Following in the footsteps of Google Chromecast and the Roku Streaming Stick, Amazon today announced its latest entry in the living room digital media sweepstakes, the Fire TV Stick. Essentially a less expensive version of the Amazon Fire TV, the Fire TV Stick also provides a much smaller form factor. And unlike Chromecast, it comes with a dedicated remote control.
Before getting to the specifics, I'll just mention this one up front: If you are an Amazon Prime subscriber, you can get the Fire TV Stick for just $19 right now. This deal lasts through tomorrow (Tuesday, October 28) only, after which time the device will go back to its normal (and still reasonable) $39 price. So click this link to purchase the Fire TV Stick immediately.
OK, so what do we have here?
First of all, let me clear up the biggest misconception about these kinds of devices. Yes, the Fire TV Stick looks just like a Chromecast, and, yes, we need to at least give Google credit for popularizing this kind of HDMI dongle/streaming stick form factor with its Chromecast. But Fire TV Stick is much more than a Chromecast.
Unlike Google's dongle, which requires a smart phone or tablet, Fire TV Stick is a standalone device. It connects to a vast selection of services, like Netflix, Prime Instant Video, Hulu Plus, WatchESPN, NBA Game Time, Prime Music, Pandora, Spotify, and more, and it has a dedicated remote control. It is, in other words, a direct competitor to the Roku Streaming Stick, which at $49.99 is normally about $10 more than the Fire TV Stick. (Or $30 more for the next two days, for Prime subscribers.)
That price tag, plus the fact that Fire TV Stick is (like Roku, to be fair) a Miracast receiver, could put it over the top for many. Indeed, compared to the $99 Amazon Fire TV, the Fire TV Stick is likewise quite a bargain. (There are some differences, of course. See below.)
How a device looks on paper and how it works in the real world are of course two different things. So I've preordered the Fire TV Stick and will review it as soon as possible. But in the meantime, it looks solid. It's got high-end specs for a streaming stick—a dual-core processor, 1 GB of RAM, 8 GB of storage (!) and a dual-band antenna—and can play Amazon Fire TV games (though it doesn't appear to support the higher-end device's controller.)
Indeed, curious about how this compares to the more expensive Fire TV, I see the following differences: The Stick has a dual-core processor where the full Fire TV has a quad-core processor. You can't do voice control with the Fire TV Stick's remote, however, as you can with Fire TV. (Instead, you can use a smart phone app for voice search, or you can purchase the Fire TV Voice Remote for an additional $29.99.) And there's no Ethernet or optical audio out option on the Stick, of course. In short, nothing surprising or damning.