Cam Secore
Entrepreneur. Blogger. Fan of Steve Jobs & Elon Musk. My about page.
Updated 02/25/2018
 

Best Streaming Stick: Roku Stick vs Amazon Fire Stick vs Chromecast

best streaming stick

Earlier this year, while on the hunt for the best streaming device, I limited my search to devices in box form and overlooked streaming sticks. However, lots of you were curious about them.

Streaming sticks have come a long way.

Two years ago, I wouldn’t have recommended any of them.

However, after testing several out, I found there are some surprisingly good models out there, and they’re a great value.

Now, I’m convinced that if you don’t have a 4K TV or are deeply embedded in Apple’s ecosystem, you should get a streaming stick.

My original streaming device comparison was 5,000 words and covered seven different devices. It was too long, and added more confusion than clarity. I broke that post into two parts.

If you want to find the best premium streaming device for 4K TVs, go here.

If you’re on a budget, or don’t have a 4K TV, stay on this page because it’s time to find the best streaming stick. Here’s a comparison of the three top contenders: Roku Stick vs. Fire TV Stick vs. Chromecast.

amazon fire stick vs roku #3

Amazon Fire TV Stick (Grade: C-)

Love

  • Easy setup & installation.
  • Works with Echo devices.

Hate

  • Favors Amazon’s content.
  • Not customizable with annoying banners.
  • Way too slow.
  • Can't use remote for TV.
 
chromecast vs roku #2

Google Chromecast (Grade: C+)

Love

  • Works well with Google Home.
  • Stream comes in well.
  • Plenty of apps support casting.

Hate

  • No remote.
  • Uses phone’s apps instead of storage.
  • Cast button randomly disappears in app.
 
Cam's Fave roku stick vs fire stick #1

Roku Streaming Stick (Grade: A+)

Love

  • Compatible with ALL streaming channels.
  • Way faster than Fire Stick.
  • No bias when searching for content.
  • Remote can control TV.
  • Voice search works well.

Hate

  • Interface can be messy & inconsistent.
 

#3 - (Grade: C-)

Amazon Fire TV Stick

Love

Content (B-):

  • Fire Stick has most of the basics: Amazon Video, Hulu, Netflix, Showtime, HBO, Sling TV, DirecTV, Spotify, and Pandora. There are notable omissions like: Google Play Video, Vudu, and YouTube TV.
  • It’s the best way to watch Amazon’s content. Everything is perfectly optimized.
  • While you’re watching Amazon Originals, or certain content through Amazon Channels, when you pause the playback, it shows all the characters’ names and those of the actors playing them. This is amazing, but I don’t get why it’s not integrated into all of Amazon’s other video services. At the very least, it should be available for all content purchased on Amazon Video.

Setup (A+):

  • When you turn on Amazon Fire for the first time, it recognizes you. You don’t have to sign up for an account or sign in. It says, “Hi, Cam! Thank you for buying an Amazon Fire. Would you like to continue?” Amazon pre-registers the serial number into your account after you make the purchase. This is brilliant! (You can change the information if you buy it as a gift.)

Smarts (A):

  • When you hold down the mic button on the remote, you get most of Alexa’s powers. I can say, “Alexa, turn off the lights” to the remote and the lights turn off in my house.
  • If you want to go hands-free, you can set up Fire TV Stick to work with any Echo device. You can ask your Echo to play, pause, or open an app, without touching the remote. For certain apps, you can ask it to play a show directly and it’ll open it in the correct app. For instance, “Alexa, play Bosch on my Fire TV” and Bosch automatically plays in the Amazon Prime Video app.

Hate

Speed (F):

  • The only significant difference between Amazon Fire TV and the Stick is the memory. The Stick only has 1GB, compared to the Fire TV’s 2GB. You might be thinking a 1GB difference isn’t that big of a deal. But, during my tests, I found it was very noticeable. All the apps open slower, and memory intensive apps like PlayStation Vue were unusable.

Software (F):

  • Fire TVs are a platform for Amazon to brag about how cool Amazon is. So, it’s no surprise that Fire TV Stick favors Amazon content over other services. Also, there are annoying banners at the top of the screen promoting Amazon content and sometimes even auto-playing clips.
  • There are non-content related ads in the middle of some screens as well. Unless you enjoy looking at ads for pet food and other irrelevant products, it’s not ideal.
  • The home screen is not customizable, and there will be duplicate apps on your home screen.
  • The idea of Amazon Channels is to have HBO, Showtime, Starz, or Cinemax billed through your Amazon account, while it puts all your content in one place, with the same interface, in the same app. It’s a great idea, but it’s confusing for new users.
    • There are multiple ways to watch the same streaming services. For example, HBO has HBO Go, HBO Now, and HBO through Amazon Channels.
    • You probably already subscribe to HBO and Showdown through other means, making Amazon Channels worthless.
    • You can’t get rid of Amazon Channels from the screen even if you’re not a subscriber.
  • There’s no way to mirror your iOS devices natively. There are a couple of ways to do it with 3rd party apps, but I wasn’t pleased with the performance. Android users won’t have an issue, however.

Remote (C-):

  • You can turn on the TV via HDMI CEC, but there’s no way to turn off the TV. Wut? There’s also no way to change the TV volume.

#2 - (Grade: C+)

Google Chromecast

Love

Speed (A+):

  • You use your phone as the interface, so the speed of the interface will be as quick as your phone. Once you hit the cast button from your phone, it takes a few seconds to display on your TV.

Content (A):

  • You can stream most content services by hitting the cast button inside the respective app on your phone. Apps like Netflix, Sling, HBO, DirecTV Now, Google Play Movies, Vudu, Hulu, Showtime, PlayStation Vue, Spotify have a cast button. (Check out the other apps here.)

Smarts (A):

  • You can control your TV with your voice through Google Home. This is the only streaming device that works with Google Home, and it works well.

Hate

Software (D):

  • There’s no interface on the TV. You have to “cast” content from your phone to your TV. You use the Netflix, Hulu, HBO, and other content apps on your phone and tap the cast button in the top right corner to send it to your TV. If you’ve used AirPlay, it’s similar to that.
  • Some people might love casting, but I don’t like it. I want a dedicated device that doesn’t run off of my phone. Two casting issues:
    • When you’re trying to binge-watch a show there are 30 seconds of blank until the next episode plays.
    • Occasionally when you’re in an app (i.e. HBO Now), the cast button randomly disappears, and you’ll have to close out the app and try again.
  • While I don’t like casting, it works well if the cast button is present. With AirPlay, Apple TV is mirroring your phone, but Chromecast doesn’t work like that. You send the content to Chromecast, and it streams from your WiFi, providing a fantastic streaming experience. Plus, your phone doesn’t need to be within a certain radius of the Chromecast. You can leave the house, and it will keep streaming.
  • You can search and find shows inside the Google Home app, too. Once you find a show you want to watch, you click on it, and it’ll open the respective app (i.e., Netflix) and from there you can cast it to your TV.
  • There’s a guest mode that lets others in your house cast things from their phone without using WiFi.
  • You can control the TV volume with your phone.

Remote (F):

  • There’s no remote or storage on Chromecast. Your phone is the remote.

Setup (C-):

  • Setup is easy and you shouldn’t run into issues.
  • Chromecast should be perfect for travel because of its size, but it’s hard to connect to new Wifi networks after the initial setup. It’s meant to be set up on one WiFi network only.

#1 - (Grade: A+)

Roku Stream Stick

Love

Speed (A):

  • The new Roku Stick model is 50% more powerful than the previous generation, uses dual-band 802.11ac, has a voice remote, and uses the cleaner Roku 8.0 software. I tested both models. Although I liked both, I’d recommend spending the extra $10 for faster speed.
  • It’s surprisingly fast. It’s not as fast as Apple TV, but it blows Fire Stick out of the water with its speed.

Content (A+):

  • Amazon Video, Google Play Video, Vudu, Hulu, Netflix, Showtime, HBO, Sling TV, DirecTV, PlayStation Vue, YouTube TVSpotify, and Pandora are available. Roku has every streaming service I can think of.

Software (B):

  • There are no biases with Roku’s search for movies and shows. Roku doesn’t create or sell content, so they can be completely objective. When doing a search for content, it’ll show you your free options first (from the services you subscribe to), rather than make you pay.
  • I don’t like how the menus are set up, and there are design inconsistencies throughout, but Roku 8.0 software was a substantial upgrade from last year’s. There used to be a lot of low-quality apps that apps didn’t match the experience of the other streaming devices. Roku fixed this and now the apps are more consistent.
  • You can follow movies and get updates when they become available.
  • You can get your music, videos, and photos on your TV with Roku Play-On. This is similar to Apple’s AirPlay but is located inside the Roku app.
  • The Roku phone app is excellent. You can pick the streaming service you want to use, and it’ll pop up on your TV screen.
  • With Private Listening mode, you can play your show’s sound through the Roku Phone app and then listen using headphones. It can be useful if you have roommates and you’re trying to keep the noise level down. This feature is technically available with Apple TV and Amazon Fire, but you have to jump through a bunch of hoops to connect Bluetooth headphones through the settings menu. On the Roku, it’s seamless.
  • “What’s On?” feature inside the Roku app tries to curate movies and shows with algorithms. It’s a great idea, and it’s executed decently.

Remote (B-):

  • Roku has voice search through the remote, and you can control the volume and turn the TV on and off.
  • You have to hold the remote close to your mouth for the voice detection to work.
  • There are four preset app buttons (Netflix, HBO Now, Sling and Hulu) on the remote, so you’re stuck with useless buttons if you’re not using all four services. (But, hey, at least it comes with a remote!)

Hate

Setup (C-):

  • Setup was a bit clunky. The first time I connected to the Internet, it failed, and then worked the second time. Also, you need to register for a Roku account and can’t get set up without one.

Smarts (D):

  • You can ask the remote to search for shows or movies and it works well, but there is no smart assistant to do other tasks.

streaming devices

Which one is for you?

If you’re in Google’s ecosystem and like using your phone to stream content, go with the Chromecast.

Chromecast is a nice device. You’ll get a clean stream, affordable price, and the ability to control your TV with Google Home. The downside is that there’s no physical storage for apps and no remote. You’ll be on your phone the whole time. I own a Chromecast just for streaming YouTube TV because it’s by far the best way option for YouTube TV.

Fire TV Stick is too slow and has become way too pushy of Amazon’s content and other advertising. The thing you have to remember is that Amazon sells most of its hardware (Echos, Kindles, tablets, streaming devices) at cost and don’t profit from them.

What’s in it for Amazon? Once you own their devices, they sell you on their products. Whether that’s a Prime subscription, Kindle book, Audible subscription, Amazon Video content, or household items from Amazon.com.

If you’re looking for a streaming stick that plugs into the back of your TV, the Roku Streaming Stick is your best bet and the clear winner. You’ll get an unbiased platform, voice remote, tons of content, private listening, and something that’s faster than Fire Stick.

Biggest question: should you go with the 2016 or 2017 Roku Stick? For an extra $10, the 2017 version is a no-brainer because of the increased speed, better WiFi, new software, and voice remote.

 

57 Comments

  • Michele says:

    What’s the difference between the roku stick and express? Do you have an opinion on the express?

    • Cam Secore says:

      Roku Express compared to Roku Streaming Stick. 1. No voice search. 2. Much slower. 3. Worse wireless connection (not dual-band). 3. Not great for wall mounted TVs.

      • Ann Marie Williams says:

        I have a wall mounted TV will the Roku stick work? I have a TV in my bedroom that I use for background am news getting ready. Not really watching TV. Could I just do an express for that one, cheaper. Thank you very much.

  • Michele says:

    Thanks! I ended up getting the Roku Streaming Stick. Thanks for the great review. It helped finalize my decision – and i made sure to get the 2017.

  • Chris James Lincoln says:

    I have a galaxy s7 can I stream or mirror my phone through all 3 of these?

  • Beverly Pegoda says:

    Which is better for a Samsung flat screen tv

  • Scott Sterling says:

    Here’s what I’m trying to accomplish: Have PS Vue, Netflix and HULU all on current PS4. Want to use these on a 2nd (non-smart) tv; Don’t care much about voice remote. Looks like you’ll recommend Roku 2017 but thought I’d confirm. Thoughts?

    • Cam Secore says:

      Yeah, I think the 2017 Roku Stick is an easy call for only $50. You might be able to get by with the 2016 Stick, but PS Vue would be a little slow.

  • Rachel says:

    Great comparison of the devices. My mom is cutting her cable and Ian trying to figure out what to get her. I personally just use my phone and chromecast individual apps. My friend gave me her cable password. I’m going to get my mom the roku stick 2017. I also read your comparison of Hulu and YouTube tv still deciding about those.

  • danielle charney says:

    Hi- I am in a quandary – new to all this- want to dump Spectrum.. I have a 780 Pixel Insignia TV with a cable in the HDMI port- Spectrum internet and Wi-Fi 100 speed-
    I want to get the following stuff- not sure what to get that will bring it all in:
    HBO
    Showtime
    Starz Package
    Cinemax Package
    Flix
    Epix
    Movie Pass
    AMC
    Turner Classics
    Sundance
    KCET

    The old TV show channels- ME /Antenna /Cozi
    Old classics and art films
    Not into big budget action films
    or most commercial films

    What should I get? My stupid Internet keeps jumping off from my internet address- I have to keep clicking on it on my computer- will this be a problem
    and will these things work with my TV-
    what should I get for this – any idea who offers these packages so I can check cost on it?
    thank you so much – I am so confused-
    need remote- sound control –

    • danielle charney says:

      Cam- one more thing- I would love love love to dump Spectrum internet- any ideas? Are there any indie providers that are good? My TV mentioned above is not a SMART TV but i was told it doesn’t matter-
      thanks so much for this- cannot wait to cut the cord but want to do it right-

      • Cam Secore says:

        It depends on your area. Lots of small towns in the US (like mine) only have one legitimate option. I’m stuck with Spectrum too. Type in your zip code here: highspeedinternet.com to check.

        • danielle charney says:

          Zip Code 90405- Spectrum is very difficult- hate to depend on their Wi- Fi for my television reception-

        • Cam Secore says:

          Looks like Frontier FiOS is in your area for internet. Have you looked into that?

        • danielle charney says:

          To me this is not a huge list- its zip compared to what is on – yes looked into frontier/fios- they are worse- ugh
          I see so many of these available with various services
          but will check more- thanks Cam

    • Cam Secore says:

      You’re going to have to buy a lot of those channel packages individually. You might be better off NOT cutting the cord because it may be more expensive. What’s your reasoning for cutting the cord? How much are you paying currently? In any case, the Roku Stick is what you want.

      • danielle charney says:

        My reasons for cutting the cord are:
        Sick of Spectrum constantly raising prices and their word being worthless- they promise one thing and then deny it – I dread what the next raise will be-
        also I would like more programming- Spectrum is very limited- I watch few stations- just what is listed- I would love some old classic film access and more original programming if possible- doesn’t Amazon or Hulu bring that stuff in? Surprised as its basic film package and not many channels- thanks Cam

        • Cam Secore says:

          Amazon, Hulu and Netflix have original content for days! But my point was that you left a huge list of channels that you need and buying them individually is probably going to cost more than what you’re paying with Spectrum, unless you’re willing to make sacrifices.

        • danielle charney says:

          I find this a small list- its very few channels by comparison- many of them I have noticed appear when you bring up Amazon or other sources- but I guess I have to look more – this is misery- caught between rock and a rock

        • Cam Secore says:

          Even though HBO, Showtime, and others show up inside Amazon Channels, you still have to pay for them. For the channels you said you want, it’s probably a solid $100 to get them all individually.

  • Wendy Umla says:

    Awesome comparison. Def Roku fan and had old stick which does not support Youtube TV. My 6 y.o. LG tv is not a smart tv, but it is great in all other ways. Thoughts on Roku Stream stick vs stick + vs Ultra? I also have an older Sharp Aquos that I have jerry rigged with for my old roku stick. Fairly sure I cannot stream you tube tv on that… or can I?

  • Ellen McCarter says:

    How do I find out what kind of TV I have? Like the K or whatever? 4 yr old Element flat screen, 60″.

  • Michelle Power-Williams says:

    Hi Cam,

    I have a 4K and an HD. I’m dropping Spectrum for WOW. Which streaming device would be best for getting a sports channel variety most cable services have?

    • Cam Secore says:

      Any streaming device you select will have the same streaming options. It comes down to which streaming services you select.

  • Dave says:

    I like the info you’ve provided very much. Our “wants” in viewing are local network stations, KC and/or Omaha, Fox News, A&E, History, nat geo, channels that would likely come with a basic cable. We aren’t familiar with all of the services but HBO or Showtime wouldn’t be preferences. Would we have to get several packages at cost to find what we want or is there a service that may provide those? We pay 60 for 80 channels (basic cable). I had concluded Roku was best service if we did anythingand you have provided confirmation. Recommendation?

    • Cam Secore says:

      Just to be clear, Roku doesn’t provide free channels, they just provide the platform for the apps. You’ll still have to buy a streaming service, but it sound like YouTube TV for $40/month would be perfect and include all the channels you listed. I did a comparison here.

  • Lisa Brooks says:

    I live in a rural area with only satellite as an option. I have Hughes net and Dish tv. At $170 a month for both, I want to save some money and dump Dish and get Roku, but have a few questions. Will the data and speed be enough? No gaming here. What about local channels? Weather Channel?

  • will says:

    i currently have A netflix streaming account … do I have to buy again , for each stick purchased ?

  • Elizabeth says:

    Where do you suggest I buy Roku. And not quite understanding other than making the purchase do I have to purchase something else to get the system to work. I have HDTV

    • Cam Secore says:

      Where? Follow one of my links to Amazon.

      You’ll need a streaming service like Amazon Video, Netflix, HBO, Showtime, etc.

  • Rick Edgerton says:

    Great review. Fortuitously, before I read it, I did a lot of research and ended up with the Roku Streaming Stick+. I don’t have a 4K TV but figured when I get one, I’ll be ready with the stick. But from your review, it sounds like you don’t recommend stick with 4K TV’s. I’m wondering if I should send this one back to AMZ and get just the Roku Streaming Stick (the one you’re reviewing), because I don’t think there’s any difference between it and the + stick, except it costs $20 more. Thoughts? By the way, I’d been using a 6 year old Roku 2 box and was blaming the services for all my problems. Turns out it was the box, duh 🙂

    • Cam Secore says:

      I love Streaming Stick Plus, I wrote about it on my 4K streaming device page (here). I’d stick with it, it’s a little faster and you’ll be futureproof for when you buy that 4K!

      • Rick Edgerton says:

        Thanks. Appreciate the reply. That’s my feeling as well. I hadn’t read your other review so feel better now keeping the Plus. I love it so far. My only complaint is the somewhat dated UI. And since I use a sound bar, the volume controls don’t work, but that’s true with my TV and Tivo remotes too. Generally speaking, the apps are running better on the Roku than on my OTA Tivo. But between the two, I’ve got a lot of options. Mainly I need HBONow and they don’t have an app on Tivo. Thanks again, and great reviews.

  • Christina says:

    So my boyfriend and I are thinking about getting the Roku streaming stick, but before we do I wanted to get your opinion after reading your reviews and others’ comment threads. We stream Netflix using the Xbox, but we also want to be able to watch hockey games and the antenna we’re using doesn’t give us the channel we need to watch it. Do you have any suggestions for us? And do you think it would be a good idea if we still got the Roku? Trying to save as much money as possible since we’re on a limited income and don’t want to get this if it won’t give us more than we already have. Thanks in advance!

  • Cynthia says:

    I am totally confused! I am paying out the *** to AT&T for internet, phone and tv. I am willing to give up the phone service. Can I do this and still get the internet? Do you have to pay for the streaming services (roku, fire) or do they come automatically when you purchase the stick? Looked into sling and they do not provide the channels I want. Can I stream any channel or is it limited to netflix, hulu? What about my local channels; do I need more equipment to have access to those? If i give up AT&T what about my email account? HELP!!

    • Cam Secore says:

      1. You can purchase just internet. 2. Yes, you’ll need streaming services on whatever device you choose. Live TV streaming services are around $40/month, while Netflix and Hulu are $10/month each. 3. I did a comparison of the live services (here). 4. You can stream any app on these devices. 5. Local channels come included with most live streaming services. 6. As long as you’re paying for internet with AT&T, you’ll have your email. If you stop, it’ll be gone.

  • Nicole says:

    Yes I want to get rid of my spectrum cable it’s way to high and I have all the channels if I purchase Roku will I still be able to get all my channels as well

  • Cindy says:

    Laugh all you want but I still have a landline phone and no cell phone and don’t want to purchase a cell phone. Do you need to have a cell phone to use the Roku Streaming Stick+ ? I don’t understand all the high tech here & it almost sounds like some of these devices are dependent on having a cell phone or some other device like Alexa? I do have a laptop with wireless connection. I have Spectrum too and hate it – want to dump them – they are such a ripoff! Did you all know that the CEO of Spectrum (actually Charter Communications) got an $80 million+ (!!!!!) boost in salary from 2016 to 2107? No wonder we are all paying big bucks to Spectrum for nothing

  • Terry Hulan says:

    We purchased a Roku Stick in November 2016 , it is a 2016 model , 3600R. We have been having trouble with it for the past 2-3 months , It is consistently retrieving or buffering. I spoke with Roku and they say the stick is not at fault , we feel it is , It worked great the first year . Should we replace it with the newer model ?

  • Steve Ensley says:

    I have a firestick and am reasonably happy with it as it works fine in the same room as my router. However, I want to add another device for the bedroom TV but when i tested the firestick there, it buffers quite a lot. I’m sure it is due to the signal not being as good in the bedroom. Are any of the devices better at receiving WI-FI? I’m not necessarily tied to a stick if a console type would work better in this situation.

    • Cam Secore says:

      There are too many variables to give a good answer. Fire Stick and Roku Stick have the same wireless configuration (802.11ac dual-band MIMO Wi-Fi). Roku Stick Plus for $65 should do better range wise, but I wouldn’t bank on it. Your best bet is to look into your internet issues. Find out the internet speed you’re paying for and check your speeds in different locations. If you’re not getting the proper speeds due to range issues, look into a mesh router system.

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