Apple TV 4K vs. Fire TV Cube: What About Fire TV Stick 4K?
After months of testing, I found Apple TV 4K to be the best overall streaming device because it’s ad-free, fast and has a similar interface as iOS. Fire TV Cube is solid, but it’s loaded with ads and the interface can get cluttered.
Now, let’s find out how I reached my conclusion, by comparing two 4K streaming devices (Apple TV 4K vs. Amazon Fire TV Cube) while evaluating five categories: interface, content, speed, smarts, and price.
Apple TV 4K
- Interface: It’s the most polished design (similar to iOS) and easy to find content.
- Content: The App Store is similar to iOS with the essentials and lots of 4K content.
- Smarts: Siri works seamlessly, but it’s not hands-free. You need the remote.
- Price: Apple TV 4K is $179. HD version is $149.
Best for you if...
You want an ad-free experience with a beautiful and intuitive interface that's similar to iPhone. It's the most expensive, but the experience is exponentially better.
Apple TV HD is $149 and an amazing device, but it only plays 1080p HD content.
Fire TV Cube
- Interface: It’s attractive but littered with annoying ads throughout the platform.
- Content: Next to no 4K HDR content, but it has all the basic apps.
- Smarts: Alexa can search and control the TV, but there are lots of bugs.
- Price: Cube is $119. Fire TV Stick 4K is $49.
Best for you if...
You want the best Prime Video experience. The hands-free Alexa is cool, but it isn’t polished. The interface is frustrating, slow, and loaded with advertisements.
Fire TV Stick 4K has the same interface and voice remote, minus hands-free Alexa.
These are the current prices compared to their 60-day averages. I get a tiny commission when you use my Amazon links to buy something. It supports my site and lets me provide free and unbiased content.
Things To Know
- TCL Roku TVs are great smart TVs because they mimic a real Roku device, but the majority of smart TVs provide a terrible and slow interface.
- Streaming devices let you add streaming capabilities to your non-smart TV or make your smart TV better by giving it more capabilities and a better interface.
- I’ve tested ten streaming devices, but Apple TV is what I use most of the time. I’ve concluded that Apple TV is the best overall due to its speed and smoother interface, but Fire TV and Roku are fine for most because they’re more affordable and function similarly. Check out my Power Rankings to see all the streaming devices that I’ve tested ranked from best to worst.
- If you want a dedicated streaming device, you’ll need a TV with an open HDMI port and a solid internet speed. I recommend at least 10/mbps per stream. If you have phones, laptops, tablets, and smart home devices already on your network, you’ll need even more. If you want three streams at once and have other tech devices running, 50/mbps is what I’d shoot for.
- Unless you plan to move your streaming device with you, you need one streaming device per TV.
- A $50 streaming device doesn’t magically replace cable by providing lots of content. A streaming device is the platform that provides the apps to find and watch your content.
- You’ll only find a few ad-supported movies and shows for free. You need to pay for streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, HBO, or Showtime if you want to watch content of value. These services are between $8-15/month.
- If you want to stream cable channels or have an experience that resembles cable, you need a live TV streaming service like YouTube TV, PlayStation Vue, Sling, Fubu, Hulu Live, or AT&T TV NOW. They’re at least $30/month. I compared four live tv streaming services and found YouTube TV was best.
- As you can see, ditching cable for streaming gets expensive and is not for everyone. As more people switch, the prices increase too. For example, YouTube TV went from $30/month to $50/month in two years. If you want to cut the cord and save money, you need to make channel sacrifices because the streaming market has become fragmented with many services. If you choose them all, you’ll be paying more than you were.
- If you’re intimidated by technology, switching to full time streaming by cutting the cord, isn’t for you. You’ll be using many different interfaces and apps. I wouldn’t recommend cutting the cord to my grandparents because anything more than supplemental streaming would be too much for them.
- Once you purchase a streaming service subscription, you can log in on all your devices, but most streaming services have a limit on how many simultaneous streams you’re allowed.
Apple TV 4K
- The tvOS interface is the most polished of any streaming device by a significant margin. Apple cares about design; the others don’t. It’s the same interface as iOS. If you’re an iPhone user and love it, you’re going to love this too.
- Apple’s “Watch Now” feature inside the TV App is fantastic and innovative. No other streaming devices have anything that works as well. It tracks all of the shows you’re watching (along with the episode you’re on) and puts them in a list. You rarely have to go inside apps if you already know what you want to watch. For example, I’m currently watching Sharp Objects on HBO. As soon as the new episode is available on Sunday night, it appears on my Watch Now list, and it’s ready to play with one tap.
- There are no ads. Apple makes huge profits on their hardware. Why’s this good news? They have no interest in advertising or using your data. Once you buy an Apple product, Apple is done trying to sell you things.
- Whenever a text field appears asking for your email or password, you get a notification on your iPhone and have the option to type on your phone. Previously-used email addresses are shown too to make signing into your apps easier.
- If you have a traditional cable provider and want access to your apps that come with your subscription, you may benefit from Apple’s Single Sign-On feature.
- Apple’s screensavers are slow-moving drone shots (in 4K) that go over huge cities. They’ll hold your attention for longer than you want to admit. People make fun of me for my infatuation with the screensavers, but I’m not saying you should buy a device specifically for its screensavers; but they are pretty cool.
- Apple TV has an App Store, like macOS and iOS. You can find most streaming services and all of the big names are available. These include, but are not limited to Amazon Video, Vudu, Hulu, Netflix, Showtime, HBO, Sling TV, DirecTV, and YouTube TV.
- Apple TV has a YouTube app, but there’s no way to watch 4K content because YouTube uses a VP9 video format that’s not compatible.
- Apple TV has the most 4K HDR content of any streaming device on the market. Plus, previous HD purchases on iTunes automatically upgrade to 4K for free.
Speed & Specs (A+):
- The fourth-generation Apple TV is the fastest streaming device on the market, but the 4K version is faster and uses the same processing chip as iPad Pro (A10X Fusion).
- Siri is quicker at finding results than Alexa. The downside is you need to use the remote to ask Siri anything.
- It supports Dolby Vision (the best HDR format) AND Dolby Atmos (the best audio experience), which is the only device in this comparison that can do both. (Fire TV Stick 4K can do both.)
- Siri justifiably gets a lot of flack on iPhone, but it’s nearly perfect on Apple TV. It does all the functions it’s supposed to like playback controls and content searching.
- You can’t go hands-free, like with Fire TV. You need to hold the Siri button on the remote. Handless HomePod support is inevitable, but it’ll be at least a year because it wasn’t announced at the least WWDC conference.
- If you want to run automation or control your smart devices away from home, you’ll need an Apple TV or HomePod to work as your “Homekit Hub.”
- You can ask Siri things like:
- “Fast forward 30 seconds.” This is great for skipping intros.
- “What did he just say?” This goes back 30 seconds and provides captions so you can find out what was said.
- “Play Dexter on Showtime.” Dexter will open on Showtime with your current episode queued.
- Just say the name of any show or movie, and it’ll pop up on the screen, and you can choose which service that you want to watch it on. If the content is not available free via one of your streaming services, you can rent it from iTunes.
- You can mirror your iPhone’s screen via AirPlay.
- Apple does a better job at regulating the volume for all its apps, which means the HBO volume level is going to be identical to Showtime and Netflix. Roku devices sometimes struggle with apps getting louder than their counterparts.
- Apple TV 4K is $179 and plays 4K HDR video, but it also works with standard HDTVs too. Even if there’s only a slight chance that you’ll eventually upgrade to a 4K TV, go with the 4K version. For $30, you’ll get extra speed and future proof yourself.
- The Apple TV HD is $149 and a fantastic device, but it can’t play 4K video.
Fire TV Cube
- The interface has an attractive design and isn’t dated like Roku’s, but it has several frustrating aspects.
- Amazon Channels is great if you buy your streaming services like HBO and Showtime through Amazon. But it’s confusing if you’re not a user, there’s no way to delete it from the interface.
- The home screen is a giant advertisement. I like Amazon the company and Jeff Bezos is a cool guy, but I don’t need Amazon to tell me how cool they are on every screen.
- Amazon is using this device to get people interested in their Prime content, and that’s fine. But I draw the line when there are obnoxiously huge ads on my TV. (Dear Amazon, I will PAY YOU to have an ad-free device, and I’m sure others would too. After I’ve already paid money for a device, I don’t want to be sold to again).
- You pick five of your favorite apps to appear on the home screen, but Amazon has a row above that shows your “most recently used” apps. This results in duplicate apps on the home screen because my favorite apps are usually recently used. It looks awful and doesn’t make sense from a usability perspective.
- If you like Amazon’s original content, you’ll like the experience because it’s setup nicely with bonus features.
- If you’re watching a Prime show, it’ll show up in the most recently used section similar to Apple’s “Watch Now,” but it’s a shame that it doesn’t work with other streaming services.
- Amazon favors their shows in searches, which is to be expected.
- There’s Hulu, Netflix, Showtime, HBO, Sling TV, DirecTV, YouTube, PlayStation Vue, and others available.
- YouTube TV is the best live streaming service and not available on Amazon products, but it’s coming later in 2019.
- There’s not a big 4K HDR content selection because there’s no Vudu or iTunes (the two biggest 4K content providers). Your three 4K options are Amazon Video, Netflix, and YouTube.
Speed & Specs (C):
- It’s not fast compared to Apple TV, but it’s manageable. Ironically, the second generation Fire TV from 2015 was faster.
- Amazon released a new “Alexa Voice Remote” that comes included and lets you control the volume with the remote. This was a huge and annoying issue with previous Fire TV devices.
- Most experts favor the picture quality of Dolby Vision over HDR10 as the best HDR standard. Apple TV supports both standards, but Amazon is exclusively HDR10. Ironically, the more affordable Fire TV Stick 4K supports both standards.
- Like Apple TV and Roku, you can hold down a button on the remote to ask Alexa questions.
- Unlike Apple TV and Roku, with Fire TV Cube you don’t need the remote to use the assistant. You can just use the wake word “Alexa,” and one of the device’s eight far-field microphones will pick up what you say.
- Alexa is slower than Siri, but it does these things well:
- “Alexa, turn on the TV.”
- “Alexa, turn up the volume.”
- “Alexa, Westworld (or any show or movie).” It’ll bring up the show with options of where to watch it.
- “Alexa, turn off the TV.” This speaks to my laziness, but I found this helpful at night when I was ready to sleep but didn’t want to reach for the remote.
- “Alex, go home.” This brings you to the homescreen.
- Fire TV Cube has Apple TV beat in a big way by allowing you to say just one command to set everything up. For example, when you say “Alexa, play The Office on Netflix.” Alexa will turn your TV on, put your TV on the correct input, fire up Netflix and cue up the right episode.
- It doesn’t work consistently enough for it to be an advantage, but it’s fantastic when it works.
- The phrasing gets wordy because you need to say the show and the service you want to use. Alexa misunderstands most of the time, no matter how slowly you speak. Amazon should use their AI technology to predict which service you want to use based on previous uses, or let you choose your preferences. I want to say “Alexa, play Nathan for You” and have everything done for me.
- Fire TV Cube functions like normal Echo devices and can handle all of the usual questions, actions and smart home commands that any smart speaker can handle.
- A recently released feature, lets you navigate the interface, without the remote, by saying “Alexa, scroll up,” “Alexa, select this.” I’m not sure how this would be practical, but it’s there.
- You can’t change some Alexa preferences via the TV, need to go in Alexa app on your phone. It doesn’t make sense.
- Fire TV Cube has a bright future, but Alexa in its current state isn’t ready for primetime and has too many bugs and is too laggy.
- Bug example: It randomly pauses several times while in the middle of a show and for unexplainable reasons. It’s a fixable bug, but it’s annoying while we wait for the patch.
- Fire TV Cube is $120 and comes with an IR extender and Ethernet adapter. It sounds like a good deal compared to Apple, but it’s not great value for most people. Apple TV provides an experience that is over $100 more valuable.
- If you’re convinced you want an Amazon device, Fire TV Stick 4K is a better bet for $50. Four things to think about:
- On Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Prime Day it’ll most likely be $35. You should consider it, even with its faults, at that price.
- Fire TV Stick 4K has the same remote, interface, and performance (sometimes better) as Fire TV Cube, without hands-free Alexa.
- If you put Fire TV Cube in a cabinet and Alexa won’t hear you anyways.
- If Fire TV Cube is in your bedroom: do you want a listening device in your room while you sleep?