Two streaming solutions, both alike in dignity, from fair Amazon, where we make our choice. … Which should you buy? We’ve got your answer.
When it comes to plugging into your television, Amazon has two options that’ll tempt you to open your wallet. OK, three. Sort of. Do a quick search for "Fire TV" on Amazon and you’ll find the "Fire TV Stick," and the new "All-New Fire TV with 4K Ultra HD and Alexa Voice Remote." (I’ll be referring to it as the "Fire TV dongle." The latter is the latest model, released in October 2017, and normally runs $69. (If you can get it on sale, do it! The former was released in 2016 (there was a new model for 2017 for use outside the U.S.) and is $39.
None of this is going to bust your budget. And both streamers do pretty much the same thing, and are nearly identical on screen. They give you access to Amazon’s Appstore (and Amazon Music, let you watch all sorts of streaming video, and play all kinds of games. (Because, again, apps.)
Let’s take a look at the differences.
Fire TV Stick vs. Fire TV — the specs
Category | Fire TV Stick | Fire TV 4K
|Form factor||HDMI stick||HDMI dongle|
|Release date||September 2016||October 2017|
|OS||Fire OS 5 (Android 5.1)||Fire OS 6 (Android 7.1)|
|Supported resolution||Up to 1080p||4K|
|Processor||MediaTek 8127D quad-core (32-bit)||Amlogic S905Z|
|GPU||Mali-450 MP4||Mali-450 MP3|
|Bluetooth||4.1||BT 4.2 + LE|
|See at Amazon||Fire TV Stick||Gen 3 4K|
Fire TV Stick vs. Fire TV — what you need to know
The specs tell a pretty clear story. The new Fire TV dongle adds support for HDR10, but doesn’t have expandable storage, or an ethernet port. (While it’s not yet announced, those are both things I’d expect to see in a refresh to the old Fire TV box.)
All of these models do the same things. They plug into your TV, connect to the Internet and your Amazon account, and let you download apps and watch videos and stuff.
But one of them does it better than the other. That’s something you can glean from the specs — the new Fire TV dongle has more powerful internals and updated software compared to the older and less expensive Fire TV Stick
What you’ll find is that both of them get the job done. What you’ll also find is that the Fire TV dongle does it better, with the addition of HDR.
Why you should get the Fire TV dongle over the Fire TV Stick
The Amazon Fire TV dongle. ($69 at Amazon)
For my money — and let’s be clear here, while $69 isn’t nothing, it’s not a whole lot of money — I’d get the Fire TV dongle.
A couple reasons why:
First: I like the dongle form factor. Yeah, you lose a couple of important features in expandable storage and ethernet. And if those two things are deal-breakers for you, the Fire TV box still works great, or you could wait for a refresh.
Second: HDR is a big deal. It takes what otherwise is a ho-hum stream and makes it better. When you’re talking about upscaling streamed content on a 4K TV, bytes need every little bit of help they can get. While it’s disappointing to not have Dolby Vision on board — it’s a proprietary, better version of HDR and simply isn’t supported by the processor in this case — it’s also not available on any of Amazon’s Fire TV devices yet. So that’s a wash.
You can get by with the Fire TV Stick, but get more out of the box for that extra $30.
The Fire TV dongle also has better hardware. And when it comes to this sort of thing — decoding video and running apps — better hardware almost always leads to a better experience. That’s definitely true when it comes to the Fire TV. It won’t blow the doors off other streaming devices. But when it comes to these two, it’s definitely the victor. Better processor, better GPU. That means better performance.
Also: If you’ve got a 4K television — that’s the newfangled resolution that’s also referred to as UHD — then the Fire TV dongle also is the right call, as it’s the only one here that handles that many pixels. The Fire TV stick is limited to a 1080p resolution.
There are a few other minor differences, but those are the big ones you should worry about.
And moreover, when given a choice that’s within my budget I always get as much tech as I can. It won’t necessarily future-proof the device. For as much better as Fire TV is over the stick, it’s still not the same as getting a couple hundred dollars worth of hardware.
But in this case, the new $69 Fire TV dongle is the right decision.
Updated April 2018: It’s time for the OG Fire TV box to disappear, and so it has.
April 11, 2018 at 09:05AM