difference between the two devices comes in the remote control department. The Chromecast Ultra doesn’t include a physical remote at all. Your mobile device and the dedicated Chromecast Ultra app are the only remotes you get. Any app that supports Chromecast Ultra works as a remote when your press the Cast button in the app. And the new Google Cast app also has some cool bells and whistles. It now offers a feature called Fast Play, that predicts what you may want to watch next after the show you are watching now and begins to preload a portion of that show so you can begin playing it right away. The Cast app also works as a sort of channel guide, allowing you to search content across all Chromecast Ultra-compatible apps to find what you want to watch next.
The Fire TV Stick also offers app-based remotes for Android and iOS and it too includes a dedicated standard physical remote in the box. This standard remote lets you navigate around the UI with psychical buttons. But Amazon also offers an upgraded remote option for an extra £10 that build’s voice search directly into the Fire TV Stick’s remote. The Voice Remote has a built-in mic. Simply tap the voice button on the remote and speak the name of the TV show, movie, actor, director, or genre you want to watch and the results are displayed on screen. Not only does the Voice Remote work with Amazon Prime Video content, it also works with third-party apps like Netflix.
Fire TV Stick VS Chromecast Ultra: Latest deals
Amazon Fire TV Stick:
Fire TV Stick VS Chromecast Ultra: Verdict
At £34.99 the Fire TV Stick comes in a whopping £35 cheaper than the £69.99 Chromecast Ultra (or £25 cheaper if you opt for the Amazon Voice Remote option). It shows Amazon wants to play ball in the crowded digital media player market and, generally, the Fire TV stick is a better device just because it can act independently–it doesn’t require you to have a smartphone or computer with you to use it since the Fire TV Stick has its own dedicated on-screen UI.
The Chromecast Ultra, however, cannot operate as an independent device. It needs your other devices to connect with it or it can’t show you any content. To me, this is annoying and makes it feel like an inferior digital media player. However, there’s no doubt about it that the Chromecast Ultra offers better image quality with its 4K video and HDR support. The question is, do you want the best video quality out there? Or do you want a digital media player that stands on its own? That choice is up to you.