For as much as we wring our hands over Amazon and its ever-expanding product ecosystem, let’s not forget the other big-box retailer also attempting to insert itself into the narrative. Walmart has long invested in a house brand of its own called Onn, which makes everything from Android tablets to Roku TVs to soundbars, and even positively vintage gadgets like cassette recorders.
Walmart also makes a pair of extremely affordable Onn streaming devices running Android TV. The $30 Android TV UHD Streaming Device is effectively a set-top box with 4K streaming abilities and Dolby audio compatibility. There’s also the $25 Onn FHD Streaming Stick, which I currently have plugged into my bedroom television. It’s what I’ve been using for the past week to watch Android TV after I realized the $50 Chromecast with Google TV dongle was a bit of overkill on a screen I use to help me doze off.
Like the Chromecast with Google TV and the Chromecast of yore, you plug the black Onn dongle into an HDMI port on the back of your television. The box comes with an HDMI extender to help make it more convenient for you, which is a nice touch. There’s also a button-packed remote that comes with the device, which I’ll get into in just a bit.
The FHD Streaming Stick runs a quad-core Amlogicx S8055Y, made by a company that produces stock Android TV-based devices and other gadgets and accessories. Amlogic also makes the chipset for the Chromecast with Google TV, so already there’s some synergy here. The particular processor in the FHD Streaming Stick is a low-cost quad-core ARM Cortex A5-based SoC with a Mali-450 MP2 GPU. There’s also 1GB of memory inside, plus support for 802.11ac wifi connections. Note there’s no support for 2×2 MIMO like on the Amazon Fire TV sticks, so expect slower throughput.
The remote is a chunkier version of what you’d get through Google, and not unlike the button-packed remotes you’d get with a device like Xiaomi MiBox set-top box. There’s a button for nearly everything: a back button, a button to change inputs, a button to call up the assistant, a mute button, a home button, and even a page up and down button running parallel to the volume controller. There are also four launcher buttons at the bottom for YouTube, Netflix, HBO Max, and Disney+, the latter of which can’t be uninstalled from the streaming stick if you don’t pay for it (I don’t!). Android Police discovered it’s not possible to remap the buttons with an app. However, you could pair it for use with a Chromecast with Google TV unit if you prefer the remote style. I liked it because it’s a little longer and weightier than the Chromecast remote.
Curiously, there’s a button for adding titles to your Watchlist, even though the Onn FHD Streaming Stick runs a version of Android TV that doesn’t use the Google TV-introduced feature.
The Onn remote can be paired with your TV for additional hardware controls, like volume and input control. Unfortunately, I had problems pairing the remote with my TCL TV. I’m still trying to figure out the issue.
Everything else about the Onn stick is reasonably straightforward. If you’ve used either Android TV or Google TV, the interface is generally the same for navigation. There are suggestions at the top based on the apps you have installed, plus a carousel below for your favorite apps. Then there’s the Play Next module, which takes you through content that’s either in progress or up next on the list. And then there are Google Play’s specific suggestions.
Google TV is a bit more of an interface than a launcher, which Android TV often feels like. It’s better organized, too, with a clearly marked tab for live TV through a service like YouTube TV, as well as a tab for quickly accessing your DVR library. I asked Google if the Onn FHD Streaming Stick would be receiving the revamped Google TV update any time in the future. There’s nothing to report yet, but the Onn streaming stick does have the new Discover tab that Google pushed to Android TV earlier this year.
In terms of overall performance, I noticed that apps were just a little slower to load than on the Chromecast with Google TV. Even YouTube TV would take a few seconds before bringing me to the home screen to access my DVR. I used the remote to ask the Google Assistant to launch something specific, but it would take a beat before entering command mode. For the most part, I used the Onn stick to watch Pluto TV and fall asleep to Unsolved Mysteries. The slight choppiness of navigating Android TV made me glad I’d installed the streaming stick on a secondary screen instead of the main one downstairs because of the wait time before a button makes something happen.
But the Onn stick is one of the cheapest ways to smarten up a dumb TV. It’s more affordable than either of the Amazon Fire TV sticks, which are Walmart’s main competition in this particular category. As I mentioned before, the big-box retailer is already playing nice with Roku’s devices.
The main reason you’d choose this seriously affordable streaming stick is that you want to keep a stray screen you have lying around in Google’s ecosystem. Given the cost of YouTube TV. you might as well make it available on every display that will take it. One Chromecast with Google TV is affordable enough, but when you’re looking to stream to multiple displays, it starts to add up. The low cost of Walmart’s dongle makes it cheaper to upgrade multiple screens at once. Three Chromecast with Google TV devices would start at $150 before tax and shipping. Conversely, you could probably walk into a Walmart right now and snag three of these dongles for $75, which is half the cost.
There’s another option: Google still sells the lone Chromecast for $30 without a remote, but it doesn’t have an interface beyond a screen saver, so you’ll have to cast what you want to watch from a smartphone manually. I prefer Walmart’s Onn offerings simply for the added remote and software. There’s something about the tangible feel of a brick with buttons that I find more instinctive than pawing through my smartphone looking for the next thing to watch—maybe it’s because I don’t want to navigate two screens at a time.
Look, this isn’t a full-fledged set-top streaming experience. If you’re looking for expandability and a little more performance, you can spend a mere few dollars more for Onn’s UHD streaming device. For now, I’ll keep the Onn FHD Streaming Stick plugged into my TV. It’s not the full Google TV experience, but because of that, it’s a bit faster at getting what I need—something to put on in the background.