Walmart’s $50 Onn 4K Pro is a surprisingly great Google TV streamer | CNN Underscored (2024)

Google may have created the Chromecast, but Walmart just redefined it with the Onn 4K Pro, one of the best streaming devices I’ve ever seen at this price. Sure, it bears the worst name of anything I’ve reviewed in ages (Walmart lists it as the “onn. Google TV 4K Pro Streaming Device”), but it’s got all the features you’d expect for $50, plus some perks that typically cost at least $100.

That said, it’s got some issues that are keeping it from earning a slot under my TV or a spot in my suitcase (I don’t travel without a streaming stick). So, let’s break down why this might be the perfect streaming box for your TV, especially if you love YouTube and live in the Google ecosystem. And, yes, you might think differently about Walmart by the time you’ve finished this review.

The Onn 4K Pro is one of the best $50 streaming devices ever made, thanks to its performance, lost remote finder, Ethernet port and hands-free voice controls.

What I liked about it

Surprisingly fast performance for a $50 Google TV box

Walmart’s peculiarly-named brand was previously known for tech ranging from mediocre to “good for the price.” But as I navigated its Google TV interface, I noticed that the Onn 4K Pro is one of the most responsive Google TV devices I’ve ever tested. If you’re curious as to how I reviewed this device, I connected it to my trusty 55-inch LG C2 OLED TV and used the Sonos Arc for audio output.

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I didn’t expect much from the Onn 4K Pro’s quad-core Cortex-A55 CPU, but it’s got none of the lag that’s synonymous with Google TV or modern Chromecast performance. That also means it’s much snappier than I expected for this price. Only once did I click fast enough to wait for images to load, and by that point I’d already found what I didn’t realize I wanted: “Bad Boys II.” That little lag might be Hulu’s fault, I should note — it’s far from a perfect app.

Apps like Max, Peaco*ck and Paramount+ loaded quickly, as did movies such as “Paddington” and “MoviePass, MovieCrash.”

You typically have to pay much more to find your lost remote

The Onn 4K Pro’s remote looks very basic, but hides a hidden trick. When you inevitably lose your remote, you only have to say “hey Google, find my remote” or click the button on the front of the streaming box for the clicker to start emitting a chime to help you track it down.

Competitors make you pay much more for this ability, as Amazon keeps its similar feature exclusive to its $35 Alexa Voice Remote Pro, and Roku’s lost remote functionality is only in its $30 Voice Remote Pro and $100 Roku Ultra. Oh, and it’s also available in Apple’s $129 Apple TV 4K. It also has a programmable button, which can be assigned either to switch inputs or open a favorite application. I choose the former because I have multiple HDMI-connected devices and always need that button on remotes.

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Otherwise, the Onn 4K Pro’s remote is pretty decent for the price, with buttons that have just enough click to feel acceptable, and most of the controls even an expert like me could ask for. Dedicated fast-forward, rewind and play/pause buttons would be great though.

I want to give the team some credit for leaning into Google TV’s push towards free ad-supported TV content with its big blue “Free TV” button. Sitting smack dab in the middle of this remote, this big advertisem*nt for Google TV’s free programming will basically make sure nobody ever thinks there isn’t something free to watch.

And at this price, for these features, I’ll forgive the nearly ubiquitous branded buttons for streaming services. My remote packs four of these buttons, with Netflix, Disney+, YouTube Premium and Paramount+. I only have accounts with the last two — arguably the more niche options here — so I think they made decent selections,

Oh, and the Onn 4K Pro’s Find My Remote isn’t its only feature that Amazon and Roku keep hostage in their premium remotes: It’s also got backlit keys to make it easier to see in the dark. One tip for folks looking for an app-based remote: Use the Google TV app on your phone, not Google Home, which seems to be unreliable and inconsistent.

The audio and video specs and features you should expect at $50, and a port I didn’t

Don’t worry about Walmart cutting other corners to hit the $50 price: the Onn 4K Pro also supports the premium Dolby Vision HDR video standard and Dolby Atmos for immersive audio content. That allowed the film “Dune: Part Two” to look and sound as good as it could when streaming from Max, especially the high-contrast scenes with inky black corners of the Harkonnens’ planet of Giedi Prime.

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Also, the Onn 4K Pro includes a built-in Ethernet port for those of us who want more-stable streaming and have heavily congested Wi-Fi networks. For the spec heads out there, it’s a 10/100 Ethernet port, which is the same you get in the $100 Roku Ultra and $140 Fire TV Cube 4K. It’s not as fast as the gigabit Ethernet port you get in the $149 Apple TV 4K, but I don’t care when it costs a third of the price.

The Onn 4K Pro pushes free TV to the front

Clicking the Free TV button basically turns on one of the many ad-supported free TV channels, as I discovered when an episode of the cop drama “Blue Bloods” appeared on the Ion channel.

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Google TV’s Free TV offering seemed somewhat limited at first, as the row of channels began with a lot of crime such as Court TV, Court TV Legendary Trials, Murder She Wrote, Unsolved Mysteries and Dateline 24/7. But the more I clicked through, the more I was surprised, with channels dedicated to Mystery Science Theater 3000, World Poker Tour and TNA Wrestling.

Admittedly, I kind of wish that button weren’t there. I’m not going to ever use it and I only wound up clicking it accidentally when blindly trying to raise the volume.

What I didn’t like about it

This streaming device can’t hide behind your TV

Chromecast fans have long loved the streaming device for its dangling dongle design that simply hides behind your TV. The Onn 4K Pro is no such hidden weapon, as it’s a box meant to sit in front of the TV where it can hear your voice and would be too hefty to hang out of a port.

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I don’t mind keeping the Onn 4K Pro under my TV, but I also understand how many would rather use the Roku Streaming Stick 4K (our pick for the best streaming device) because it stays hidden behind the TV. Also, I envision myself continuing to travel with that stick for my streaming on the road, as it’s much smaller and easier to fit in luggage.

Hands-free voice controls are a mixed bag

Pause and play commands work. On the good side, when I decided I wanted to resume my earlier movie watching, I just had to say “hey Google, play ‘Bad Boys II’ on Hulu,” and it jumped back to the drug bust at the Klan meeting. To give Walmart credit, one has to click the voice buttons on the other $50 streaming device remotes to issue verbal commands, as the Roku Streaming Stick 4K and Fire TV Stick 4K don’t pack hands-free control.

You can’t expect the Onn 4K Pro to replace a smart speaker, though, as I found out when asking “Hey Google, what’s the weather?” when the TV was off. Instead of just reciting the answer, it turned on the TV to show the visual forecast. That’s neat and all, but I didn’t ask to turn on the TV.

Sometimes, voice commands didn’t quite work. I tried three times to open Ingmar Bergman’s 1966 film “Persona” on the Max app, and each time got a different (but incomplete) result. The first time the Onn 4K Pro did a YouTube search, the second time it showed the Google TV card for the classic film and it merely opened the Max app on the third time.

Google TV has room for improvement

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The Onn 4K Pro, just like every modern Chromecast, runs on Google’s own operating system, Google TV. While this platform may appeal to many for its content-first interface that’s constantly recommending programming, my favorite feature is its deeply linked connections to YouTube. I’m constantly watching stuff on my personal under-the-radar pick for best streaming service, so I love how the Onn 4K Pro is filled with personalized picks from that platform. But I’m not always so plussed.

If you’re used to Google TV, or even Amazon’s Fire TV, you might not think twice when you turn on the Onn 4K Pro for the first time. Even though I’ve been reviewing streaming sticks and boxes for more than four years now, I’m still slightly surprised when I see the Google TV interface begin with a carousel with an advertisem*nt that fills the top half of the screen. I still prefer how Roku places its ads in a sidebar or how the (admittedly costlier) Apple TV 4K doesn’t have any ads at all.

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The main carousel then jumped to the DraftKings Network’s coverage of the NBA Finals, which is nearly a great user-optimized choice. While I love the DraftKings Network series “Pablo Torre Finds Out,” and I’ve been paying more attention than usual to the NBA Finals this year, the less gambling-focused sports content the better if you ask me. Sure, ESPN also packs in sportsbook odds into its coverage, but I’ve never chosen to watch DraftKings’ actual sports coverage.

I’m also not a huge fan of the Google TV screensavers, which present fancy and beautiful images alongside tiles for the weather, YouTube video and voice activation suggestions. In the era of pause ads (try pausing a Hulu show if you have the ad-supported tier), I guess not even screensavers can be free of gunk.

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Realizing that I also needed to catch up on modern cinema classics, I asked aloud for help “where can I watch ‘Paddington’?” only to be given a screen that presented Netflix and a bunch of other buttons for options to see the trailer, add it to watchlist and see other ways to watch. I was almost annoyed since I’ve recently canceled my Netflix subscription, but then thought to click “five ways to watch” where I learned that the first ‘Paddington’ is also on Hulu. I know the Onn 4K Pro might have suggested Netflix because the app was installed (by default), but I wish it could have used the fact that, of the two, I’d only signed into Hulu.

Bottom line

Walmart’s $50 Onn 4K Pro is a surprisingly great Google TV streamer | CNN Underscored (10)

As something of a skeptic on all things Walmart, I am quite pleasantly surprised by how much I like the Onn 4K Pro. I didn’t expect it to be faster than Google’s actual Chromecasts, but to also include features ranging from its Ethernet port for stable streaming to lost remote functionality and backlit keys on that clicker? That’s a great value for $50.

Were I of the belief that Google TV is a better TV operating system than Roku, the Onn 4K Pro would be our new overall pick for best streaming stick or device. But unless you want to hide your streaming device behind your TV, the speed boost you get in the Onn 4K Pro is worth considering switching from Google’s official Chromecast.

Walmart’s $50 Onn 4K Pro is a surprisingly great Google TV streamer | CNN Underscored (2024)

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