A Smart TV is the device of choice for those seeking access to their favorite streaming services and apps. However, there is an alternative to upgrading to a television with a built-in smart platform: you can add one yourself.
The Amazon Fire TV Stick is among a handful of popular products that essentially makes your TV ‘smart’ if it doesn't connect to the internet. The Fire Stick is a dongle that attaches to the HDMI port of your TV and connects online to access the content. If you have an older TV, an Amazon Fire TV Stick may be right for you.
The Fire TV Stick is about the size of a thumb drive at just over 3 inches in length. One end features an HDMI connector that plugs into the HDMI port of your TV. Once you plug it in, you simply connect to the internet, log into your Amazon account and begin watching.
Fire TV Sticks offer a range of apps, including new and popular streaming services as well as older entertainment platforms. That includes Disney+ and HBO Max, along with mainstays such as YouTube and Spotify.
While the Fire Stick is free to use and available apps are free to install, you will need a subscription to the various services in order to enjoy viewing. Some options come with a free trial.
There are three main types of Amazon Fire TV Sticks available. All three are reasonably priced, feature 8 GB of storage (which is more than enough for downloading apps) and are compatible with HDR content.
This main model offers Full HD content. It includes a remote that can be set up to control the power and volume of your TV and also navigate the platform’s interface. It also features buttons that go directly to four apps: Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ and Hulu.
This Fire TV Stick 3rd generation model also caters to Dolby Atmos, which is a high-quality sound technology offered by a majority of news shows and films.
The Lite option comes in at a lower price by sacrificing a bit of control. While it includes a remote, it does not control your TV. What’s more, it does not support Dolby Atmos.
This top-tier Fire TV Stick provides access to content in 4K resolution. Also known as Ultra High Definition resolution, 4K features 33 million pixels, which is about four times as many pixels as Full HD resolution. Most new films and series are shot in 4K. However, you’ll want to make sure you have a 4K TV as well as access to 4K content. While some streaming services like Amazon Prime Video only have one membership tier, others like Netflix require an additional fee to view 4K content.
While this remote control will operate the volume and power of your TV like the flagship model, it does not include one-push buttons that go directly to specific apps.
One of the biggest draws of the Fire TV Stick is its compatibility with Amazon’s virtual assistant, Alexa. It allows you to control other connected, compatible devices such as lights, a video doorbell or the thermostat. Users also gain free access to IMDb TV, a service owned by Amazon. Overall, it’s an affordable way to make a TV ‘smart.’
Amazon’s agreements with other competitors determine what’s available on the Fire Stick. While there are no notable streaming services absent at the moment, users are not able to access the Google Play Store, which is where you might rent or buy new films — you'll have to use Amazon Prime Video instead.
A strong internet connection is a necessity, particularly for the 4K Fire TV Stick. Dongles are typically slower than smart platforms that are built into the TV. Lastly, since the Fire TV Stick takes up an HDMI port, you may not have enough available for other devices depending on the TV. Consider whether you’re hooking up a gaming console, soundbar or Blu-ray player.
It’s worth mentioning the alternatives to the Amazon Fire TV Stick to best assess its value. Roku Streaming Stick is a popular competitor that’s similar in price and appeals to those who aren’t partial to Amazon products. Two other notable sticks are Google’s Chromecast and Apple TV, both of which are best used by consumers who enjoy other products from the company.
Amazon also recently released the Amazon Fire TV Cube that enhances the features of the Fire Stick. This larger device sits on a nearby shelf or TV stand instead of plugging into the back of the TV. It includes a speaker and microphone so that you can communicate with Alexa, providing a hub for your smart home. This retails around $120. Lastly, you can opt for a budget-friendly smart TV with Fire TV built in, such as this option from Insignia.
The various Fire TV Stick models are priced between $30 and $50, comparable to similar models from competitors. However, Amazon frequently puts their products on sale and offers discounts and bundles along with other services and devices.
The Fire TV Stick is ideal for those who want access to streaming platforms on their TV and would rather not upgrade and invest in a new smart TV. Even if you already own a smart TV, it may not have access to more recent streaming services like HBO Max or Disney+ if it’s an older model; the Fire Stick can be used to supplement the existing platforms. What’s more, you can take the Amazon Fire Stick with you as you travel in case you don’t have access to a TV with a smart platform.
Whether you enjoy other Amazon products and services may determine if the Fire TV Stick is worthwhile. If you don’t use Alexa or aren’t invested in Amazon Prime Video, you may find the extra features superfluous and even distracting as the Fire TV will promote Amazon content.
For those with a weaker internet connection in their home, you may want to invest in an Ethernet adapter for your Fire TV Stick. This allows you to directly connect to your router for a more reliable connection.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
The Fire TV Stick is a budget-friendly way to make a TV ‘smart.’ This sizable 4K TV by Sceptre doesn’t contain a smart platform but offers plenty of value when connected to a streaming stick.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
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Anthony Marcusa writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.