Updated: April 22, 2016
Not that long after purchasing Amazon Fire TV, I got an email telling me of a pre-release price for the Amazon Fire Stick, a Google Chromecast like competitor. With the price of only USD49.99 back then, and now USD39.99, I did the impulsive thing and bought it, much like I did with the HP tablet.
I sure didn't need it, and I wasn't all too impressed with Amazon Fire TV, mostly because of the very high cost of content, but I decided to give a try. Hence this little review. Let's see if the Stick can deliver the same experience as the Fire TV for about half the price. Or perchance, half the price half the delight?
The Fire Stick is a small device that packs quite a lot inside its humble dimensions. The processor and memory capacity do come at exactly half those of the TV gadget, two cores and 1GB RAM, respectively. The internal storage is the same 8GB Flash. There's no Ethernet, nor SD expansion, nor USB ports, all of which the bigger brother supports, and the Wi-Fi connectivity is 802.11a/b/g/n rather than 802.11ac. My model also happens to be a non-voice-remote version.
More on the technical side, the CPU and GPU are different: ARM A9 with frequency up to 1GHz, and video processing by VideoCore4, allowing for smooth 60 FPS at 1080p. The TV supports 4K. So yes, there have to be cardinal hardware differences. But that does not tell us anything how well the little stick works. After all, if the performance and streaming are good, does it really matter what's under the hood?
Setting up the Fire Stick was a breeze, especially compared to the device registration issues that I had with the TV. Within maybe three minutes, the Stick had completed updates, registered my account, and Bob's your uncle.
I was disappointed by the fact you need the power cord. Amazon says for best experience, which probably means you're running heavily underclocked without it, which could cause performance issues. Maybe. But I thought the whole idea was to use this thingie as a USB appliance. If I need to use external power, I might as well go for a nice monstrosity. Plus it looks less cool.
The good and the bad
Anyhow, within minutes, Fire Stick was ready for use. And then, it wasn't. The thing is, network connection. The physical layout of my setup is that there are about 9 meters and two walls between the router and the Fire Stick. Some devices placed in the same spot have no trouble getting decent reception, while others do. Must have to do with the antenna, the power rating, who knows. For instance, my Lenovo Y50 laptop has a dual-band Wi-Fi adapter, and both in the 2.4GHz and 5GHz range, it has excellent reception from the router when placed near the TV. But my Asus VivoBook does not.
Fire Stick shares the same problems with the Asus. It lost connection at least three or four times within five minutes, and that was quite distracting. I wasn't able to enjoy the device seamlessly. Fire TV, located a hand away, was having none of the trouble, and was streaming quite well.
When it did work, the experience is pretty much identical to the Fire TV. I didn't play games, so I am not able to comment on the performance when doing fancy stuff. The streaming in SD and HD was perfectly fine. And of course, the same limits of content availability and price apply. Fire Stick does not solve that.
Fire Stick is a nice, practical little device. I find it more useful than the Rikomagic or Chromecast. True, the use case is slightly different, but still. There's a lot of good stuff packaged into a small box, which is quite a feat, and truly, you don't really need the bigger, more powerful Fire TV if you're only after some streaming.
But there's a catch. Depending on your physical setup, you might not have good enough wireless reception. Amazon's Fire TV product page mentions: Dual-band, dual-antenna Wi-Fi (MIMO) for faster streaming and fewer dropped connections than standard Wi-Fi. So there's that. And for me, this was a big, big problem, making the Stick useless.
So, if you ask me, Fire TV is a much better product. It has Ethernet, which can be a dealbreaker, or lifesaver, depends how you look at it. And the Wi-Fi works much better. Which means you can't really get around the cost. Sometimes, more is more. It does cost twice as much, but it is usable. Fire Stick couldn't really function in my test setup. Last but not the least, the content and price remain a challenge, but that's a big issue with ALL media content providers. Overall, 5/10. We're done.