Hands on: Now TV Stick

The cheapest way to get Now TV, but maybe not the best

What is a hands on review?
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Our Early Verdict

Now TV's hardware has always been about offering cheap and easy access to its streaming services, and the Now TV Stick is no different. But, like its predecessors, this is a device that's aimed at getting people into the Now TV ecosystem, and the lack of access to Netflix or Amazon Prime might be a turnoff for some.

For

  • Outrageously cheap
  • Snappy interface
  • Voice search
  • Slimline form-factor

Against

  • No Netflix or Amazon Prime
  • No 4K
  • No HDR

Despite being a sub-brand of premium TV broadcaster Sky, you always have to remember that Now TV is meant as a budget option. 

Can't afford a full-blown Sky Q subscription? Then Now TV is your cheap ticket to streaming all of Sky's biggest pieces of content without having to go to the same level of expense or commitment. 

To that end, Now TV's hardware has always followed a similar blueprint, and the Now TV Stick is no different. We got to experience the new hardware firsthand and we came away thinking that it was a decent budget stick, if a little light on the non-Now TV functionality. 

But, with a price of just £15 for the base hardware, we're not sure we can complain too much. 

Design

Like the Now TV box before it, the Now TV Stick is based on hardware originally produced by Roku. 

In this case, the Roku equivalent is (loosely) the Roku Streaming Stick+, a device that came out late last year full to the gills with 4K HDR goodness. 

The Now TV Stick, in comparison, is a little lighter on the high-end tech. For now it's an HD Ready only affair, although it should be able to make use of Now TV's upgrade to Full HD that's due to happen before the end of the year. 

That said, whether the hardware is 4K compatible or not is a somewhat academic question since the Now TV Stick doesn't allow access to any streaming services that support 4K content. 

It shouldn't surprise us that Netflix and Amazon Prime continue to be absent from the Now TV Stick. The two most popular streaming services have never seen eye to eye with Sky – they've been absent from every Now TV box in the past – and they're also absent from Sky Q

You do get access to most other major streaming services. The BBC's iPlayer is of course included, as are the rest of the UK's catch up streaming services. 50 apps are supported in total. 

Aside from the app selection, the other big difference between the Now TV Stick and the Roku Streaming Stick+ is the remote. While the Roku's offers dedicated access to apps like Netflix, their absence means that the Now TV Stick's remote has a series of buttons dedicated to Sky's own content areas including Sky Kids and the Sky Store. 

Oh, and the micro USB power port is on the end of the stick this time around rather than the side, just in case clearance behind your TV is an issue. 

Performance

Roku's interfaces have always been on the snappy side, and that's continued into the Now TV Stick, despite Now TV having added its own skin atop of the stock Roku experience. 

A brief demonstration saw us nip through a highlights section (formed of Sky content from Now TV passes that you currently subscribe to, and other streaming services) through to a 'Continue Watching' section which is exclusively content that you've already begun watching so you can easily pick up where you left off. 

Dig deeper than here and the whole interface is broadly subdivided by Now TV passes. There are now four in total, Cinema, Entertainment, Sports and Kids, and each offer a broad range of content covering those areas. 

The exception to this is a new TV Guide area that groups together all of the live channels you're currently subscribed to (this guide also gets a dedicated button on the remote), which can now be paused and rewound thanks to a nifty new piece of Now TV technology. 

Of course, if you don't want to navigate using the remote you can always use the new voice search to find content. We were shown how the search could be used to find shows and films by title, by cast, and even by director. 

We were even impressed to see our demonstrator fudge a request for the Now TV Stick to show content by Steve Coogan. Rather than asking for shows starring the veteran comedian (no doubt in an attempt to promote recent Sky hit 'The Trip'), he asked for shows directed by him, and the Stick obliged with quiet assurance.

Voice search also has uses outside of Now TV's content, but these are unfortunately much less limited. You can ask the Stick to open up the iPlayer, for example, but it currently can't search within the app to find you the latest episode of Eastenders. 

Early Verdict

Although there are other apps included, the Now TV Stick has a very singular purpose: it wants to make it cheap and easy for you to spend money on Sky's streaming services. 

So far, what we've seen of the Stick implies that it will do a very effective job. The interface is well laid out and snappy, buttons on the remote make getting to the different bits of Sky's content a doddle, and the voice search seems to be a quick and easy way of finding your way around the interface. 

But the elephant in the room is always the Roku hardware that the Now TV variant is based on. Yes you'll pay more (four times more at the time of writing),  but opting for Roku's Streaming Stick+ will net you all of what the Now TV Stick offers along with support for both Netflix and Amazon in 4K HDR. 

If you want the cheapest functional streaming stick money can buy, then keep an eye out for the Now TV Stick. Just know that you can get more if you're prepared to pay more. 

  • Now TV also produce a Freeview HD-equipped set-top box called the Now TV Smart Box

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.