Roku Streaming Stick vs. Amazon Fire TV Stick: Best Stick For 2019?
After months of testing, I found Roku Streaming Stick+ to be the best streaming stick overall because it has more content options, less advertisements, and its platform isn’t biased. Fire TV Stick 4K is a huge upgrade over the slow Fire TV Stick, but it’s still loaded with ads and missing key apps.
I’ll compare and contrast these two streaming sticks (Roku Streaming Stick+ vs. Fire TV Stick 4K) while evaluating four categories: interface, content, speed, and smarts.
Roku Streaming Stick+
- Interface: It's old school and a little clunky, but ads are unobtrusive.
- Content: It has every streaming service I can think of with no biases. There are many 4K content options.
- Speed & Specs: It offers similar speeds as Fire TV Stick 4K.
- Smarts: You can control the TV's volume and search for shows and movies with the remote. It works well, but there's isn't a personal assistant for advanced tasks.
Best for you if...
You want an unbiased platform that gives you endless options and a voice remote that'll find what you're looking for. Roku has tons of options for HD and 4K HDR content. Roku's interface is dated and rough around the edges, but it does a better job of keeping the ads minimal, relevant, and off to the side.
Fire TV Stick 4K
- Interface: Amazon ads take up half of the home screen, along with ads for cat litter.
- Content: It has most of the basics, but it’s missing Vudu and YouTube TV. 4K content is lacking too.
- Speed & Specs: It's finally useable. This generation got a huge upgrade in speed.
- Smarts: You can control the volume with the remote and search via your voice. You can ask your Echo devices to play content, but it’s not fully baked yet.
Best for you if...
You’re invested in Amazon’s ecosystem and are fine with being inundated with ads. Its biggest advantage over Roku is that you can go hands-free with Alexa (via Echo), but it's still a work in progress and not enough to overcome the advertisement heavy interface, weak 4K content, and missing apps.
Fire TV Stick (2nd Gen) is still sold by Amazon for $40, but it's unbearably slow and has a terrible remote. It was one of the worst devices I've ever tested.
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- Each Roku generation gets faster and an improved interface. I’ve tested Roku devices from the last five years. The older Roku devices are too slow and clunky to compete with new streaming devices and sticks on the market today. The current generation of Roku devices are the ONLY ones that I recommend:
- Any streaming stick will work with any TV brand or style. The only requirement of the TV is that it has an HDMI port.
- Smart TVs typically have clunky interfaces and are an add-on feature. That’s why I recommend a dedicated device. Some Smart TVs are better than others though. For instance, most TCL Roku TVs run a full version of Roku OS and are comparable to Roku Stick.
- You’ll need a streaming stick for each TV that you want to stream on.
- These device have minimal free content.
- You can’t “cut the cord” by just buying a streaming stick. A $50 device won’t magically have free content worth watching. Streaming sticks are your platform for the streaming services that you’ll need to buy. Your streaming stick is your new cable box. Services like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, HBO, and Showtime provide great content and cost around $15/month.
- You’ll need fast internet and a strong connection. The more devices that are streaming simultaneously, the better your connection speed needs to be. I recommend at least 20/mbps for one flawless stream.
- “Cutting the cord” isn’t always more affordable than paying for cable. It sounds good in theory, but it gets expensive when you factor in an internet speed upgrade and being picky about the channels you want. To save money, you’ll need to make sacrifices with your channel requirements.
- If technology is intimidating to you, don’t cut the cord because it’s going to be a difficult transition.
- If you’re looking to stream live TV, that’s at least $30/month from services like Sling, YouTube TV, PlayStation Vue. (If you need help finding one, I reviewed them).
- Once you’re a member of a streaming service, you’ll be able to watch the service on as many devices as you want without paying more.
- Apple TV is my favorite streaming device and by far the best streaming device on the market (my review here), but it’s geared more toward Apple nerds (like me) and people who don’t have money constraints. Fire TV Stick and Roku Stick are the best streaming devices for most and will provide more value for your money.
- Since Roku’s inception, their software has struggled with a funky menu setup, dated interface, design inconsistencies throughout, poor app quality control, and apps that don’t match the experience of the other streaming devices.
- While there’s still work to do to modernize the interface, Roku’s latest software version (9.1) has improved and cleaned up many of the issues mention above.
- Unlike Apple TV, Roku and Amazon devices have advertisements and there’s no getting around it because they make money by collecting your data to better target you with services. It’s part of their business models.
- Roku devices have one big ad displayed on the homepage, but you can easily distinguish the ad from the content and ads aren’t displayed anywhere else. On the other hand, Amazon devices have ads littered everywhere.
- You can follow movies and shows and get updates when they become available. It’s a great idea, but executed terribly. I would love to have all my favorite or “followed” shows organized in one area and a tap of the show would play it inside the correct app that I’m subscribed to. It doesn’t work like this yet.
- The Roku Channel is an app made by Roku that has a bunch of free movies and tv shows that are ad supported. It’s similar to Amazon Channels because you can subscribe to HBO, Showtime, Starz, Cinemax, and Epix and keep all your content inside one app. If you opt for this, you’ll pay via Roku rather than with a cable company.
- You can play your phone’s music and videos with Roku Play-On inside the Roku app. It’s similar to Apple’s AirPlay.
- The Roku phone app is excellent. You can pick the streaming service you want to use in the app, and it’ll pop up on your TV screen.
- 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.
- Amazon Video, Google Play Video, Vudu, Hulu, Netflix, Showtime, HBO, Sling TV, DirecTV, PlayStation Vue, YouTube TV, Spotify, and Pandora are available. Roku claims to have 500,000 movies and shows. No streaming device comes close to that number.
- Roku has more 4K content than Fire TV Stick 4K. For 4K content, you get Netflix, Amazon Video, YouTube, Vudu, and others. Roku has a special section to see all available 4K content.
Speed & Specs (B-):
- Roku Streaming Stick+ (3810R) and Roku Streaming Stick (3800R) came out in 2017. They are 50% more powerful and use a cleaner and faster version of Roku’s software (Roku OS 9.1) compared to previous generations.
- You won’t notice a speed difference compared to Fire TV Stick 4K. The apps take about the same about of time to fully load.
- You can play 4K HDR content, but Roku only supports HDR10.
- The setup is 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. You only setup once, so I wouldn’t worry about this, just keep it in mind.
- There are four preset app buttons (Netflix, DirecTV Now, Sling and Hulu) on the remote, so you’re stuck with useless buttons if you’re not using all four services.
- You can ask the remote to search for shows or movies, but there is no smart assistant to do advanced tasks or ask it questions. Roku’s voice search works perfectly by holding the button and saying a movie title. Then, it brings up the movie and shows you which app you can watch it with.
- You have to hold the remote close to your mouth while pressing the button for it to hear you properly.
- You can control the volume and turn the TV on and off with the remote.
- With Private Listening mode, you can play your show’s sound through the Roku phone app, then listen using headphones. It can be useful if you have roommates and are trying to keep the noise down. This feature is technically available with Fire TV Stick, but you have to jump through hoops to connect Bluetooth headphones through the settings menu. It’s seamless on Roku.
- Guest Mode is great for guest bedrooms, AirBnB houses, and places where only guests watch TV. Guests get to choose a “sign out date” and sign into apps using their credentials. Once the sign out date chosen has arrived, the guest is signed out and Roku is ready for a new guest to arrive. Friends and family can sign in without worrying about forgetting to sign out when they leave.
- Automatic Account Link has a chance to be a huge feature for Roku, but it’s in the beginning stages and just four streaming channels support it (Hulu, Sling, Philo, Pandora) currently. When you set up a second or third Roku device, you’re automatically signed into your channels using the credentials used from your first Roku.
- AirPlay 2 support is coming soon. This means iPhone and iPad users will be able to mirror their iPhone’s screen on the TV via Roku.
- There are other Apple integrations coming soon too.
- Google and Alexa integrations are finally here for your smart speakers, but there are a few issues:
- The setup can be difficult.
- There’s a lag between the command and the action.
- The commands are wordy and are often misheard. For instance, “Hey Google, turn up the volume on Roku,” turns up the volume. At this point, unless you can’t find the remote, why wouldn’t you just tap the volume rocker?
Fire TV Stick 4K
- Half of Fire TV’s home screen is advertising Amazon’s content whether you want to see it or not.
- Amazon Channels integrates Amazon Video, HBO, Showtime and Starz into one platform, similar to Apple’s TV app. To use Amazon Channels, you pay for HBO, Showtime, and Starz through Amazon on a monthly basis rather than your cable provider.
- Amazon Channels is a good idea, but it’s a useless distraction to most because you’re likely paying for HBO and Showtime through other means. There’s no way to get rid of it from the interface.
- At the bottom of the screen is a “sponsored” section that’s static. You’ll see car, razor, travel, computer, and cat food advertisements. Why are you cluttering up my home screen with this garbage?
- Under your row of hand-picked apps, there are your “most used” apps. In most cases, this results in duplicate apps from the first row and it looks bad. The “most used” is not editable or removable.
- Amazon’s trying to pull out individual content from other apps and curate it, but it turns into a mess.
- This device favors Amazon’s content in a big way. There are advertisements for it everywhere. It feels like you’re being sold something every time you turn on the TV. I paid money for this device; I just want to relax!
- Fire TV Stick 4K is the best way to watch all of Amazon Prime’s content. It’s perfectly optimized and there are cool exclusive features while watching. For instance, you can see all the actor’s names when you pause a show.
- For HD content, there’s Hulu, Netflix, Showtime, HBO, Sling TV, DirecTV, PlayStation Vue, YouTube, and others available.
- YouTube TV is the best live TV streaming service, but there isn’t an app currently, but it’s coming at some point in 2019.
- There’s a lack of 4K HDR content. There’s no iTunes, Google Play Video or Vudu. You’re stuck with just Amazon (which lacks HDR content relative to iTunes and Vudu) and Netflix.
Speed & Specs (B-):
- Fire TV Stick 4K is Amazon’s third generation stick. It has 1.5 GB of RAM with a quad-core 1.7 GHz processor and runs Fire OS 6.
- The second generation Fire TV Stick has 1GB of RAM with a 1.3GHz processor and Fire OS 5 is still being sold for $40. Every action on the second generation felt like it was in slow motion relative to Roku or Apple TV.
- Fire TV Stick 4K apps open two times faster than the second generation Fire TV Stick. It’s astronomically snappier with everything that you do.
- Fire TV Stick 4K apps open as fast as it does on Roku.
- There’s Dolby Atmos support, although there isn’t content that takes advantage of this yet.
- Amazon supports HDR10 and Dolby Vision. I can’t tell the difference between the two standards, but people smarter than I say Dolby Vision is better.
- Fire TV Stick 4K knows who you are if you buy it with YOUR Amazon account, which makes installation easier. Also, if it’s your second Amazon device and your WiFi settings stay saved, you don’t have to worry about WiFi setup.
- You can hold down a button on the remote to ask Alexa a question. It performs any question or smart home task (i.e. turning off the lights, etc.), just like a typical Echo device.
- With the previous version of Fire TV Stick, you couldn’t control the volume or turn off the TV with the remote. Now, an Alexa Voice Remote is included with a dedicated volume and power button. This remote is a huge upgrade from the previous generation, but it’s still made with cheap materials.
- If you want to go hands-free, you can set up Fire TV Stick 4K to work with an 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, but there are issues:
- It doesn’t work consistently because the requests get wordy. Alexa doesn’t always understand which service you want to use and doesn’t know non-mainstream shows well.
- In the future, I want Amazon’s AI to predict which service I want to use, based on my previous usage, without specifying.
- Alexa works better with Amazon’s own content. You can say “Alexa, play Transparent.” and the content starts without pressing any buttons. The shows open 95% of the time, but it doesn’t always play the 4K version. Why are there two versions of the same movie? It should be one movie and the definition should auto adjust depending on the type of TV display you have.
- 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.