You want apps for your TV, you want them in 4K HDR and you want a great and reasonably priced media streamer to do the job but which one do you buy, the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K or the Chromecast with Google TV? It’s an excellent question. Both have five-star reviews from What Hi-Fi? but that doesn’t mean that they’re exactly the same. Let’s take a deeper dive.
If you think that all media streamers are created equally then prepare to think again. There are few key matters to consider when trying to find the right one. The most obvious is to make sure that they’ve got all the apps you’re looking for. Not all will carry your favourite video streaming services and not all in the codecs you need. Also consider presentation and usability. Some are quicker to navigate then others and offer better search facilities.
Features are key if you’re looking to support certain HDR and audio standards to match your home cinema or TV audio set-up, and then there’s performance. Some just look and sound better, or at least slightly different, to others.
Fortunately with the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K and Chromecast with Google TV, both are at the top of the game. So, if you’ve narrowed it down to just these two, then rest assured that you can’t go far wrong.
The differences in price may be small for these devices but every penny counts at this more budget end of the media streamer market.
At launch the Chromecast with Google TV was the more expensive of the two devices at £60/$50 while the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K was a touch cheaper, £50/$40. At the time of writing that gap has changed with the Chromecast still the same but the Fire Stick 4K available at a cut-price £35 in the UK.
The real trick, of course, is to catch these devices while they’re on sale, as they frequently are. Amazon Prime Day and other peak trading times are classic moments to grab them on the cheap or as part of a bundle.
With the Chromecast considerably newer, standalone discounts are harder to come by but you will find bundles such as the free giveaways YouTube TV subscriptions. Keep an eye out on Google’s store if you’re also in the market for another Google devices such as a Pixel smartphone or Google Home speaker.
The Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K has been around since the end of 2018 and we’ve seen since it drop to as low as £30/$29. We fully expected to get down to those reaches again in the coming months but do be warned that, owing to its age, a new version of the Fire TV Stick 4K is likely to launch at some point soon.
**Winner** Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K – often cheaper and as little as half the price of the Chromecast when bought on sale.
Both of these dongle-based streamers come from a similar design ethos: make it small and keep it out of sight. They slot into one of your TV’s HDMI ports and require their own power through a USB cable that needs to run between the streamer and a wall socket.
The penny toffee-shaped Chromecast is a little more touchy feely. It comes in a choice of three colours – Snow (white), Sunrise (pink) or Sky (blue) – whereas it’s just plain gun metal grey for the Fire Stick. That’s no big deal for these dongles themselves, given that they’re tucked away, but the matching remotes of the Chromecast certainly look cheerier.
The voice remote was an all-new feature introduced with this particular Chromecast model and it lifts the Google streamer’s usability right up to the excellent level of the Fire Stick. Both remotes are a good size, well thought out and allow very quick and natural search and control of your on-screen experience. You can also use them to power on and off your TV as well as turn the volume up and down too.
In terms of pure usability, though, the Chromecast is streets ahead, at least until the latest Fire TV Experience UI arrives. The voice search functions are equally excellent but the results you get on the Amazon streamer are very heavily weighted towards content found on Prime Video even when you might have it for free on other services.
That bias is even more obvious on the Home page which, although better than it used to be, feels a little too much like an opportunity for Amazon to sell you its TV and films. Of course, that’s a perfectly understandable approach given the very low price of this stick but the latest Google TV platform, found on this Chromecast and now smart TVs such as those from Sony and TCL, has removed those shackles.
The For You home page is a genuinely useful content discovery tool. Content is organised into helpful rows of suggestions, including quite a few categories we’ve never seen on other services, such as Neo-noir, Futuristic Shows, Films about Robots and Space exploration movies. You can refine the AI by telling it what you’ve already seen but, even from the off, it has a pretty decent handle on our tastes.
When you track down a film or TV show that you have rights to watch on multiple services, Google TV gives you the choice of service and will even default to the cheapest or free option where possible, rather than trying to sell you the version from Google’s own catalogue.
The UI on the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K is still perfectly intuitive and easy to navigate. You won’t struggle in the slightest to find the apps or shows you need. Once the upgraded version of the Fire TV OS arrives, it should also deliver something similar on the recommendations front to the Chromecast. However, until that turns up, Google wins here.
**Winner** Chromecast – while we wait for the Fire TV Stick 4K to get the latest version of the Fire TV OS, it’s the superior usability of Google TV that gets the win.
Apps are, of course, key to this particular face-off. For many, the purchase of a low-cost media streamer like these is purely for access to those services which their TV can’t manage.
At the time of writing, the only notable absentees for Amazon are Rakuten and Google Play Movies & TV. The Apple TV experience isn’t the best – you can’t buy new content using the Fire TV app but you can watch anything you already own or choose to buy using another device such as a mobile or laptop. It’s also worth noting that there is Dolby Atmos is not available on Netflix content.
These niggles aside, the Fire TV Stick 4K is very, very well stocked for app support and will deliver virtually everything you could need. Apple TV and Prime Video make excellent PAYG options for films and TV, and all the other subscription streaming services are available, for sports and entertainment, no matter whether you’re in the US or the UK.
The Chromecast is not quite so stellar in this department and that could well become a deal-breaker for some customers. For the UK, Chromecast has no BT TV app and is also missing the All 4 catch-up service, Twitch, Amazon Music, Britbox and Now TV.
That’s mitigated by the fact that you can get around this by casting those missing services to your streamer from a Chromecast-enabled smartphone, tablet or computer. It’s a decent solution but it does rely on having one of those devices to hand and with enough charge in the battery.
The only time this won’t do as a workaround is with Apple Music and Apple TV and that’s a loss worth considering given the wealth of 4K films on offer on iTunes. Granted, there are already PAYG film and TV options from the Google Play Movies & TV and Prime Video, the latter of which has content available in Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos, but that many not placate anyone who has already paid for content with Apple.
Lastly, it’s also worth mentioning that there are currently issues with the Disney Plus app on Chromecast, meaning that Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos are unavailable until a DRM issue has been resolved.
**Winner** Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K – Almost complete app coverage from Amazon. Small but significant gaps for Google.
In absolute terms, these two media streamers are equally good performers but it’s worth drilling down into their strengths and weaknesses in case they reveal facets particular to your needs.
Both streamers support the HDR10, HDR10+, Dolby Vision and HLG standards with 4K video at up to 60fps. They’re also all set for 3D audio with Dolby Atmos, although it should be noted that there’s no Atmos on Netflix with the Fire Stick.
Equally, the Chromecast doesn’t have an option for auto frame rate matching of your TV to your content, although you can select different frame rates manually. Either way, it didn’t cause any issues in our testing.
In terms of actual picture quality, there’s very little to separate the two at all. They render images which are sharp, textured and tonally very well balanced when it comes to HDR viewing, and that makes for an excellent experience.
Colours for both are deep and natural while still maintaining enough nuance of production to give a sense of realism to the picture. Given the right source material both will deliver clean and exciting viewing.
Performance is obviously less stellar with SDR but, again, each gets full marks here. Both produce pictures with a touch of noise and light levels are not quite as expertly handled without the helpful metadata of HDR but detail levels are decent and their pictures remain colour accurate.
The real difference for these two in performance is instead with the sound. The audio from both is good for the money but they’ll appeal to different tastes. The Chromecast has an excellent sense of rhythmic drive. It’s precise, clear and that allows us to pick up on some lovely moments of detail. When streaming music it sounds crisp.
The Fire Stick isn’t quite so good on this front but is dynamically superior. There’s a better sense of depth to the sound which adds more feeling to voices and instruments for music.
For the AV experience, that difference translates to more impact and spaciousness to the sound with the Fire TV Stick 4K at the expense of clarity for both dialogue and sound effects. Those who don’t mind missing out a touch on the big hits of action films and some of that sense of atmosphere should opt for the Chromecast and never miss a word instead. For pure drama, the Fire TV Stick 4K wins.
**Draw** Both excellent for video. Amazon has a bigger feel to the audio but the Chromecast is clearer and more rhythmic.
Both of these media streamers make excellent choices and this is not only a very close call but one which may entirely depend on individual needs.
With little difference in price and performance, the difference boils down to one of apps versus usability and, given that the main purpose of budget media streamers like these is to make up for what’s missing in your smart TV, having a more complete app offering is what tips the scales here.
The Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K has users almost completely covered for video and music services. There are stacks of 4K content available in both PAYG and subscription format. Only those with considerable pre-existing libraries on Google Play Movies & TV and Rakuten should reconsider. Otherwise, the Fire Stick is the sensible option.
There are good reasons to go for the Chromecast instead, however, not least of which is the excellent Google TV UI. It’s slick, good looking and, crucially, serves as a superb content recommendation engine. If you’re stuck looking for what to watch next, there’s a better chance that it’s going to solve your problem, and quickly.
As such, if missing Apple TV isn’t a problem, then you should rightly be tempted to shop Google, particularly in the States where there aren’t so many native app gaps which require casting from mobile.
For the best all round offer right now, though, it has to be the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K. It’s clear, convenient and the more complete.
**Winner** Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K