Chromecast vs Android TV Sticks: An Explanation

When the Chromecast was announced last week, I got very excited about it and received many questions on Twitter from people who knew I already owned an Android TV Stick — an iMito MX1 to be precise. They were either wondering about the difference between the devices, either questioning my enthusiasm towards it given that I already have something similar.

After all, it’s easy to be confused. Both serve as an HDMI extension to your TV that makes it a lot smarter than it is, and both seem to play well with Android devices. So what exactly is the difference, and which one should you buy? Read on for the explanation.

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The Chromecast and one of many Android TV Sticks - so similar yet so different

The Chromecast and one of many Android TV Sticks – so similar yet so different

Chromecast: Seamless Extension to Other Devices

The Chromecast, by itself, can’t do a lot. It simply goes online and fetches data to display for you. As it stands — no roots or hacks — it requires a device to feed it commands. This can be your Android or iOS phone, your tablet, or your computer’s browser.

Basically, the Chromecast is almost like a glorified HDMI cable. If you have ever hooked up your phone to your TV, you know half of the story. The differences with an HDMI cable though are four-fold:

  • The connection is wireless, so you can still have your phone with you instead of having to sit two feet away from the TV.
  • The content gets streamed directly to the Chromecast from the web, instead of being relayed from the web to your device and then to the Chromecast.
  • Your device acts like a live remote control, able to see the progress, pause, skip, manage playlists, etc… But you can still get out of the casting app and use other functions, or put it to sleep, without interrupting the playback.
  • While an HDMI cable is a one-on-one connection, the Chromecast can be controlled by several devices, and each device can control several Chromecasts.

If you had to give it a name, the Chromecast could be considered similar to wirelessly mirroring your phone or browser on your TV, but with a lot more flexibility.

Sharing a YouTube video from your phone to the Chromecast.

Sharing a YouTube video from your phone to the Chromecast.

Android TV Stick: Powerful, Complex, Standalone

Android TV Sticks are a different story. They are full-blown Android devices, in their own right. Using one on your TV is exactly like having an Android tablet constantly hooked up via HDMI to it. Your phone, your web browser, your other devices aren’t needed at all for it to run. The differences with the Chromecast are these:

  • Given that this is running Android, you need some sort of input device. Most TV Sticks support keyboard and mouse input — again, just like any other Android tablet — whether through USB ports or wirelessly. Some sticks also offer the possibility to be controlled by an app on your Android device. Now don’t confuse this with the Chromecast, you are merely controlling Android through Android, there is no mirroring, just remote buttons for you to click.
  • You can run Android apps on the stick, as well as games and anything else. Netflix, Angry Birds, Play Music, Hulu+, etc, they all run like they would on any Android tablet.
  • With on-board storage, a TV Stick doesn’t rely on an internet connection to fetch content. It can play locally stored music and movies, showcase photos, and so on.
  • The TV stick is expandable, you can add storage via a MicroSD card or a hard disk drive. You can hook up a camera for Skype sessions. Basically anything you can add via USB to an Android device is supported.
  • However, Android isn’t suited for non-touch input, so a lot of the swiping and gestures are very tricky to perform via a keyboard and mouse. This renders the TV Stick unusable on some apps, and complex to navigate on others.
  • Sending content from your phone or browser to the TV isn’t as seamless as it is on the Chromecast. You run through the same hurdles as you would when sending content from one Android device to another. You’d have to bookmark a YouTube video video or a web page to open it on the stick, you can’t continue from where you left off, and you definitely don’t have the simplicity of clicking one button to switch between one and the other.

So if you had to describe a TV stick, it’s nothing but an Android tablet hooked to your TV. It’s a separate Android device and you’re bound to treat it as such.

The Android app to control TV Sticks, and the UI you see on your TV (looks like an Android tablet!)

The Android app to control TV Sticks, and the UI you see on your TV (looks like an Android tablet!)

Which One Should You Pick?

Look, if you’re reading this then you’re an Android geek and you know what you’re doing. You can easily get both devices for under $100 in total, which isn’t that much compared to the outrageous prices TV manufacturers are putting on their “Smart TVs.” Get a regular TV and complement it with these, you’ll be a lot happier.

But, if you’re on a limited budget, the choice boils down to a few differences:

  • If you’re on a limited internet connection, you’re willing to fiddle to find keyboard-compatible apps, and you don’t mind the limitations on the input, then go for the TV Stick. Models keep popping up every few weeks on GeekBuying, with better specs and more capabilities. It’s a versatile gadget that you can use as a TV content box, a portable computer, or a gaming console.
  • If you’re on an unlimited internet connection and you don’t want to tinker with anything, you just want as seamless an experience as possible, get the Chromecast. It’s incredibly simple to use if all you need is catching online content (Netflix, YouTube, Play Music, etc) on your TV.

If you’re debating between these two choices, or if you have some experience with one of them, let us know which one you picked and why.