STRONG Google TV stick: how the alternative to Chromecast 4K that costs less works


STRONG Google TV stick: how the alternative to Chromecast 4K that costs less works
Written by aquitodovale

Since Google launched the new version of Android TV with Google TV interface, this has mostly been exclusive to Chromecast HDMI sticks and, more recently, to some select TV manufacturers like Sony and TCL. STRONG has launched one of the few Android TV HDMI sticks with Google TV on the Italian market with the SRT41 media streamer. It is a product that responds to one of the main problems related to Smart TVs: the inevitable obsolescence of the software platform. Unlike smartphones, where manufacturers pay more attention to the release of software updates, in the TV market the maintenance of software platforms over time is something very rare. The risk is that after a few years, the Smart TV component begins to lose support from existing apps and services or the ability to access new ones. But a key of this type can also be used to restore luster to even older TVs, originally lacking advanced smart functions, but fully functional. STRONG’s solution, in addition to offering all the features of Google TV, it also supports 4K video up to 60 Hz and in HDR formatat a list price of 10 euros lower than the Chromecast with Google TV from Google, 59.90 euros against 69.90 euros.

What changes outside and in part also inside

The price difference compared to the Google streamer is not sensational at all, but on products with such low margins it is significant and implies that differences in hardware are to be expected. The design, first of all, is evidently more anonymous than the iconic one of Google’s Chromecast: a large black stick, with an HDMI connector at one end and a micro USB port on one side for power.

We also find the power supply with USB cable, as well as a small HDMI extension to facilitate installation in case of too narrow connection panel. The power supply of the STRONG key requires the classic 5 V / 1 A on USB and, unlike the Google Chromecast, it can therefore possibly be connected to a USB port on the TV (with the disadvantage that it will turn off together with the TV and at every switch on you will have to wait for the boot).

The hardware platform is based on the Amlogic S905X2 SoC, that is a slightly less powerful version than the one mounted on the Chromecast 4K, the S905X3, with a CPU with four ARM Cortex-A53 cores at 1.8 GHz (instead of Cortex-A55 at 1.9 GHz), lacking all the acceleration component for the AI ​​of the superior model. The SoC supports decoding of the latest video encodings including HEVC and AV1, as well as MPEG-4 AVC and VP9. Like Chromecast, the STRONG key comes with 2 GB of RAM and 8 GB of storage for the operating system and applications. The Wi-Fi connectivity is interesting, which is of the Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) and Dual Band type and there is no lack of Bluetooth 5, which is necessary for pairing the remote control with integrated microphone for voice commands, but also for peripherals such as controllers. game. The specifications speak of HDMI 2.1 output, but in fact the video output goes up to 4K at 60 Hz and advanced functions of the new specifications are not supported.

The supplied remote control is the classic one for Google TV, but with the pleasant addition of keys for direct access to Disney +, Netflix, Prime Video and the inevitable YouTube. In addition to the usual buttons for volume, program change (for TV control via HDMI-CEC), source change, home, Google Assistant and settings, we find a button for selecting Google TV user profiles.

No Dolby Vision and HDR is “always on” when enabled

The main features and the graphical interface are those of Google TV, which does not leave much room for customization by the hardware manufacturer. However, it is worth highlighting some aspects related to the configuration of the product from the point of view of audio and video output. STRONG SRT 41, like many Android 11-based products, does not support dynamic frame rate switching. By default, the device automatically takes the maximum resolution supported by the TV to which it is connected: on the most recent ones it will therefore be 4K at 60 or 30 Hz.

The key supports HDR, HDR10 and HLG formats, but not Dolby Vision and there is, from what we have seen, an important limitation: HDR can be set system-wide on or off, but it cannot be activated automatically based on content. Nor is it practical to change the setting by hand before playing an HDR content: switching from one video mode to another, in fact, involves restarting the device, with relative boot times of Android.

It must be said that those who choose an HDMI stick usually do it to pair it with an older TV, which perhaps supports 4K but not HDR video playback, so you might as well turn a blind eye. In this specific aspect, however, Google’s Chromecast is further ahead.

On the audio side, there are no particular settings, except for a parameter that should regulate the passthrough output of the audio encodings. There are three choices: automatic, surround off and pass-through “according to device compatibility”. In reality we have verified that only the first option guarantees the passage of the Dolby Atmos audio of the streaming services to the TV, otherwise with both Netflix and Prime Video, the audio passes to the TV in simple 5.1. For the rest, the settings are the basic ones of Google TV.

The user experience is that of Google TV, with some limitations

Google TV doesn’t need much introduction now. This is a version of Android TV in which the home is strongly oriented towards the recommendation of contents from the main streaming services and the use of the Google Assistant, rather than the classic grid of applications.

The Play Store is there, but it must be called up via voice commands and the device supports the apps available for Android TV. Compared to the version of Google TV available on Chromecast devices, as on televisions we find a reduced integration of Netflix, whose contents do not appear among those suggested in the various sections of the interface but only in the search results when carried out through the Google Assistant or the check box. Research.

The STRONG dongle is Netflix certified and therefore offers 4K and even HDR playback from this application and, as already mentioned, supports Dolby Atmos audio from major video streaming services.

During our tests, apart from the first few seconds after booting or updating background applications, we found the navigation of the Google TV interface always smooth and responsive, as well as within the main applications. The response to voice commands is also fast. We encountered some problems specifically with Prime Video. With the output set to 60Hz we noticed a little smooth playback of 4K content. The original Amazon series “The Rings of Power”, in particular, perhaps due to its high bitrate, creates several problems of playback stability, with freeze frames, audio out of sync. In general with Prime Video we noticed smoother playback by manually setting the video output to 24Hz, and even better by lowering the resolution to 1080p. Although technically the data sheet speaks of support for the HDR10 + format, the Prime Video app still comes out in HDR10 on this device. Conversely, with Netflix we did not notice playback problems regardless of resolution and frame rate, apart from a slight slowdown of the interface when playing a video in 4K.

We also tested the key with GeForce Now cloud gaming using a Bluetooth controller, but even if the service technically works, via Wi-Fi we found such a high lag as to make it practically impossible to play any title in streaming properly.

Discreet, but pay attention to the price

Ultimately, the STRONG stick offers the classic Google TV experience, with a sufficiently fluid and responsive interface and broad support for all major streaming services, even in 4K, HDR and with Dolby Atmos audio, plus all the applications of the Google TV ecosystem. Compared to the direct competitor, the Chromecast with Google 4K TV from Google, Dolby Vision support and more complete HDR management are substantially missing. Chromecast has also recently received the update to Android 12, while here the operating system is still stuck at version 11. Also considering some problems with Prime Video, the saving of only 10 euros for some may not be worth it. At the same price, there is also Amazon’s Fire Stick 4K as an alternative, which in addition offers support for Dolby Vision, although it offers a less powerful processor and less RAM. Basically, a product to be evaluated based on the price at which it is found compared to the alternatives.

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