You want apps for your TV, you want them in 4K HDR, and you want a reasonably priced media streamer to sort it all out for you with minimal fuss and effort.
Both the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K and the Chromecast with Google TV have five-star reviews from What Hi-Fi? – but that doesn't mean they're exactly the same. So, which one should you choose? Let's take a deeper dive.
All media streamers are not created equal, and you need to consider a few key matters when choosing the one that's right for you. Most obviously, you need to make sure it has all the apps you're looking for. Not all will carry your favourite video streaming services and not all in the codecs you might need.
You should also consider presentation and the usability of the device. Some will be quicker and easier to navigate your way around than others, and may 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, of course, there's performance. Some simply look and sound better than – or at least different from – others.
You should have no problem in this instance, though: the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K and Chromecast with Google TV are both at the top of the table. So, if you've narrowed it down to just these two, you can rest assured you won't go far wrong.
The difference in price between these devices may be small, but every penny counts at this end of the media streamer market.
At launch, the Chromecast with Google TV was the more expensive of the two, at £60/$50, with the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K coming in at £50/$40. At the time of writing, that gap has broadened a touch, with the Chromecast costing the same, but the Fire Stick 4K now available at a cut-price £45 in the UK.
Which highlights the real trick, of course – to catch these devices while they are on sale, as they frequently are. Amazon Prime Day and other peak trading times are classic moments to grab a device such as this on the cheap or as part of a bundle.
The Chromecast is considerably newer than the Fire TV Stick, so standalone discounts are harder to come by, but you can sometimes find it in bundles such as the free giveaways YouTube TV subscriptions. And keep an eye on Google's store if you are also in the market for another Google device 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 have seen its price drop to as low as £30/$29 on occasions. We wouldn't be surprised to see it come down again in the coming months, but be warned that a new version of the Fire TV Stick 4K is likely to launch at some point soon – and that would replace the current version and bring with it, no doubt, a price bump.
**Winner** Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K – cheaper and sometimes as little as half the price of the Chromecast when bought on sale.
Both of these dongle-based streamers have 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); 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 Chromecast's matching remote control certainly looks cheerier than the Fire Stick's.
Voice control 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 and well thought out, and they each allow quick and natural search and control functions of your on-screen experience. You can 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 effective, but the results you get from the Amazon streamer are heavily weighted towards content found on Prime Video even when you might get it 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 programming and films. Of course, that's a perfectly understandable approach given the low price of this dongle, 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 haven't 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 have already seen, but it has a pretty decent handle on our tastes right from the off.
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 such as these is purely for access to those services that 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. It's also worth noting that Dolby Atmos is not available on Netflix content.
These niggles aside, the Fire TV Stick 4K is extremely 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.
Those omissions are somewhat mitigated by the fact that you can get around things 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, and that might be enough to make some potential customers think twice.
The only time this won't do as a workaround is with Apple Music. Until recently, that was also the case for Apple TV but Google has added app support for the Apple TV and Apple TV+ services onto this Chromecast device, and that's a huge plus.
Apple TV has a wealth of 4K films on offer on iTunes. We would argue that its catalogue of films for rent and purchase is second to none right now, particularly when it comes to HDR, Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos content, all of which are supported when accessing the Apple TV app via the Chromecast with Google TV.
What's more, those purchases can be made in-app when using the Chromecast, unlike on the Amazon device.
At the time of writing, the appearance of Apple TV content on the Google TV home page or in the universal search isn't consistent across regions, but this should be evened out soon. Either way, the integration of this content still feels superior to the way it's handled on the Fire TV OS.
The only other noteworthy consideration for the Chromecast is that there are currently issues with the Disney Plus app: Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos content is unavailable until a DRM issue has been resolved. Again, this should be ironed out in the relatively short term.
**Draw** Neither is perfect but all the big services are available on both platforms one way or another – a good job from both Amazon and 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 are also all set for 3D audio with Dolby Atmos, although, as stated above, there's no Atmos content 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 that are sharp, textured and tonally well balanced when it comes to HDR viewing, and that makes for an excellent experience.
Colours on 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 terms comes, instead, with the sound they provide. The audio from both is good for the money, but they will appeal to different tastes. The Chromecast has an excellent sense of rhythmic drive. It's precise and 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 it 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 that may depend entirely on individual needs.
With little to separate them in terms of price and performance, the difference boils down to one of usability – and it's here where Google TV excels. It's slick, good looking and, crucially, serves as a superb content recommendation engine. If you're stuck for what to watch next, there's a better chance that it's going to solve your problem – and quickly – and that's an extremely valuable feature when time is short.
Amazon will be countering this by adding the new Fire TV experience UI to either this or an entirely new Fire TV Stick 4K some time this year, no doubt. That will certainly up its usability game. However, from what we have seen of the updated interface, it's still not quite as impressive as Google TV.
The win for the Chromecast here doesn't necessarily mean that it is the right device for everyone, though. There are slight differences in the app offerings that are worth noting. You'll have to be content to cast certain services (Now TV, BT TV, All 4 Twitch, Amazon Music and Britbox) from your mobile or tablet with the Chromecast. That could become tiresome and these aren't fringe considerations for everyone.
Likewise, anyone with considerable pre-existing libraries on Google Play Movies & TV or Rakuten should give the Fire TV Stick a swerve or they will find themselves rather left out in the cold.
On balance, then, it is the Chromecast with Google TV that we recommend. There are more PAYG film and TV options, better access to 4K HDR content and the user experience is first class.
Let us know what shows it helps you discover.
**Winner** Chromecast with Google TV