Chromecast Ultra vs. Fire TV Stick 4K: How Important is the Remote?
After a year of testing, I determined that Fire TV Stick 4K is best for most people because it uses a remote rather than relying on your phone. Chromecast Ultra is a solid device if you want to use your phone as your only remote or you use Google Assistant.
I’ll compare and contrast these two streaming sticks (Chromecast Ultra vs. Fire TV Stick 4K) while evaluating four categories: content, interface, smarts, and remote.
Fire TV Stick 4K
- Content: Most content services are compatible and there are more 4K options than Chromecast.
- Interface: An interface is displayed on your TV and is managed with the directional buttons on the remote, but there are lots of ads.
- Smarts: You can talk into the remote or use an Echo device to control the TV hands-free.
- Remote: You get a physical remote with power, volume, playback, and directional buttons.
Best for you if...
You want an easy-to-use device with an interface on your TV. Fire TV Stick 4K has a physical remote that can control video playback, your TV's power, and volume. You get lots of content and a user-friendly interface with Alexa compatibility via the remote or an Echo device.
Fire TV Stick (2nd Gen) is a terrible device and only $10 less.
- Content: The Apple TV app isn’t compatible, but most content apps on your phone have the cast button.
- Interface: There isn't an interface on the TV. You use the content apps on your phone, then tap the cast button to put it on TV.
- Smarts: You can go hands-free with Google Assistant, but it’s not as smooth as Alexa.
- Remote: There is no remote. You use your content apps on your phone and tap a button to display on the TV.
Best for you if...
You want to use the content apps on your phone as your only remote by tapping the cast button to get it to your TV. You won't need to re-sign in to your streaming apps and the streams look great, but the lack of a physical remote makes it tough to recommend.
Chromecast (3rd Gen) does the same job minus the 4K compatibility.
Things to Know
- You still need to pay for each streaming app’s subscription fee even if you buy these devices. There is some free content available, but it’s sparse. These devices are just platforms that allow you to watch things like Netflix and Hulu on your TV.
- Fire TV and Chromecast devices will work with any TV brand. The only requirement is that your TV has an open HDMI port.
- You’ll need one device for each room that you want to stream in.
- Fire TV Stick 4K and Chromecast Ultra aren’t my favorite streaming devices. Apple TV 4K is the best streaming device on the market due to its awesome ad-free interface, but it’s overkill for most people at $179. Roku Stick Plus has minimal ads, tons of content, an amazing remote, and is in the same price range as Chromecast and Fire TV devices. Check out my power rankings to see all of the streaming devices that I’ve tested.
- For HD content apps, there is Hulu, Netflix, Showtime, HBO, Sling TV, AT&T TV, YouTube, Disney+, YouTube TV, and Apple TV. Unfortunately, Vudu and Google Play aren’t available on Fire TV.
- Prime Video, Netflix, and YouTube are the main options for 4K HDR content.
- Fire TV supports HDR10 and Dolby Vision content.
- While Fire TV devices don’t have the best interface, at least you get an interface that displays on your TV.
- Fire TV provides streaming apps on your TV screen that can be opened by pressing the directional buttons on the remote.
- You get a row of five recently used apps and a row of five of your favorite apps.
- The downside to having apps is that you need to sign in to each app with your credentials. You’re already signed in to apps on your phone so Chromecast doesn’t require extra setup.
- There are downsides to Fire TV’s home screen interface.
- The interface is cluttered with advertisements. There’s a huge banner that takes up half the screen, then a smaller “sponsored” banner ad near the bottom that advertises anything from dog food to robot vacuums.
- As you scroll, there are more banner ads and Amazon.com shopping recommendations.
- It shows you content for apps that you don’t have a subscription to.
- If you want an interface on your TV and a physical remote, but don’t want ads ruining the experience, Apple TV and Roku are better options. Apple TV is ad-free, while Roku has ads that stay out of the way.
- You can search for movies with your voice via the remote. You can say “I want to watch Ray Donavon” and it’ll show you all the streaming services that have the content and recommend one based on your subscriptions.
- Fire TV is more appealing if you subscribe to your streaming services (e.g., HBO, Showtime, Starz, etc.) through Amazon with Amazon Channels. Instead of paying your cable company or streaming service directly, you can pay Amazon and get a bunch of extra features.
- If you use Amazon Channels, HBO, Showtime, Starz, or CBS, the content plays inside the Prime Video app.
- You won’t need to use Amazon’s ad-heavy home screen as often.
- You’ll only need the Prime Video app on your phone to watch all of your subscriptions. The standalone apps aren’t needed.
- The video quality is better than the standalone apps because Amazon hosts the content on their servers. Amazon uses a higher bitrate and better video compression.
- You get a list of shows that you’re currently watching, and it remembers your playback/current episode position.
- You get “Skip Recap” and “Skip Intro” buttons on series.
- You get amazing playback features. For example, when you pause a movie or show, the names of the actors in the current scene will appear. The actors that are displayed on the paused interface change dynamically as new actors come into the scene.
- You can’t subscribe to Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, or live TV services through Amazon Channels, so you’ll still need to use Amazon’s home screen if you use these services.
- While Chromecast only works with Google Assistant, Fire TV only works with Alexa.
- You can hold down the button on your remote to search for content and perform smart home tasks with Alexa.
- You can go hands-free if you have an Echo device.
- You’ll run into many of the same issues with Alexa as you do with Google, but Alexa works more smoothly.
- You have an interface to fall back on. If the wrong episode is played or you want to watch something else, you tap one button on the remote to regain control.
- When you speak directly into the remote, Alexa knows you’re trying to control the TV. You don’t need to specify which room or which device the content should be played on.
- When you’re hands-free with an Echo device, you can link your Fire TV with a specific Echo device so that when you ask Alexa to play a show, you don’t need to specify where you want it played, as you do with Google.
- Alexa isn’t perfect but, for mainstream shows, you can just say “Alexa, play Ozark” and it’ll open the show on Netflix and start playing automatically.
- Fire TV’s remote isn’t as nice as Roku’s remote because it feels cheaply made and the buttons don’t provide much feedback, but at least you can physically touch the remote.
- You get dedicated volume and power buttons to control your TV directly.
- You can use the Fire TV app to control your TV as a backup.
- Most phone apps that play video content have the cast button. When you tap the button, the content from your phone appears on your TV.
- Netflix, Sling, HBO, AT&T TV, Google Play Movies, Vudu, Hulu, Showtime, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, Epix, Spotify, and others are compatible (view more).
- Apple TV is the only mainstream streaming app that doesn’t support Chromecast.
- You can mirror your Google Chrome browser from your computer by clicking the cast button inside the top-right menu, which can potentially help turn an un-castable streaming service into a castable service.
- Chromecast supports the Dolby Vision and HDR10 standards. But, unfortunately, Netflix, Vudu, and YouTube are the only 4K content options.
- Chromecast devices don’t have an interface on your TV. Instead, you use the streaming apps (e.g., Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Showtime, etc) on your phone and tap the cast button, which sends the content to your Chromecast and displays it on your TV.
- I prefer to have an interface on my TV with a physical remote for streaming, but casting with your phone is a solid alternative.
- You don’t need to learn a new interface. If you know how to use your phone, you’ll know how to use Chromecast.
- Setup is easier because you don’t need to sign in to your streaming apps again.
- It’s easy to go from watching a show on your phone to on your TV.
- Casting has downsides.
- The casting button randomly disappears inside of apps. I can’t regularly reproduce the problem, but it’s happened many times over three years of testing. If you kill the app and restart it, the cast button reappears and all is good.
- When you cast for an extended period, your Chromecast loses connection to your phone. The content will continue to play indefinitely, but you’ll need to disconnect the cast to cast again, which takes a couple of minutes.
- Casting is a better approach than Apple’s AirPlay.
- When you AirPlay, your iPhone’s screen gets mirrored on your TV, but your phone loses functionality, drains its battery, and needs to remain within a certain radius during AirPlay.
- Chromecast talks directly to the streaming service after you’ve tapped the cast button on your phone, rather than mirroring your phone. Casting gives you a cleaner, more reliable stream with fewer potential points of failure compared to AirPlay. Plus, you can turn off your phone and the content and the cast will continue.
- There’s no affect on your phone’s battery.
- It takes about 15 seconds for the content to appear on your TV after you tap the cast button and 30 seconds for the next episode to automatically play.
- Chromecast isn’t ideal for channel surfers because changing the content requires more work than a traditional streaming device. You need to unlock your phone, locate the streaming app that you’re using, wait for the app to load, then change the content and wait 10-15 seconds for it to appear on your TV. It’s not a big deal, but if you’re changing the content frequently, a dedicated remote makes surfing easier.
- You can ask your Google Assistant devices to play and pause your Chromecast and it works well.
- You can open shows on Hulu, HBO, Netflix, and YouTube TV with your voice. You can say “Hey Google, cast Shark Tank on Hulu to the Living Room TV.”
- The requests are wordy and need to be specific to work correctly, which makes them more likely to be misunderstood by Google. For example, if you say “cast to the Living Room” rather than “Living Room TV” or whatever your device is called, the request fails.
- Sometimes Google repeats exactly what you asked and still doesn’t perform the request.
- Sometimes the correct series will play but with the incorrect episode.
- The biggest disappointment with Google Assistant integration is the lack of a visual interface to fall back on after the request is asked. For example, once Google casts your Netflix show, if you open the Netflix app, Netflix doesn’t know you’re casting so you can’t change the content without first breaking the cast.
- You can view a live feed of your Nest and Arlo cameras by saying “Hey Google, show me the backyard.”
- There isn’t a physical remote for Chromecast. Your streaming service apps on your phone are your remote.
- There are three ways to control the content on your TV.
- Use streaming apps on your phone, tap the cast button, and control from within the app.
- Once you’ve initiated the stream, the Google Home app shows what’s playing and has playback controls.
- Ask your Google Assistant devices to open content or control the playback.
- There isn’t a consistent way to control your TV’s power. You can ask Google with your voice, but it can be wonky.
- You can control Chromecast’s volume, but it gets messy because it doesn’t change the TV’s volume directly, it changes the volume output on the Chromecast device. You’ll need to keep your TV’s volume on high beforehand to properly control the volume with Chromecast. Keeping your TV volume on high may not be ideal if frequently switch to other devices like cable, DVD, or game consoles.