The latest goggleboxes certainly do boast features that excite even the least tech-savvy viewers, but they're nothing without one of the best USB sticks for smart TVs. Yes, there are endless ads for exciting new models, but buying one of the best USB sticks for smart TVs should be right on the top of your list when upgrading your TV. Why? Well, don't forget that many TVs won't come with a way to store your favourite shows. That's where USB sticks for smart TVs come in.
The menus on a smart TV are very good at shouting about the tricks it can do, but one powerful feature may be hard to find: The ability to pause, rewind and record live television. This amazing feature tends to go unnoticed. Due to their lack of internal memory, smart TVs cannot store any recordings until an external storage device is plugged in.
Best USB sticks for smart TVs at a glance:
• Best overall USB stick for TV recording: Integral 1TB Black USB 3.0 Super Speed - View at Amazon
• Best budget USB stick: SanDisk 256GB Ultra Dual Drive USB Type-C Flash Drive - View at Amazon
• Best secure USB stick: Lexar JumpDrive Fingerprint F35 256GB - View at Amazon
• Best high-end USB stick for speed and storage: SanDisk 1TB Extreme PRO USB 3.2 Flash Drive - View at Amazon
Thankfully, extra memory is easy enough to get hold of. Most USB memory sticks - including some of the best USB-C memory sticks - are more than up to the job. These can be plugged right into one of a smart TV's USB ports. You then use the TV to select how you want that stick to be used for your recordings. Some models, including the most common 40 or 50-inch smart TVs, will even offer up the function once it detects the device.
After double-checking that your TV is compatible and has this recording functionality, you'll need to make sure that the stick you choose is up to the job. There are three key features to look for: USB 3.0, speed, and size. We have an explanation of this in our guide below. So, let's dive into our selection of the best USB sticks for smart TVs.
Best USB sticks for smart TVs in 2023
Best overall USB stick
This USB 3.0 stick packs an astonishing 1TB of storage into a slim and attractive form factor. It
- The best capacity for the price that we've seen
- Compact design and good colour to remain out of sight when attached
- USB 3.0 for fast data transfer, playback and recording
- Not as fast as other more expensive USB 3.2 sticks
The best budget USB stick for TV recording
SanDisk has ticked most of the boxes here, with a dual connector for both USB 3.0 and USB Type C
- Ample storage
- Fast read speed
- Smooth performance
- Some may find the sliding mechanism fiddly
Best secure USB stick
The Lexar JumpDrive Fingerprint F35 is a 256GB powerhouse of speed and good looks. A blistering
- Very fast read speeds thanks to USB 3.0
- It is extremely secure, so if you need it for work purposes, you can leave it plugged into your TV without worrying
- Very sturdy and well-designed case
- Not compatible with Mac
- Fingerprint recognition can require patience
Best high-end USB stick for speed and storage
SanDisk's Extreme PRO is a compelling option. The 1TB capacity is going to be enough to store a
- Amazingly fast read speeds thanks to USB 3.2 standard
- Huge 1TB capacity - ideal for recording 4K
- SanDisk build and reliability - ideal device to trust your recordings to
- Larger and more indiscreet so not ideal for front or side-facing USB ports
- Your TV will need to support USB 3.2 to take advantage of the highest speeds
Best low-profile high-capacity USB stick
The staggering 512GB storage capacity of this drive from SanDisk isn't the only wow factor here.
- Very large and practical storage capacity
- Ultra-compact design - won't spoil the look of your TV
- SanDisk reliability and sturdy build
- Slow-ish read speed
- Portable, but so small could be easily misplaced
Best tough USB stick
Corsair is a well-known brand in the world of computer peripherals and is known for sturdy builds
- Huge storage capacity - ideal for travelling with plenty of your favourite shows
- Water-resistant and shock-proof rubber housing means taking your recordings with you almost anywhere
- Corsair reliability and sturdy build
- Mac and PC compatible if you need to use it for transferring recordings between TV and computer
- Not as fast as USB 3.2, (but good enough)
- A little bulky, but that's expected with such a rugged case
Top tip: Always choose USB 3.0 or faster
The most important thing to look for when choosing USB sticks for smart TVs is USB 3.0. A sizable majority of USB cables use a USB 'Type A' connector - the usual larger rectangular type that you can see in the image above. However, in terms of data transfer speed, they're not all the same.
A USB 3.0 (or USB 3.1) connection is an improvement over the older USB 2.0 connection, as is the latest USB-C which is a different size and shape. The majority of sticks now use the USB 3.0/1 port. It can be identified by its bright blue colour, whereas the older USB 2.0 is solid black. If your port or memory stick isn't blue, it'll be USB 2.0 - nowhere near fast enough for smooth recording and playback of TV video files.
If your television only carries a USB 2.0 connection, this will bottleneck the speed of your USB 3.0/1 memory stick. The stick will still work plugged into a USB 2.0 port, but it will only work as fast as a USB 2.0 device. Of course, if you are stuck with USB 2.0, it might be worth considering upgrading your TV - either way, we still recommend opting for a USB 3.0/1 stick below, as it serve you well into the future and be ready for any future tech upgrades.
Best USB sticks for smart TVs in 2023: Buyer's guide
How to choose the best USB for your smart TV
As mentioned earlier, it's important to make sure that you choose one with a USB 3.0 connection. Even if your TV only has USB 2.0 ports, a USB 3.0 stick will still function - just not at USB 3 speeds.
Consider how much TV you actually want to record and store. Some viewers prefer to record entire seasons of their favourite show and then binge-watch the lot in one go. Others record and then catch up on their show soon after it's been broadcast. For those who like to store several entire series at once, buy the largest storage capacity your budget will allow.
Consider the read speed
This leads us nicely to the second thing to watch out for - read speed. While USB 3.0/1 is fast, not all memory sticks are created equal, with each carrying different performance speeds. As a general rule of thumb, the higher the read speed (measured in MB/s), the better. Avoid anything under 100 MB/s when choosing USB sticks for smart TVs.
USB types explained
USB ports come in a few different shapes and sizes. Sometimes this correlates with the maximum data transfer speeds of the device. Notably, in the case of USB A, this is not true.
This is probably the most commonly found USB connector. Rectangular, with a colour-coded rectangular plastic tab visible inside. Here the colour difference is very important. If your USB port or connector has blue plastic on the inside, it's a high-speed USB 3.0 type. If it's black or grey inside, it's only going to be USB 2.0 - too slow for TV recording and playback.
This connection type is becoming more and more common now. It's a small rectangle with rounded edges. A key aspect of this design is it's reversible; you can plug it in any way around. Whereas USB A types only fit in one way. USB C is also lightning-fast, delivering a 10Gbps data transfer rate. This is twice as fast as USB 3 and over 20 times faster than USB 2.0.
Speeds listed for USB
As long as your TV and USB memory stick are USB 3.0 or greater, you won't have problems recording your TV programmes. But for those who like the stats, here's how each type clocks in:
• USB 2.0: 480Mbps (megabits per second) / 60MBps (megabytes per second)
• USB 3.0: 5Gbps (gigabits per second) / 652MBps
• USB 3.1 (gen 1): Same as USB 3
• USB 3.1 (gen 2): 10Gbps / 10,000Mbps
• USB 3.2 (Only used on Type C connections and later): Between 5Gbps and 20Gbps, depending on the version.
• USB 4.0 (Used on Apple's Thunderbolt 3 and 4, and Type C connectors): 40Gbps
Best USB sticks for smart TVs in 2023: FAQs
What is the best format for a USB stick for smart TV?
When you hear the term 'format' with USB sticks, this is not to do with the shape of the device. It's the drive's preferred filing system - in other words, how the data is written and organised on the stick. Common formats are FAT32 and NTFS. It's worth knowing that this isn't worth being overly concerned about. Many TVs will simply detect a newly inserted USB drive and format it accordingly.
What size USB stick for TV recording?
For the average TV user who is recording HD films and TV shows, you'll want at least 128GB. Stay mindful of what you've recorded and regularly delete older content though. We can't say exactly how many hours of TV will be stored as this all depends on the resolution it's being saved at. Sometimes your TV will let you choose whether to record at a high or medium resolution to save space. As always, with the different TV brands and models, your milage will vary.
If you want smart TV recording to be your primary source of entertainment, it's worth looking into external hard drives. Though physically larger than a simple USB stick (and more expensive), they're far more robust. They're also often faster when reading and writing large amounts of data. Alternatively, Freeview recording boxes have their own hard drives built-in, which means you can skip the TV for recording altogether. Storage capacities usually start at 500GB and climb to around 2TB or more.
How much TV can I record on a 32GB USB?
Firstly, 32GB is probably one of the smallest-capacity USB sticks you're likely to find. With modern TVs capable of some very high resolutions like 4K, you're not going to fit as much as you'd like onto one of these. We'd recommend buying a USB stick with a minimum of 128GB or higher if your budget allows.