Do you remember your first? I do.
When I saw my first Android stick PC, I thought this would change everything. Not just how we watched TV, but how we interacted with computers as well.
Two years later, streaming sticks are a huge deal, led by the heavy hitters like Google’s Chromecast, Amazon’s Fire TV stick and the Roku streaming stick. In fact, experts predict that 50 million streaming devices will be sold throughout the world!
But they’re not the only game in town.
While Google, Amazon, Apple and Roku have carved out the the top of the pile, there’s still a lot of room for other companies aiming for smaller niche markets.
There’s still a lot of options for people who want a desktop replacement, Linux on a stick or just the infinite customization of Android.
That’s who this list is for.
Quick Look: Top 3 Picks
Intel Compute Stick
Get a better remote control?
You can call them PC sticks, an Android TV stick, HDMI sticks, or any other name you want. If it looks sort-of like a thumb-drive and fits in your television, I’ve taken a look at it.
We don’t judge. There’s a section of this “Best of” list for Android, PC, and Linux. And also a final note about one Android TV Stick that I’m looking forward to seeing when it becomes available.
If you stick PC’s aren’t your thing and want something a bit more powerful – but larger – then check out our Best Android TV Box post.
…but, please, do it after you’ve finished this article, OK?
Here is is, our award winners for the Best TV Stick…no matter what operating system you’re looking for.
There’s a short list of Android TV sticks that actually use one of the newer chipsets like the RK3288 – which isn’t all that new, actually. Of that list, only Rikomagic (RKM) is what I’d consider a major manufacturer.
Some chipset manufacturers have such poor track records with Kodi specifically, and video performance in general, that they get written off the contestant list very early in the selection process. Other newer chipsets, like the Amlogic S905 which offers 4K performance in a power-saving configuration, are just now hitting mainstream release for TV boxes. TV sticks could be a little ways off.
So why worry about having a newer chipset? When was the last time you deliberately bought technology that was two years old?
I rest my case.
That being said, I was a fan of the RK3288 based RKM V5 when it was announced at the beginning of the year, and it won the “Best Android Stick PC” category of our 2015 Best TV Box list. Not only does it have the RK3288, quad-core CPU, but it can playback videos in 4K using H.265 decoding.
It may be one of the larger Android stick PC’s available, but we think it’s still the best.
Even though the Ugoos UM2 still uses the older RK3188 chipset, it still packs a punch. Plus, Ugoos still actively supports the UM2, which makes it a solid choice for runner up.
What’s impressive is that we originally reviewed the Ugoos UM2 way back in July of 2014, making it the “oldie but a goodie” on this list.
The UM2 has it’s flaws. Like any of the other RK3188 based stick PC’s, it can’t play 4K video. But, Ugoos has continued to support this device well over a year after it’s release. Most of the minor issues that I wrote about in that first review have been addressed, making this a solid backup choice if you don’t need 4K output. Not only is it a fraction of the cost of the RKM V5, but it’s a pretty good device in it’s own right.
Intel Compute Stick
You know that a market is doing well when Intel throws it’s hat into the ring.
The world’s leading chip manufacturer created it’s own version of the PC stick recently, and it’s easily the most versatile device on this list. It runs a full version of Windows – either 8.1 with Bing or the new Windows 10 have been confirmed to work perfectly.
It includes an Intel Atom Z3735F processor, which balances performance and power consumption – perfect for mobile devices. It has 2GB of RAM and 32GB of storage space on board.
It also includes a microSD card which can support up to 128GB of additional storage. You’ll definitely need that as Windows takes up a huge portion of your internal space, unless you want to store everything on a cloud or network storage device.
Performance is good, considering that the computer is the size of a candy bar. Expect the same performance level as a higher-end tablet or the HP Stream mini-PC, rather than your full-size desktop at work. You can still stream 1080p flawlessly, but 4K playback was a non-starter. The maximum resolution of the Compute Stick checked in at 2048 x 1152.
If you’re interested in the Intel Compute Stick, you’re going to be doing much more than playing videos on your TV. This gives you the power of Windows on Intel, at a price that’s cheaper than a Black Friday special.
Intel Compute Stick
Not content to win only one award on this list, the Intel Compute Stick also takes home our Best Stick PC for Ubuntu as well.
Intel worked with Canonical, who produces commercial versions of Ubuntu, to pair their Linux distribution with Intel’s Compute Stick. The hardware is the same as the Windows version, but you’ll save around $30 by not having to pay Microsoft’s Windows licensing fees.
While there are certainly different PC sticks which have Linux distributions available, none have the support that Intel provides. It’s tough to go wrong with this one.
ASUS CHROMEBIT CS10
You’re not going to find an easier to use operating system in a smaller format than this. I’m a huge fan of Chromebooks and Chromeboxes. I use a Chromebook as my daily use laptop, and I love it.
The Chrome OS takes care of maintenance and virus and ransomware protection for you, which earned it a lot of praise from the tech community. ASUS makes an amazing Chromebox, which is a favorite for side-loading OpenELEC to make a cheap, high-performance Kodi box.
Now they’ve taken that same philosophy and made it smaller with the ASUS Chromebit.
Unlike the ASUS Chromebox, which is designed around the Intel Celeron chip, the Chromebit uses the Rockchip RK3288 CPU. If that sounds familiar, it’s also what was in the RKM V5 above, so all of the same arguments for that chipset apply.
While the Chromebit won’t be a video powerhouse, it will give you as much flexibility as the Intel Compute stick at almost half the cost. If you want more from your stick PC than Android can provide, but want to break away from Windows, the ASUS Chromebit is a great option.
I always like to give a little “look ahead” at what’s coming down the pipeline. CNX-Software scooped the Guleek A8 TV stick back in September and it looks really promising.
It is based on the Amlogic S905 CPU which is a quad-core CPU capable of supporting HDMI 2.0 and 10-bit HEVC video decoding. This allows it to run 4K video at up to 60Hz. There’s nothing like that available in a TV stick at the moment, so this device has a lot of potential.
That being said, it’s not available yet, and even when it comes out, there’s still a lot of testing that needs to be done. A lot of new devices promise the world, but fail to deliver.
As soon as I get my hands on one, I’ll let you know if the Guleek A8 is a ‘dream’ or a ‘dud’.
And there you have it: Our guide to the Best Stick PC’s for every operating system. What do you think? Have anything that you think would be a better choice? Let us know in the comments below.