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Best streaming device, tablet, smart TV and soundbar: Roku, Apple and Amazon

Staying at home means streaming more Netflix, YouTube, Amazon, Disney Plus and Hulu than ever. Here's our favorite gear for keeping your family entertained.

Updated Sept. 2, 2020 6:53 a.m. PT

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Written by  Ty Pendlebury David Katzmaier
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Ty Pendlebury Editor
Ty Pendlebury is a journalism graduate of RMIT Melbourne, and has worked at CNET since 2006. He lives in New York City where he writes about streaming and home audio.
Expertise Ty has worked for radio, print, and online publications, and has been writing about home entertainment since 2004. He majored in Cinema Studies when studying at RMIT. He is an avid record collector and streaming music enthusiast. Credentials
  • Ty was nominated for Best New Journalist at the Australian IT Journalism awards, but he has only ever won one thing. As a youth, he was awarded a free session for the photography studio at a local supermarket.
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David Katzmaier Editorial Director -- Personal Tech
David reviews TVs and leads the Personal Tech team at CNET, covering mobile, software, computing, streaming and home entertainment. We provide helpful, expert reviews, advice and videos on what gadget or service to buy and how to get the most out of it.
Expertise A 20-year CNET veteran, David has been reviewing TVs since the days of CRT, rear-projection and plasma. Prior to CNET he worked at Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as the Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics. Credentials
  • Although still awaiting his Oscar for Best Picture Reviewer, David does hold certifications from the Imaging Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology on display calibration and evaluation.
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$45 at Roku
Roku Streaming Stick Plus
Roku Streaming Stick Plus
Best TV streamer overall
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$185 at Best Buy
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Apple iPad (10.2-inch, 7th gen, 2019)
Best tablet for entertainment
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$500 at Amazon
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TCL 4-Series TV
Best budget smart TV
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$165 at Amazon
17-roku-smart-soundbar
Roku Smart Soundbar
Best streaming soundbar
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$200 at Amazon
fire-hd-10-kids-edition-lifestyle-spanish
Amazon Fire HD 10 Kids Edition
Best tablet for kids
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$25 at Roku
04-roku-express
Roku Express
Best budget streamer
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$89 at eBay
51-apple-tv-4k-2017
Apple TV 4K
Best high-end streamer
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$103 at Amazon
05-roku-2019
Roku Ultra
Best streamer for convenience
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$33 at eBay
06-amazon-fire-tv-stick-4k
Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K
Best streamer for Amazon
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$150 at Best Buy
05-nvidia-shield-tv
Nvidia Shield TV
Best streamer for gamers
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$35 at Walmart
002-chromecast-2018
Google Chromecast
Best streamer for Android users
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After months of staying at home, chances are you've streamed your share of TV shows and movies. And maybe you've noticed a thing or two about whatever streaming device you're using. Maybe Netflix doesn't load as quickly as you'd like, maybe the remote is a pain to operate, maybe that old tablet is slowing to a crawl. In short, maybe it's time to invest in a new device to watch your shows on.

We've reviewed every major streaming media player available, brands such as  Roku Amazon Chromecast  and  Apple TV , as well as numerous smart TVs and tablets like the iPad, which are perfect for watching TV around the house when the TVs themselves are all occupied. 

We took into account all kinds of factors, from the remote control and whether a device would respond to a voice command, to streaming speeds and device compatibility. There's more than one streaming player out there, and there's no need to keep using an ancient Fire Stick, iOS device or Roku device if it's no longer performing the way you want it to as you stream your favorite TV episodes. Further, the newer versions of these streaming devices have upgraded features, like 4K streaming and access to live TV. And, if you've already sprung for that 4K Ultra HD TV, you really need to update your TV streaming device as well to take your viewing experience to the next level.

So if your current media streaming device is getting long in the tooth, or you need an extra one to turn your otherwise-fine dumb TV into a smart TV, here are our favorites.

Editors' choice
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$45 at Roku

Roku Streaming Stick Plus

Best TV streamer overall

Roku makes our favorite streaming system, with the most streaming apps, the simplest interface, the best search and a content-agnostic platform that doesn't push any one media streaming provider, like Amazon Prime Video or iTunes, over another. The Plus is one of the cheapest streaming TV options with 4K HDR, and even if your current TV doesn't support that format, your next one probably will. Its practical features, like a remote control that can control your TV's volume and power, seal the deal.

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Editors' choice
$185 at Best Buy

Apple iPad (10.2-inch, 7th gen, 2019)

Best tablet for entertainment

Apple's entry-level iPad offers long-lasting battery life and a bigger screen for enjoying TV and movie apps, whether streamed or downloaded. Older processor aside, this is a perfectly good iPad that will handle all your family's streaming needs and more. It does cost more than the competition, however, so it always pays to look for a good deal.

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$600 at Amazon

TCL 4-Series TV

Best budget smart TV

As we mentioned, Roku makes our favorite media streamers for live TV streaming apps like Netflix, and it's even better as a platform baked into a TV. This TCL 4-Series is one of the most affordable Roku TVs on the market, available in a range of sizes and with image quality that's perfectly fine for most people, especially at this price. 

Sizes: 43-, 50-, 55-, 65-, 75-inch. (The price shown below is for the 65-inch size.)

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$165 at Amazon

Roku Smart Soundbar

Best streaming soundbar

Soundbars with onboard streaming may be a relatively recent development, but Roku's Smart Soundbar came fully formed out of the gate. With excellent sound, the Roku interface users know and love and an affordable price, this a great option for a media streamer in a bedroom or holiday house.

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$200 at Amazon

Amazon Fire HD 10 Kids Edition

Best tablet for kids

The Fire HD 10 Kids Edition is the kid-friendly version of the Amazon Fire HD 10, with the largest display in the lineup of Amazon tablets. Just like its 7- and 8-inch siblings, the tablet features a ton of parental control options and a rubberized bumper case to protect the device against drops. This 10-inch tablet also includes a two-year "no questions asked" replacement warranty and a one-year subscription to FreeTime Unlimited, a content library that gives kids access to plenty of age-appropriate videos, books, games and apps.

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$25 at Roku

Roku Express

Best budget streamer

For the price of a Blu-ray Disc, you can get a whole media streamer, which comes with plenty of free content. The Express delivers all of the goodness of Roku's platform, and it includes a remote, an HDMI cable and a little sticker to keep it in place.

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Editors' choice
$89 at eBay

Apple TV 4K

Best high-end streamer

The perfect foil to the Roku Streaming Stick Plus, the Apple TV costs over $100 more but is the better choice for people who can appreciate its advantages. Those include compatibility with Dolby Vision HDR, flexible upconversion, superior voice control features, a better remote and a smoother, slicker user interface. The Apple TV 4K is so good for media streaming, it even makes sense if you're not an "Apple person."

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$103 at Amazon

Roku Ultra

Best streamer for convenience

At $100, this is the most expensive Roku, but if you must have it all then the Roku Ultra has it all to offer. While in terms of image quality and operating system it's indistinguishable from the Streaming Stick Plus, the Ultra is especially handy for the forgetful among us. The Ultra offers both a remote finder and two extra customizable shortcut buttons for your favorite services.

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$33 at eBay

Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K

Best streamer for Amazon

With Alexa, Amazon has done more than any other company to integrate voice commands into the ways we consume media. The Fire TV Stick 4K bakes Alexa right into the remote, and you can use voice control to search for Gremlins or turn on your Christmas tree. Or both at the same time. Throw in a massive selection of content with an easy-to-use menu and the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K represents excellent value for money when it comes to streaming media.

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$150 at Best Buy

Nvidia Shield TV

Best streamer for gamers

Sure, it's an expensive media streamer at $150 -- and that's before adding a game controller -- but if you want a jack-of-all-trades video media player, the Shield is it. In addition to being a streaming media player in 4K and HDR, it offers a robust library of games, both console-level and Android, Steam Link, built-in Google Assistant complete with smart home control, NAS access, Plex server capabilityHDHomeRun integration and much more.

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$41 at Walmart

Google Chromecast

Best streamer for Android users

The Chromecast is one of the cheapest ways to get video to stream on your TV, but unlike the other streamers listed here it doesn't come with a remote. Instead it works in combination with a phone or Google Assistant for voice control and voice search. The latter method is great for calling up shows on Netflix or Disney Plus.

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