Amazon is taking more than one page out of Google's Chromecast playbook as it launched the rival dongle Fire TV Stick on Monday. And if you're hunting for a killer deal, just be sure to read the footnotes.
Like the $35 Chromecast, the $39 Fire TV Stick is a thumb-drive-size dongle that plugs into your television to enable you to watch a slew of streaming-video and -music apps through your set. And like Chromecast, Fire TV has aggressive pricing and promotions to lure customers in. But the Fire TV discounts get complicated when you look at them closely, most notably a free one-month trial to Netflix with the purchase of Fire TV Stick.
On the surface, it appears to be a bold move for a company with a service -- Amazon Prime Instant Video -- that competes directly with the subscription video giant. But the Netflix free trial is available only to new-to-Netflix signups, Amazon said -- and Netflix already offers a free one-month trial to new members.
Fire TV Stick is a clear shot over the bow of Google's Chromecast, which has been the chief tenant at the top of Amazon's own electronics best-seller list, experiencing brief, temporary drops from the No. 1 slot when another splashy device is just launched.
Amazon's first foray into streaming-media devices came in April with its Fire TV, the $99 competitor to Apple TV and Roku's top-of-the-line box. Though Amazon was quick to tout Monday that its Fire TV box "became the best-selling streaming media box on Amazon" after it was unveiled, it eventually dropped down the rankings. Monday morning, it sat at No. 5, below Roku 3 and, of course, Chromecast -- the reliable No. 1.
Amazon's launch of Fire TV Stick includes several discounts. For the first two days, members of Prime -- Amazon's $99-a-year membership program best-known for free second-day shipping -- can get the device for $19 rather than $39. The limited-time pricing is a steep cut, but recall that Google offered a three-month credit to Netflix for the earliest purchasers of Chromecast. At the time, the value of that brought Chromecast's cost down to just $11.
On the other hand, the Chromecast/Netflix deal sold out in four hours if you bought Google's stick on Amazon and within 24 hours if you bought it on Google Play, so Amazon's two days of Prime pricing at $19 gives many more people the opportunity to score savings.
In another of Amazon's odd promotions like the Netflix deal, people who purchase a Fire TV Stick can qualify for a free one-month trial of Prime -- valued at $8.25, bringing the price down to about $30.75. But the deal is available only to people who aren't already Prime members, and Amazon routinely offers a one-month free trial to new signups anyway. If you're shopping in the initial two-day window, any new member can sign up for Prime, get the routine one-month-free trial anyway and get the $19 pricing to boot.
But let's say you miss that two-day deep price cut for Prime members. With Chromecast's retail price only $4 less than $39 Fire TV Stick, and with Fire TV Stick including a remote and the option to play games more so than Chromecast, the two should look pretty competitive in a side-by-side comparison.
And they would indeed seem neck-and-neck, if only Amazon weren't the king of aggressive price cuts. Right now, Prime members can buy Chromecast nearly 20 percent off for about $28, a poetic instance of Amazon being so successful at beating prices that it may undercut itself.