We’re reviewing two devices here, but it’s hard, if not impossible, to tell them apart just by looking at them. One is the latest version of Amazon’s Fire TV Stick, and the other is a new entry in the company’s budget streaming device lineup: the Fire TV Stick Lite. Externally, they’re the same, but in this review, we’ll go over what sets them apart from each other and exactly how Amazon managed to shave $10 off the asking price to create the new Lite. If you’ve been interested in a low-cost, 1080p streaming device, let’s see if one of these options can fit the bill.
Editor’s Note: This article is adapted from our recent deep dive video, which you can view below.
What’s New with the Amazon Fire TV Stick and Fire TV Stick Lite?
In short: We’ve got a new version of the $39.99 Fire TV Stick. That’s the non-4K version of this streaming stick form factor, so it makes the most sense for 1080p and other non-4K displays, like computer monitors. And that used to be the budget model in Fire TV Stick line. But Amazon changed things up this year by introducing the Fire TV Stick Lite. This new model also maxes out at 1080p, but cuts a few features you may or may not miss in order to hit an asking price that’s $10 cheaper, at $29.99. We should point out, however, that both options have seen solid discounts during the 2020 holiday shopping season, but we’re referencing their respective regular prices for this review.
And Amazon says both of these new budget streaming sticks represent a performance improvement over the last edition of the Fire TV Stick, and yes we’re going to test that claim as well.
Hardware and Features
When it comes to hardware and features the new Fire TV Stick and the Fire TV Stick Lite are much, much more alike than they are different. Externally, they’re so alike that during our testing, we had to resort to sticking a Post-It on one of them to more easily tell the two apart.
Above, you’ll see a quick overview of hardware specs and you’re going to see a lot of similarities between the two. Both are based on the same processor, a quad-core design running at 1.7 GHz. They’re also using the same graphics hardware and have the same amount of RAM to work with.
And they both support up to 1080p resolutions and up to 60 frames per second. The two devices also support high-dynamic range video in the form of HDR10, HDR10+, and HLG (Hybrid Log Gamma).
The specs are all basically the same until we get to advanced audio support. Here, the standard Fire TV Stick supports onboard Dolby Atmos processing, but the Fire TV Stick Lite will only support the standard via passthrough. That means if you’re watching something that offers Dolby Atmos sound support, the Fire TV Stick Lite won’t do any processing on its own. But it will pass that data on to other devices in your setup, like if you have a compatible receiver, so that device can properly process Dolby Atmos.
Then we get to perhaps the biggest, and more impactful difference between these two devices: the included remote controls. If you view them side-by-side, it might take a second for the differences to fully register, but the Fire TV Stick’s included Alexa Voice Remote boasts a few controls that the Alexa Voice Remote Lite lacks.
By going with the more expensive version, you get a remote with a power button, volume up and down controls, and a mute switch. The Fire TV Stick Lite’s remote, on the other hand, doesn’t include those controls, but still offers buttons for media playback, activating Alexa, accessing the Guide and more.
And that’s basically it as far as major differences go. And the similarities continue well into the setup process.
Setup and Performance
As you might imagine, the setup process is basically the same regardless of which device you choose. If you have an existing Amazon account you’d like to associate with the device, you can do that during setup, or you can create a new account and go from there. You’ll also enter WiFi login credentials and you’ll then have the option of installing some of Amazon’s recommended services, including Hulu, Disney+, and others.
If you don’t select any apps during this step, that’s totally fine; you can always just download them later. Once the setup process is complete, you’ll be greeted by the Fire TV home screen, which features a few main sections along a top navigation bar. Those sections include Search, Home, Live (for live TV options), Your Videos, Free, Movies, TV Shows, Apps, and Settings.
On your Home screen, you’ll see a section called Your Apps and Channels. If you scroll all the way to the end of the list, you can click on See All to access a grid view of apps. In that view, you can also reorder and rearrange your apps so that your faves are closer to the top.
Elsewhere on the home screen, you’ll see recommendations via Prime Video, IMDb TV, and other services you might be subscribed to. Scroll farther down and you might uncover suggestions based on genres, or films you’ve watched before.
The Alexa-powered voice search works as expected. Regardless of which model you have, you can press and hold the microphone button on the included remote controls to speak your queries. When voice search is active, you’ll see a colorful bar appear on the top edge of your screen. The feature lets you search for content via title, genre, actress or actor, and more. You can also open up apps by saying things like, “Open Hulu” or “Load Netflix.”
As you might imagine, these two Fire TV devices more or less behave like Fire TV devices, but what about performance metrics? Are you giving up anything by going with the cheaper Lite model? Well, that’s why we do performance tests.
If you’ve checked out some of our recent hardware reviews, you might be familiar with our performance testing works. In order to test performance, we time how quickly these devices can load a series of apps in succession. We start with a freshly restarted device and make sure none of the apps are already running in the background — that gets us as close to a baseline, consistent, repeatable performance as possible. And we run these streaming devices through the same test suite at least three times to get a solid average.
For the Fire TV devices, our suite of apps consists of Netflix, YouTube, Prime Video, Disney+, Hulu, ESPN, Pluto TV, Sling TV, and Crunchyroll. And then we fire up Netflix once more to see if the device can load up the app any faster the second time through.
In our testing, the standard Fire TV Stick eked out an ever-so-slight performance win, with an average time of 116.7 seconds, compared to the Lite’s 118.51. That difference is so minimal, it’s safe to say these devices perform more or less identically, which makes sense given their hardware similarities.
But what about the previous Fire TV Stick? Amazon said both of these new devices boast 50 percent better performance, so how does it compare? Well, we loaded up all the latest updates and ran last year’s model through the same gauntlet. And the results show a clear advantage in the 2020 models compared to the prior Fire TV Stick. Both new models routinely loaded apps faster at each and every stage.
So if you’re rocking last year’s Fire TV Stick and you’re looking for a cheap gateway to faster performance in app loading and menu navigation, either of these new models should serve you well.
We also pitted these new Fire TV Sticks against Roku’s $30 Roku Express to see how they compare. And as you can see, these new Fire TV Sticks win some stages and lose others. Overall, however, they come away with significantly faster times. And they also seemed to handle juggling several different apps easier than the Roku Express, which had to load a few services in and out of memory during our test course.
Wrapping it All Up
In the end, it may seem a bit odd that Amazon chose to release two budget streaming devices so closely matched in terms of features and performance. But release them they did, and here’s how we think they compare.
If you don’t care about onboard Dolby Atmos processing and can live without dedicated TV controls, then the new Fire TV Stick Lite is a bargain at $29.99, though (again) keep an eye out for even cheaper pricing during the holiday season.
On the flip side, if you’d rather have the convenience of those extra controls on the included remote, the updated Fire TV Stick isn’t too pricey a step up at $39.99. And again, you can safely expect some solid discounts on this model as well.
Compared to the competition, both Fire TV Sticks put up a very solid fight against the likes of Roku’s similarly priced Express. So if you have a secondary, non-4K TV or a computer monitor you’d like to convert into a smart streaming device, both the Fire TV Stick and Fire TV Stick Lite offer solid, capable, and affordable options.