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Best Streaming Sticks in 2020

Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K

Source: CordCutters (Image credit: CordCutters)

Whether you want to add more apps to your smart TV or else equip an HDTV with streaming functionality, there are a ton of streaming sticks available to choose from. The Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K is one of the best, thanks to its excellent functionality, Alexa integration, and sheer volume of content. If you're interested in something outside of the Amazon ecosystem, we've gathered a few others below - choose the one that best fits your needs!

Best Overall: Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K

Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K remote

Source: CordCutters (Image credit: CordCutters)

The Fire TV Stick 4K is fast, compact, powerful, and — best of all — incredibly affordable. coming in at just $50, it's one of the most affordable 4K streaming devices on the market. You wouldn't know that from looking at it, though.

For one, Amazon's Alexa Voice Remote has never been better. It looks slick, it feels great in the hand, and it's armed with Amazon's powerful AI assistant. This allows you to do a whole lot more than stream content — you can have Alexa display everything from the weather forecast to movie listings.

The Fire TV Stick 4K is also a beefcake in the hardware department, allowing for lightning-fast streaming of even the highest-quality video. Menus are responsive, with a huge selection of different apps and games to choose from. And its support for multiple video formats means content pretty much always looks great.

Unfortunately — and here's the biggest drawback — Google Play and iTunes are not among them. As such, if you're in a Google household, you're probably better off going with the ChromeCast Ultra, or else one of Roku's offerings. If you're a fan of Amazon's products and services, though?

This one's a must-buy.

Pros:

  • Excellent voice search via Amazon Alexa
  • Affordable compared to other 4K sticks
  • Support for a wide range of video and streaming formats

Cons:

  • No support for Google Play or Google Home
  • Ethernet requires an adapter

Easiest to Use: Roku Streaming Stick Plus

Roku Channel

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If there's one thing Roku's streaming devices have going for them, it's ease of use. The search functionality on the Roku Streaming Stick + is absolutely peerless, with a ton of different options for sorting your results. And though it's menus look a bit unpolished compared to the competition, they're some of the most intuitive on the market - it only takes a few minutes to get the hang of using them, if that.

It also offers a significantly more diverse app selection than much of the competition, in addition to streaming a limited selection of television networks free of charge. And if 4K video is your thing, the device's 4K spotlight lets you know exactly which apps, networks, and shows are available in that format. Other draws of the platform include the Roku Channel, which offers a library of ad-supported movies from a wide range of different sources.

As with the rest of the system, Roku's remote control is easy to use, as well. It also doubles as a universal remote, automatically programming itself to whatever TV the dongle's plugged into. Finally, the device is equipped with an advanced wireless receiver, designed to improve signal and stream quality on WiFi networks.

Pros:

  • Incredibly simple to setup and use
  • Allows you to stream free TV, live news, sports, and music
  • Roku's remote doubles as a universal remote for your TV
  • 4K Capable

Cons:

  • Menus aren't particularly pretty
  • No support for 5 GHz or 802.11ac WiFi

Budget Buy: Roku Express HD

Roku Express

Source: Roku (Image credit: Roku)

A lot of the streaming sticks we've covered so far include a ton of bells and whistles. Voice search, smart home integration, 4K video games...what if you just want to stream content, and don't care much about all the other stuff?

That's where the Roku Express HD comes in. It's quick, inexpensive, and - as befitting Roku - incredibly easy to both configure and use. Although the menus aren't very aesthetically pleasing, they're easy to navigate and understand, and the device's search functionality makes it a breeze to find something that's worth watching.

Of course, as is often the case, you get what you pay for. The Roku Express HD needs to sit in front of your TV in order to receive a signal from the remote, so there's no hiding it like you can with other hardware. Said remote also isn't universal, so you won't be able to use it to control your TV. It's also powered by a USB adapter, which means more cable management on your part.

Pros:

  • Inexpensive
  • Easy to configure and use
  • Fast

Cons:

  • Menus are somewhat ugly
  • Awkward physical design
  • No universal remote
  • Doesn't support older TVs

Best 4K Dongle: Chromecast Ultra

Cast Disney with Google!

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Android Central)

If you prefer a more neutral approach to your streaming, then the Chromecast Ultra is a great choice. It supports the majority of streaming services, with iTunes being a glaring exception. It's incredibly powerful, with full support for HDR video and ultra high definition streaming. Provided you've a decent Internet connection, content streamed (or "cast" as Google calls it) to the device loads quickly, with no noticeable buffering or lag — oh, and it works with Google and Nest Home devices.

Although the Ultra doesn't come with a remote control, you can control it from any smartphone (or from your desktop PC). This allows you to cast a ton of different things, including both photos, videos, and music. There are also plenty of Android apps that support casting — you can find a full list here .

Another big draw of the device is the external adapter that adds an ethernet port. It may be 2020, but not everyone has high-quality WiFi. And even a high-end wireless connection tends to be slightly slower than wired — so if you want that extra edge with your streaming video, the Chromecast Ultra's got you covered.

Lack of remote aside, the biggest drawback of the Chromecast Ultra is its slightly janky design. Unlike the other streaming sticks on the list, it hangs from the TV. Granted, you probably won't see it, but that could be a deal-breaker for some.

Pros:

  • Add on ethernet port
  • Lets you stream media from your desktop browser
  • Seamless integration with Google Home
  • High-fidelity, fast 4K streaming

Cons:

  • No remote control or onscreen menu
  • Somewhat expensive
  • Slightly awkward physical design

Essential Streaming Dongle: Google Chromecast

Chromecast

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If you don't have a 4K TV and are interested in a more price-conscious option, then Google's Chromecast is the way to go. It does pretty much everything the ChromeCast Ultra can do, allowing you to stream from any Internet-connected smartphone or desktop. It's also equipped with full Google Home integration, meaning you can use your Google Assistant to activate it and stream media as you please.

The Chromecast is capable of streaming a huge selection of apps and games to your television. Basically, if you want to watch or listen to something on one of the major streaming platforms, you can - the exception being iTunes. Better yet, through Google Chrome, you can stream whatever's displayed on a particular browser tab, be that a video, a picture, or music.

All in all, if you don't care about streaming in 4K and can get by with a Wi-Fi only connection, the Chromecast is a safe choice.

Pros:

  • Low cost compared to other options
  • Supports most major streaming apps
  • Seamless integration with Google Home
  • Stream from your desktop via browser.

Cons:

  • No remote control
  • Slightly awkward physical design
  • No ethernet support

Bottom line

Amazon's Fire TV Stick 4K stands out as one of the best streaming sticks on the market, offering a perfect blend of content, functionality, with smart home integration added in. Amazon has been making great streaming devices for a while now, and backed them up with a great content library — not to mention Alexa.

Of course, Amazon's offering isn't the only option and at the end of the day, all the sticks and dongles we've listed above are excellent at what they do. It's ultimately just a matter of taste - your experience isn't going to be that much different if you're just watching Netflix, after all.