4 min read

My Streaming Devices, A Micro Review

My Streaming Devices, A Micro Review
Modern life's greatest achievement? Putting Netflix in every room.

As media continues to take over every spare synapse we have, it's growing tendrils into every little space it can. In my house, media's had great success, forcing its way into just about everywhere. Not every tendril is equally addictive, though, and in the interest of, well, coming to grips with the devices infiltrating my life, I wanted to present this unofficial ranking of the ways I can watch bad movies on Netflix:

5. My Phone (Pixel 2 XL)

Good: Easy access just about anywhere.
Bad: Battery life always seems too short.

My phone is a terrible option for consuming long-form media. Anything over a minute or two starts to suck if I'm having to hold my phone up and stare at its dirty screen. It's an old beast by this point too and has its quirks, like an obsession with staying in portrait mode no matter what I'm doing.

That said, there's no better way to catch sports highlights while out and about, or to finish the last couple minutes of a show if I have to leave a better setting behind. My phone, the break-glass-in-case-of-emergency entertainment device.

4. Playstation 5

Good: Convenient, hard-wired into the internet for more seamless streaming
Bad: Lots of menus, poor navigation and app support for niche services. Feels wasteful.

As a gaming device, the PS5 is all sorts of fun. As a streaming device, it's much more mixed, though it still beats its PS4 predecessor thanks to a fast start-up time and easy swapping between games and shows. Nonetheless, the PS5 is too new to have all the multimedia apps you'd like (for example, NFL Network doesn't appear on there, so I can't watch my Bears struggle endlessly).

It also feels like overkill to turn the big thing on just to watch, say, another episode of The Good Place. Like, say, getting a semi truck pick up your latte. I'd probably use the TV's baked in 'Smart' features instead if that interface wasn't so slow as to be unusable. So, instead, I'll occasionally still let the white whale serve up our entertainment.

3. Google Home

Good: Easy to use voice commands to get what I want playing.
Bad: Small screen means we're only using this for radio / songs.

Sure, I'm not streaming Netflix on my kitchen's Google Home. With an open concept house making sure my onion chopping can happen in full view of the big screen, Google's main function in my house is to play NPR or various Spotify/Youtube playlists to keep the kiddo distracted.

But hey, Google does this pretty well! I can have a yogurt-covered baby in my arms and still ask to get the latest news headlines beamed into my ears, or be staring at a full dishwasher and decide to empty it to the jazzy swank of 1920s tunes without looking anywhere or manipulating a remote. It's a niche range, but the Google Home hits the mark.

2. My Laptop

Good: Semi-portable, can stream anything to a TV or on its decent screen
Bad: Annoying to move in and out of the office just to stream sports

The workhorse that's always there when you need it. My current laptop is several years old but keeps on kicking, despite cat hair, kid, and travel abuse. It's also a PC, which means it can access just about any video feed out there. This is less and less important as more orgs get savvy to streaming tech, but (see my PS5 complaint above) occasionally you just want to watch the random thing that's too obscure to get on Sony's radar.

It's also just plain faster to get most things going on the laptop than on almost any other device. Searching for a specific item is easier with a keyboard, and I have easy access to passwords (and copy/pasting them) from the laptop when I'm logging into somewhere new.

Yet, for all that, I'm not often streaming things in my office. Unplugging the laptop and bringing it wherever I'm at, often subjecting my hands to its terrible trackpad, is just annoying enough to knock it from the top spot on this list. Also, the thing runs hot. Hot enough I'm always a little worried it'll start the nearby notebook paper on fire.  

  1. Amazon Firestick (old version)

Good: Portable, works with Hotel internet splash screens, fast and easy
Bad: Ads, cluttered interface with bonkers recommendation engines

I have a gym in my basement and I can't stand workout classes, so most of my TV/Movie viewing happens while working out. The key to that entertainment for the last eight or so years has been an Amazon Firestick, a little device that's kept me happy with minimal fuss. It's relatively snappy, and its tiny innards somehow manage to pick up a wifi signal through the floor, even from the opposite side of the house.

Going down to the basement, clicking on the little remote a couple times and getting launched into the series-of-the-moment is great. Doing the same thing on the road in a hotel is amazing. Big chains are getting better about their in-room streaming offerings, but when the only thing on hand is (shudders) cable, having the Firestick handy can save a business trip to the boring side of a city.

On the whole, though, the Firestick's combo of fast access and easy linking to a bigger screen makes it the overall winner. As someone who spends a lot of time working with software, the fewer clicks to a satisfying experience the better.

If only it would stop recommending the worst shows . . .