The tiny digital streaming players have similar profiles, the same basic functionality, and comparable prices. Both devices also offer the same basic suite of major content partners, including Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX), Hulu, WatchESPN, and other popular choices. And, while Amazon's motivation in creating Fire TV Stick isn't immediately clear, it's reasonable to think the retailer noted that Google's device has topped Amazon's electronic sales charts pretty consistently since being released in July 2013.
Every Chromecast sold through Amazon represents a potential loss of revenue for the e-commerce giant. Sure, Amazon gets its cut of the sale, but in facilitating Chromecast's success the retailer helps Google build a universe of customers with mini-stores set up on their televisions. That won't steal physical goods sales or book sales from Amazon in the short term, but it leeches app sales and subscription revenue. It also gives Google a platform the it could easily use to go after other areas of Amazon's business in the future.
Chromecast and Fire TV Stick are much alike, but they also have some major differences, which can help ease the purchase decision.
The price is more than the price
On the surface, Chromecast is cheaper. Google's web page for the product lists a $35 price tag, but you can buy it for about $32.50 on Amazon.com. The Fire TV Stick costs $39.
If the two devices were exactly the same, the edge would go to Google, but they are not. Chromecast, as of Nov. 12, 2014, comes with two free months of Hulu Plus, while Fire TV Stick offers 30 free days of Amazon Prime and Netflix. The Amazon device also has a remote control, while Chromecast must be controlled via computer, tablet, or smartphone.
Which has better content?
If you have Amazon Prime, Fire TV Stick gives you easy access to the Prime Instant Video service, something Chromecast does not offer. Clearly, that makes Fire TV Stick a better choice for Pirme members, but for those without the premium Amazon service, the choice is less clear.
The sole major content difference between the two devices is that only Google's streaming player offers access to HBO Go. The other differences involve channels and offerings that are extremely niche in nature. If you're deciding which device to buy based on your love of a specific streaming app -- perhaps an anime channel or a more obscure sports offering -- make sure it's on the specific player you want. Otherwise, the choices beyond Prime Instant Video and HBO Go are comparable.
Different approaches to games
Games were a big part of the story when Fire TV Stick launched games, with Amazon claiming over 200 games to Google's "less than 30." The Fire TV Stick's remote acts as a gaming controller, while playing Chromecast games involves using your phone or tablet as the controller.
Google has recently stepped up its games effort by offering access to more titles, according to Re/code, and some new titles do a better job integrating phone or tablet controllers. It's an improvement, but Amazon still offers more games and a remote control that makes playing them very easy.
The Foolish takeaway
Amazon's player has better specs. It offers a dual-core processor (contrasted against Chromecast's single-core processor), more built-in memory, and four times the flash storage (plus the remote control). Despite that, I've used Chromecast and never felt it slow or lagging because of the lesser specifications. The lack of a remote, however, is a major drawback, especially if you do not watch TV with a phone or tablet in hand.
For Prime members, the easy access to Prime Instant Video should tilt things in favor of Amazon, which in general offers a stronger device for slightly more money.
The two players offer similar functionality in very similar packages, but Amazon -- which has not yet shipped its device to customers -- has the more robust offering. Google, however, has something Amazon does not: inventory. If you want a streaming stick as a Christmas gift, you're out of luck with Amazon, which is warning customers that orders placed now will arrive after the holiday. Google has plenty of Chromecasts available for immediate delivery.
This may explain why Fire TV Stick, despite being a mildly superior offering, still stands behind Chromecast on Amazon's own sales charts. The difference between the two devices is not worth waiting for the Fire TV Stick unless you are a Prime member.