Streaming dongles are some of the most popular platforms for media consumption today. Which one works best for you?
I personally have 2 Chromecast devices and a Fire TV Stick from Amazon. A lot of people use Roku sticks or boxes, but I have not personally worked with them. When people ask which I’d recommend getting, it very much depends on your use case. I’ll run through some basics to hopefully inform anyone researching a streaming dongle.
The Chromecast is a neat little piece of equipment. I picked one up a few years back when they first came out. It was so useful that I picked one up to put in my oldest son’s room when we moved him upstairs.
They’re compatible with a ton of different streaming services. All of Google’s services work flawlessly: Play Music, Play TV, and YouTube. Netflix also works pretty well, but will occasionally glitch out. This can usually be fixed by restarting the Netflix app, or disconnected and then connecting again.
Hiccups have been relatively minimal. There are occasions where I can’t seem to connect at first, but they’re usually pretty easy to work out.
One really nice feature is the ability to screen cast from a Chrome browser window. You can use this as almost like a second monitor for some material. If you cast Netflix from a browser tab, the Chromecast automatically changes from screen mirroring to a control mode so you aren’t double casting.
When you have guests over, you don’t have to give them access to your WiFi to stream something. The Chromecast has a guest mode that users can hop on with a randomly generated code. I haven’t used this feature much, but it is better than having to share out your WiFi login information with everyone.
One issue that took me a while to figure out is that old Chromecast models do not support 5GHz internet connections. If your router is on a 5GHz mode, the Chromecast device will not be recognized by your phone, tablet, or computer. Note: the newest model of Chromecast does have 5GHz connectivity, so this only applies to old models.
Though Chromecast does support a ton of streaming services, it is missing a few key ones. Amazon services are exclusive to Amazon streaming products. Last I checked, I don’t believe Sling TV is available on Chromecast. There are a few other big names that simply aren’t available on the platform. If you use these regularly, Chromecast may not be for you.
Chromecast is controlled entirely from your phone, tablet, or computer. There is no physical remote to control the content. For some people, this is a deal breaker. For me, this is just one less thing I have to keep up with. I rarely know where the actual TV remote is. On the other hand, I usually have some sort of phone or laptop within arm’s reach to control with.
Fire TV Stick
After hearing about Sling TV from Dish, I decided to pick up an Amazon Fire TV Stick for my bedroom. Sling is one of the few services not supported by Chromecast, and I was genuinely considering subscribing before I found a workaround to watch sports.
One thing a lot of people rave about with the Fire TV Stick is that it has a dedicated remote. They want something specifically to keep on a side table or somehow keep it nearby. If you don’t want to use the remote, there is also a Fire stick app for Android and I believe iOS that you can control the Fire stick from.
The Fire TV Stick is very finicky for me. Netflix works fine. I’ve heard from several people that Dish Sling works great as well. Everything else seems terrible to me. The interface for YouTube and TwitchTV are absolute garbage. Playback takes forever to start. YouTube videos will tie up the Fire stick and you have to spam the back or home button to get out. Audio and video will occasionally get out of sync, and you have to get out of the application for it to start working right.
As I mentioned previously, I use a lot of Google’s streaming services, especially Google Play Music. Fire TV Stick does not support these services, so it’s something to consider if you use them.
Similar to Chromecast, the Fire TV Stick does not support 5GHz internet. This may have been remedied in later versions, but mine does not have it. The Fire TV app only works if both my phone and the dongle are connected to a 2.4GHz band.
If you mostly use Netflix and YouTube, the Chromecast is the way to go. It’s more reliable, the interface is better, and it feels more fluid and responsive.
If you absolutely have to have a physical remote, Amazon has you covered. If Google has created a Chromecast physical remote, I don’t know about it.
Obviously, your subscription services play the biggest role in the decision. If you stream Google Play Music like I do, Chromecast is the only streaming dongle that supports it. If you’re an Amazon Prime subscriber and use their video/music streaming services, the Fire TV Stick is the only way you’ll be able to watch it on your TV.
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