Streaming has never been so cheap. While smart TVs, games consoles and set-top boxes give you access to services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, some people still opt for a dedicated streaming device, which is a great option if you don't have any of the above.
At just £14.99, the Now TV Smart Stick is one of the cheapest streaming devices around.
It's the same price as the Now TV Box, though cheaper than the £39 Now TV Smart Box (which has Freeview built in).
So what's it like to use? And how does it stack up against the Amazon Fire TV Stick, Roku models and Apple TV? Crack open the popcorn, we're about to find out.
First impressions and design
Because it's a streaming stick, the design is pretty basic. Its looks just like a USB memory stick, with a Now TV logo on the front and a microUSB port on the other end.
There's a reset button on the top in case you need to restart the device. But that's about it in terms of bells and whistles.
The stick itself and remote control are matte black, which is a bit dull, especially compared to the colourful packaging, not to mention Now TV's jazzy adverts. The stick sits around the back of the TV out of sight, so it's not an issue. But it's a shame the controller isn't a bit more eye-catching.
Like previous Now TV devices, the Smart Stick is made by Roku (there's even a small Roku logo on the back). But whereas some have been rebadged versions of Roku devices, this one has been custom-made for Sky.
If you've used a Roku or similar device before, you'll know the drill. Setting it up is a cinch.
The stick plugs into your TV's HDMI socket. This keeps it around the back, out of sight. You then use the microUSB port to plug the stick into your TV's USB port using the supplied cable, or into a mains socket using the supplied adapter. Either of these gives the device power.
We found that the USB socket on our TV powered it just fine. But for some models you might need to use the mains socket. It's not a big deal, but it could be an issue if you have a lot of kit already plugged in (games consoles, set-top boxes etc.) and don't have a socket spare.
Next, you connect to your home wi-fi network (there's no wired option). You now have to sign into your Now TV account, or create one if you're new to the service.
Now TV gives you access to Sky's TV content, but on a pay as you go basis. You buy various passes in order to watch entertainment, sports, films or kids' TV. You only pay for what you watch, so if you want all four passes one month, it'll cost you a pretty penny. But conversely, if you're strapped for cash or don't want to watch anything that month, you don't have to pay anything.
For more information on what's on Now TV, check out our guide.
The TV Smart Stick can be bought either on its own, or with a pass. For more info, see the Value for Money section.
Performance and Software
The Now TV Stick gives pretty much the same Now TV experience you'd get from the Now TV Box. Which is to say a nice, colourful menu that's heavy on the pictures and easy to navigate.
The actual navigation is a bit sluggish. Apps take a while to load, and channels don't start instantly. It's fine, just don't expect Sky Q levels of polish. But then that's to be expected, given the price.
There's no 4K, which you get with Sky Q. Again, that's to be expected. What's more surprising is that all Now TV content streams at 720p – that's high definition, but not quite as sharp as the 1080p standard which is widely used.
The Smart Stick can handle 1080p, however. And if you load other apps (like BBC iPlayer), you'll see a slight bump in quality.
Now TV could soon stream at a higher resolution, however. The official line from Sky is that "higher quality streaming is something we hope to introduce in the future". Let's hope 1080p arrives soon. But 4K is asking too much of a budget device.
The Smart Stick comes with its own remote control, so you don't need to use your mobile to control it.
It can control your TV too – at least, the power and volume buttons can. This is very handy, as it means that once you're up and running, you don't need to find the dedicated TV remote to adjust the volume or shut it down.
The remote is bigger than the Smart Stick itself, though that's not hard considering the Smart Stick's dinky dimensions. It's all pretty self-explanatory: you've got a d-pad for moving around the menu, home and back buttons, plus pause, rewind and fast forward.
There's also a selection of shortcut buttons, for jumping straight to the My TV section, the TV guide, kids' content and the Sky Store.
And there's a microphone button. Hold it down, and you can speak to search for content. It's a neat extra, but far from perfect.
A spoken search for 'Collateral' brought up the Tom Cruise film 'Collateral' from 2004, 'Collateral Beauty' and 'Collateral Damage', but not the recent BBC drama (which was available on BBC iPlayer). Similarly, a search for "Premier League football" returned no results, nor did one for "Arsenal".
It also doesn't support the movie quotes feature that was recently added to Sky Q. So you can't say "May the force be with you" and be presented with 'Star Wars', for example. For that, you'll have to pay the extra for Sky Q.
The electronic programme guide (EPG) shows you what's on, and you can pause and rewind live TV.
You don't get all that much live TV, however. Unlike the Now TV Smart Box, there's no Freeview tuner built in, so your live options are limited to Sky channels, iPlayer... and that's about it.
As of October 2018, Now TV now offers Netflix, though there's still no Amazon Prime Video. But then Amazon doesn't offer Now TV on its Fire TV devices, though it too offers Netflix.
Now TV's passes do offer a wealth of content, however. As well as new series, there are hundreds of box sets of classic series like 'The Sopranos' and 'Boardwalk Empire'. Sky has the lion's share of live Premier League matches (and will retain them for the foreseeable future), and Sky Cinema serves up a new premier every day. There's a ton of kids' shows too.
Obviously you'll have to pay for all this. But Now TV is much more flexible than a Sky subscription.
There are other apps too, like Vevo, YouTube and BBC Sport.
Value for Money
There's no doubt about it, the Now TV Smart Stick is great value for money.
At just £14.99, it's the cheapest streaming stick around. But it also comes with a selection of passes.
Bundling it with a two-month Entertainment Pass or a one-month Sky Cinema Pass will cost you a fiver extra (£19.99), while with a one-month Sky Sports Pass it sets you back £29.99 (£15 more than the box on its own). These are all cheaper than buying the stick on its own and then splashing out on the respective pass.
Even if you don't use Sky's services, it's the cheapest way to get iPlayer, All4, ITV Hub and more catch-up and on-demand services onto your TV if it's not a smart set. But for those who want to dip their toes into Sky's content without jumping into a lengthy, pricey contract, the Now TV Smart Stick is a great option.