Updated April 2021
Good things often come in very small packages. This has been the case with TV sticks since day one. Just plug this dongle into the HDMI port of your TV, and, all of a sudden, you have a Smart TV.
But not all TV sticks are the same!
You really need to choose between a TV stick designed specifically for streaming, like our top recommendation: the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K. These are optimized for streaming all your favorite content, but they aren’t designed to do much else.
If you want to turn your TV into a lightweight PC for work or gaming, you will need something more powerful and inevitably more expensive, like one of our runner ups: the Intel Compute Stick CS125. This will let you do almost anything you can do on your PC, but on your big screen.
Let’s take a closer look at the real differences between a TV stick and a PC stick to help you decide which one you are looking for. We will then take you through our top five choices for the best Android TV sticks and PC sticks that you can buy today.
Quick Look: Top 3 Picks
Fire TV Stick 4K
Xiaomi Mi TV Stick Android 9.0
Intel Compute Stick CS125
What Is The Difference Between A TV And A PC Stick?
We have already mentioned the difference between a TV stick and a PC stick. One is designed specifically for media streaming, while the other is a more complete PC. But what exactly does that mean?
Well, first and foremost, PC sticks are larger. TV sticks tend to be the size of a dongle, while PC sticks will look like a bigger version, about the size of a small remote control. This is necessary as they need more under the hood.
Both sticks are like a mini PC, but a TV stick knows it is primarily going to be used for streaming media content via apps, though there is also usually an app for the internet as well. But for this reason, they are optimized for this activity, and everything else is stripped out.
PC sticks, however, don’t specialize in the same way and are designed to let you do everything you can do on your PC, including gaming, running Office programs, showing presentations, and much more.
This means that while TV sticks need a great graphics card, they don’t need as much processing power or memory as a PC stick, which, in turn, makes them a lot cheaper.
But, while a PC stick can do everything your PC can do, they are nowhere near as fast as a modern PC, and anyone used to working on a quality desktop may find it frustrating.
PC sticks have much more limited memory and power than a standard PC, which means they will feel sluggish. While they are ideal if you want to share documents or presentations on the big screen, you won’t really want to complete complex PC tasks on a PC stick.
1. Fire TV Stick 4K – Best TV Stick For Android
This is for the simple reason that it is one of the only Android TV sticks or TV boxes for under $100 that will unlock the most popular streaming services – Netflix and Amazon Prime Video – in 4K.
While other devices might have the tech under the hood to deliver full 4K, these streaming services are sluggish in authorizing 4K access to their 4K content to any but the big name hardware manufacturers. That means that most of the affordable Android TV devices are not on the list.
You can read about how access to Netflix and Prime Video in 4K works here.
So, it is a simple fact that if you want access to these services in 4K for less than $100, the Fire Stick 4K at about $50 is your only choice so you can make the most of your 4K TV and Dolby Digital sound set up.
The Fire Stick 4K comes with a lot of other nice features too. It has full voice command with the Amazon Alexa remote, and you can integrate the stick with your Alexa smart home system if you have one set up.
Not everyone likes the Amazon Fire interface when compared with the unadulterated Android interface. It is especially annoying that search always shows Amazon results first, even if you have free access to the content through another application you use.
You are also restricted in some of the apps that you can download, as you must go through the Amazon store, rather than the Google Play Store. But all the big streaming apps are available, and there are workarounds if there is something else you are desperate to download.
Overall, for what you get in return, this is a small price to pay.
Find The Best Price On The Fire TV Stick 4K At Amazon.com
2. Xiaomi Mi TV Stick Android 9.0 – Best Affordable Android TV Stick
This is a lightweight device – it is marketed as weighing less than a cherry tomato – but has enough under the hood for good streaming. With 1 GB or ROM and 8 GB of RAM, it can deliver your favorite content in 1080P HD.
No, this isn’t 4K, but Xiaomi is targeting audiences looking for affordable options and who may not have a 4K TV, or at least may not fork out for a premium 4K subscription to Netflix.
It runs off Android 9.0, which is especially designed for Android TV, and it has none of the problems highlighted with the Fire TV interface.
The remote that comes with this stick is also excellent, offering pretty good voice command so you can avoid tedious onscreen typing.
Find The Best Price On The Xiaomi Mi TV Stick At Amazon.com
3. Intel Compute Stick CS125 – Best Stick PC For Windows
The world’s leading chip manufacturer created its 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 new Windows 10 – and has been confirmed to work perfectly.
It includes an Intel Atom Z3735F processor, which balances performance and power consumption – perfect for mobile devices. It has 2 GB of RAM and 32 GB of storage space onboard.
It also includes a microSD card, which can support up to 128 GB 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.
Find The Best Price On The Intel Compute Stick At Amazon.com
4. Mini PC MeLE PC Stick – Best Stick PC For Ubuntu
For my favorite PC stick for Ubuntu, I like the latest offering from MeLE, which comes with Windows 10. It is designed to support both Linux and Ubuntu and does a better job of it than any other devices I have seen.
It is a powerful beast, about the size of a small remote control, with an Intel Celeron J4105 chip, HDMI 2.0 output support for 4K HD resolution watching and playing, and 64 GB of memory. It comes with two USB 3.0 points for the fastest possible transfer. It is also fanless, which means it is nice and quiet.
One of the updates that differentiates this from earlier MeLE models is the 1,000 Mbps Gigabit Ethernet connection and 5.8G+2.4G dual-band Wi-Fi capability. There is also Bluetooth 4.0, so you have all the fastest and most stable options when it comes to connecting.
This mini PC really feels like a PC when you are browsing on your big screen, like a TV box when you are watching, and like a gaming console when you are playing.
The stick supports a TF card up to 512 GB, which means it has the capacity if you do choose to use it to bring your PC games onto your TV screen.
Find The Best Price On The MeLE PC Stick At Amazon.com
5. ASUS Chromebit CS10 – Best Stick PC For Chrome OS
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 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.
Find The Best Price On The ASUS Chromebit At Amazon.com
FAQs About PC Sticks
What Is A Computer Stick Called?
There are various names given to computer sticks including PC Sticks, Mini Computers, and Screenless PCs.
What Does A PC Stick Do?
The best PC sticks are basically a computer that sits in the palm of your hand, so you can take it with you everywhere you go. But unlike a laptop or even a tablet, it does not have a screen. So, to access the content, you need to plug it into the HDMI port on a computer or TV.
These mini computers claim to be able to do everything your PC can, but they are understandably significantly less powerful and also much slower. But they are great for streaming movies, gaming, bringing presentations onto the big screen, or even just browsing the net.
They also won’t come with a mouse or a keyboard, and you will have to buy these separately and connect via Wi-Fi. It is also possible to connect these extras via Bluetooth, but bear in mind that on most PC sticks, you can’t use Wi-Fi and Bluetooth at the same time, so it’s not a good idea.
What Is The Difference Between A TV Stick And A PC Stick?
PC sticks and media streaming or TV sticks look pretty much the same, and they are often used for the same things, but they are quite a bit different under the hood.
They are both mini-computers, but TV sticks are optimized for media streaming and related activities and things that aren’t necessary for that have been left out. PC sticks are designed to do everything your PC can do, including running Windows and programs such as Office.
So, while both will stream films and other entertainment in excellent quality, you can do a lot more with your PC stick. But this means that PC sticks are a lot more expensive, as they need to be much more powerful. But they still won’t beat or even closely match your PC in terms of power, and you will notice that all your PC activities take much longer.
Can The Intel Compute Stick Run Office?
Yes, your Intel Compute Stick, and all genuine PC sticks, can run Office. But you will find this a much more frustrating experience than you are accustomed to as these sticks are much less powerful than a normal PC, which means they start to run slowly, especially when they are doing more than one thing at the same time.
A PC stick is a great way to access Office on your big screen when you need to, but you probably don’t want to use it as your main source of Office.
And there you have it: Our guide to the best TV and PC sticks for every operating system.
What type of stick is best for you depends on what you want to do. If you just want a stick to make your TV smart so you can stream all the best entertainment, you can afford a cheaper stick that is easy to use and optimized for streaming such as the Amazon Fire Stick 4K or the Xiaomi Mi Stick.
But if you want to be able to do more, such as play PC games, deliver presentations, share office documents, or occasionally do your coding on your fancy big screen, you will want to invest more in a PC stick, like the Intel Compute Stick.
But remember, while PC sticks are a great way to bring your PC to the big screen, they are no substitute for a PC. There is just no way that something that small can be anywhere near as powerful as your standard PC!
What do you think? Do you have a preferred choice that’s not on our list? Let us know in the comments below.