You don’t need any expensive cable subscriptions or even a smart TV to enjoy your favourite content. A streaming stick can give you access to watch unlimited TV shows, movies, internet content and listen to your favourite tunes for an incredibly small amount of money.
The streaming stick market has been dominated by Amazon Fire TV, Google Chromecast and Roku, with each of them launching their own budget range to help you view more of what you enjoy for less - and discounts are likely to be in plentiful supply during the Prime Day 2020 sale too.
A streaming stick is a small media player than plugs directly into your HDMI port and streams content from apps such as Netflix, Prime Video and Hulu via a wi-fi connection.
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Even if you own a smart TV, having a streaming stick can still upgrade your viewing experience – as whilst your TV may have built-in apps, a streaming stick can give you access to hundreds if not thousands more while offering a better UI and simpler user experience.
So if you’re ready to upgrade your viewing experience, but you’re on a tight budget, we are going to take a look at the three most cost-effective streaming sticks on the market today: the Amazon Fire TV Stick Lite, Roku Express, and Google Chromecast 3rd Gen to help you decide which one is better suited for you.
Fire TV Stick Lite vs Roku Express vs Chromecast: overview
Let's kick off the with Amazon Fire TV Stick Lite, the entry-level streaming stick in the Amazon Fire TV range. But just because it’s entry-level, doesn’t mean that it can’t compete. The Amazon Fire TV Stick Lite is apparently 50% more powerful than previous generations of Fire TV sticks.
This model even features Alexa, allowing you to launch apps and control content using a voice remote. The stick comes with 8GB of storage so you can download your favourite apps with plenty of room to spare.
Next is the Roku Express which offers powerful HD streaming at a low cost. The Roku Express sits alongside the Roku Premiere and the Roku Streaming Stick+. The low price is reflected in some of the features such as no 4K support, a slower chipset and a very basic remote.
However, for the cheapest streaming stick in the Roku family, we think that can be forgiven. It has a whole host of apps including free and premium content so you can find something to watch however unique your niche is.
The Google Chromecast 3rd generation was released in 2018 and acts as a receiver for streaming video and audio directly from your phone or tablet. You simply find what you want to watch and click the small cast icon to send directly to your TV. So there’s no app store or support for 4K streaming (on this model, at least) but for a simple audio and video streaming solution it’s pretty good.
Each of these streaming devices is the cheapest on the market at the moment, and it’s proof that even low cost devices can still be powerful.
The Amazon Fire TV Stick Lite is available for a bargain price of $29.99 / £29.99 / AU$59.99 – with it being the first time a Fire TV model has been available in Australia.
Whilst it’s the cheapest in the Amazon Fire TV range, it’s only a smidge under the regular Fire TV Stick (2020) which is priced at $39. 99 / £39.99 / AU$69.99. If you have a 4K-ready TV or you think you’re going to be investing in one in the future then you may want to pay the extra and go for the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K which is priced at $49.99 / £49.99 AU$89.99.
Roku has always offered streaming devices at a low cost, often undercutting Amazon and Google who to their credit, also try to maintain a low price point. The Roku Express is still priced lower at a mere $30 / £25 / AU$40.
The Google Chromecast 3rd gen matches the Amazon Fire TV Lite price point at $30 / £30 / AU$59. Of course, you don’t quite get the same experience with the Chromecast – as there’s no remote, and you need to use your phone or tablet to be able to stream content on to it.
There’s also no 4K capability, so if that’s what you’re looking for, then it’s worth looking at the Chromecast Ultra which is priced at $90 / £70 / AU$79.
LOWEST PRICE: Roku Express
Roku Express is the cheapest model here in most territories – even if US pricing is the same as the Fire TV Stick Lite. With the great Roku platform and remote, too, this is a great way to get started streaming for little money and little hassle.
Design, specs and features
Amazon Fire TV Stick Lite
If you’re looking for a streaming stick that is both cheap and can guarantee a good picture, then the Amazon Fire TV Stick Lite is for you. It has full HD resolution meaning that if you’re watching it using a 4K-ready TV it will automatically be upscaled to 4K resolution by the processor built into the TV. It also has a high dynamic range (HDR) built-in so that you’ll experience a wider, deeper range of colours as well as better contrast and improved detail. With 8GB of internal storage, it has plenty of room to download your favourite apps.
The remote is a more simplified version than you’d find on other Fire TV models. It’s done away with TV / volume controls and instead just works with the streaming device.
It has a microphone and Alexa voice assistant built-in so you can effortlessly search for the content you want to view. And being able to serve a variety of apps - like Amazon Fire TV Stick VPNs - is a nice touch, too.
The Roku Express makes streaming your favourite TV shows and movies easy. It comes pre-loaded with the most popular streaming apps such as Netflix, NowTV, Apple TV and BBC iPlayer. It also has over 3,500 channels in total with a good mix of free and premium content. This streaming device is one of the easiest ones to set up, and once downloaded the mobile app you can control the Roku from your phone, allowing you to cast your screen as well as listen to your content over headphones.
The Roku Express powered via a micro USB port so you can power it via your TV too (unlike some other models). It also ships with a HDMI cable, so when you consider the price point of this streaming device, the inclusion of these accessories is impressive.
The remote is a basic infrared model, so you won’t enjoy the benefits that come with the other more expensive models. There’s no voice search, volume control or private listening mode. It also operates on a 802.11b/g/n single band wireless antenna so you will need to place it close to your broadband router to ensure a good connection.
The Roku Express can also only handle streams of up to 1080p so if you have a large screen or you’re used to Ultra-HD you may find this performance doesn’t quite meet requirements.
Google Chromecast 3rd gen
The Chromecast has consistently offered good value HD streaming services since they launched. The 3rd generation model is no different. It works by fitting directly in to the HDMI port of your TV and can draw power from the USB port so you don’t need an extra plug socket.
The big difference with this model is the lack of built-in apps; instead, it streams the content via your own phone or tablet. For it to work you’ll need to download the Chromecast and Google Home app which does have some channels but nowhere near the amount the Amazon Fire TV stick or the Roku has. When it comes to picture quality, it doesn’t stream 4K content but it does support high definition so you’ll still get a good viewing experience.
Whilst you don’t need to buy into other Google products in order to use the Chromecast, it is worth noting that it does work really well with Google’s range of smart speakers and allows you to use the voice control to find the content that you want to view.
Fire TV Stick Lite vs Roku Express vs Chromecast: which should you buy?
We can’t make your decision for you, but we will say that if you’re looking for a good picture and a wide choice of apps and channels, then the Amazon Fire TV Stick Lite is the hands-down winner.
However, the Roku Express and Google Chromecast 3rd generation are still good options for their small design, simple infrastructure and ability to be controlled via your phone or tablet.
Both the Amazon Fire TV Stick and Google Chromecast offer faster and stronger processors, so you’ll spend less time waiting for your content to load – but if you’re looking for something quick and easy to set up then Roku Express can suit your needs. Roku throwing in an HDMI cable doesn't hurt, either.
But one thing's for sure, if you’re looking for a streaming device that is going to fit into a small budget, each option is a great foray into the world of streaming.
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