Almost every TV we buy today is “Smart”. It comes with apps for the major streaming services, a strange OS devised by the TV’s manufacturer (unless you’re lucky and it’s a Fire TV or Roku television), and broadband ports. So you’re all set, right?
Wrong. Sure, a Smart TV might be enough for some – but a relatively cheap, stand-alone streaming device (like the Fire TV Stick, the Roku streamers or the Google Chromecast) can do wonders for your VOD experience – from a faster (and more user friendly) interface, to better compatibility and support, and more.
So let’s take a more detailed look at why streaming sticks are – for many – a better solution.
1. A Faster (and better) Interface
Anyone who ever used a Smart TV knows this issue: their OS is, in many cases, excruciatingly slow.
First, you need to find the app you want inside a confusing list. Then, you have to run it – but it takes forever (in 21st century measures, that is) to load, and even when it does – it’s much slower than what you remember from the same app on your mobile phone, for example.
And there are good reasons for that – TVs are getting cheaper and cheaper, but most of the money still goes to perfecting the screen itself. So where can TV manufacturers save? In the specs of the streaming components and operating system.
So you get low-powered devices, along with operating systems that aren’t streamlined enough.
Dedicated streaming device makers (like Roku and Amazon), on the other hand, have been trying to perfect their streaming hardware and OS for years. It’s the main thing their users care about – and they know it.
So these devices are a snap to use. And they’re not only fast – they’re also easier to use, with interfaces that have been tested and perfected for a long time, with millions of users behind them. They’re never perfect, of course – but they’re miles ahead of most TVs.
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2. More Apps And Services
Some Smart TVs have a decent selection of apps and streaming services – but often, you’re only going to find the major streaming services – the big ones.
Dedicated streaming eco-systems (again, like Roku, Fire TV, Apple TV etc’) have thousands of apps available. Sure, many of them are kind of useless – but you’re still going to find a streaming service for almost every taste.
And it’s not just streaming services – you get simple games, you get VPN apps which you can use to watch American Netflix in the UK, productivity and weather apps, and the list goes on and on.
Sure, there are always some notable omissions, because the big corporations love fighting each other (so there’s no NOW TV app on the Fire TV, no BritBox UK app on the Roku, and no Apple TV+ app on Android TV – to name a few), but the sheer number of apps and supported services is always going to be bigger than some obscure operating system the TV manufacturer concocted.
3. Future Upgradeability
Tech devices get shorter and shorter life spans these days – and TVs are no different. Even worse, the TV’s operating system is likely to stop being supported long before the TV itself dies.
So there’s a good chance you’ll find yourself, a few years after buying a Smart TV, with apps that no longer work because the company never bothered to update them. Bye bye YouTube, goodbye Netflix.
Plus, with new streaming services popping up left and right these days, you might not find apps for them on your ageing TV.
But things are a lot better with streaming sticks. Sure, they’ll get an end-of-life date as well, eventually – but some very old Roku and Fire TV models still work just as good as they did years ago, with apps that still get updated.
And – if all else fails and your streaming stick stops working (or stops getting updates) – it’ll be much cheaper to replace it and get a new, modern stick – than to replace your whole TV just because of software issues.
4. Smartphone Connectivity
Remember how fun it was to log into every streaming service on your TV, by having to key in your username and password with that God-awful remote?
The dedicated streaming sticks, however, now have excellent mobile phone companion apps, which you can use – among other things – as virtual keyboards for things you’re doing on the stick (so it becomes so much easier to key in passwords).
But it doesn’t end there – the Roku app, for example, also has a “Private Listening” feature, which lets you divert the stick’s sound to earphones connected to your phone.
And Google’s Chromecast lets you cast almost anything directly from your phone – which is really useful when you browse sites and videos that don’t have their own apps.
Finally, streaming sticks are ultra-portable because they’re, well, shaped like sticks. That can be really useful when you’re going on holiday to some cabin, or to a hotel – or even when you just go visit a friend. Have you ever tried taking your 50” Smart TV with you on holiday? Yeah, that’s not happening.
But with a stick that you carry with you, you don’t need to rely on some stranger’s TV service (not to mention the possible costs, if you’re in a hotel) – instead, you can take your existing streaming stick with you, with all your services already in there – and then just find a free HDMI slot.
This can potentially save you money, give you a better selection of supported apps (than what the hotel’s smart TV offers), and – can help guard your privacy, because you don’t need to login with your password on a stranger’s TV.
The bottom line? Sure, ALL TVs are “Smart” these days, but it shouldn’t be the deciding factor when you go out to buy a new one. Focus on picture-quality, focus on the price, and just forget about its OS and streaming apps – and get a stick for that.
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