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

Cam Secore
Updated 05/21/2018

best streaming stick

After months of testing, I found Roku Streaming Stick to be the best streaming stick overall. It’s the clear winner. It has the most content options, a remote, a speedy interface, and its platform isn’t biased like Amazon’s.

Now, let’s find out how I reached my conclusion by comparing three streaming sticks (Roku Stick vs. Fire TV Stick vs. Chromecast) while evaluating six categories: speed, content, software, software, setup, and smarts.

roku stick vs fire stick

Roku Streaming Stick

10
  • Speed: It’s by far the fastest stick on the market.
  • Content: It has every streaming service I can think of with no biases.
  • Software: The interface is old school and a little clunky, but ads are unobtrusive.
  • Remote: It has dedicated streaming service buttons and can control TV volume/power.
  • Setup: It takes longer than the others to set up.
  • Smarts: You can use the remote to search for TV and movies.

Best for you if...

If you’re looking for a streaming stick that plugs into the back of your TV, this is the one for you. You’ll get an unbiased platform, voice remote, tons of content options, private listening, and a device that’s faster than Fire Stick.

chromecast vs roku

Google Chromecast

7
  • Speed: Finding shows depends on your phone speed. Casting takes 15 seconds after.
  • Content: Amazon Video is the only omission. You can watch any app with cast button.
  • Software: There’s no interface; everything’s done on your phone.
  • Remote: There’s no remote. Your phone is the remote.
  • Setup: I’ve set up several of these and have never had an issue.
  • Smarts: You can control your TV with your voice through Google Home.

Best for you if...

You’re in Google’s ecosystem and like using your phone as the remote. You’ll get a clean stream 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.

amazon fire stick vs roku

Amazon Fire TV Stick

5
  • Speed: Some apps are unusable due to the slow performance.
  • Content: It has most of the basics, but it’s missing Vudu and YouTube TV.
  • Software: It’s overly promotional of Amazon’s content and has ads everywhere.
  • Remote: You can’t turn off the TV or control the volume, but at least it has a remote.
  • Setup: If you buy it through your Amazon account your information is pre-filled.
  • Smarts: You can ask your Echo devices to play content, but it’s not fully baked.

Best for you if...

You want a slow device that pushes Amazon content with other ads sprinkled throughout. Once you own an Amazon device, they try to persuade you to buy their other products. Whether that’s a Prime subscription, Kindle book, Amazon Video content, etc. Don’t buy it.

 

Why listen to me?

  1. I’ve been obsessed with gadgets since I was eight years old.
  2. I bought each device with MY money.
  3. I’ll update this post frequently because my opinions change.
  4. I don’t have insider access. I’m just like you, the everyman.
Learn more here or subscribe to my email list for new posts and gadget giveaways.

My Experience

While on the hunt for the best streaming device, I limited my search to devices in box form and overlooked streaming sticks.

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

But streaming sticks have come a long way.

After testing several, I found there are some surprisingly good and affordable models out there.

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

My original streaming device comparison was overwhelming because it covered seven different devices. It resulted in more confusion than clarity. So 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.

I played with each streaming stick for a few days and still regularly test them because I’m an avid streamer.

I kept two Apple TVs in my main watching rooms because it’s the best device for 4K TVs, but I kept my Roku Stick for a spare room. I also own a Chromecast for streaming YouTube TV because it’s YouTube TV works much better when you control it in your hand via your phone.

The only device I couldn’t tolerate and sold after the review was Amazon Fire TV.

Common Misconceptions

  • Roku sticks have been around for four years. I reviewed the latest version of Roku Stick (2017), and that’s what you want. The previous generations are slower and have a clunkier interface.
  • 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.
  • You’ll need a streaming stick for each TV that you want to stream on.
  • You can’t “cut the cord” by only buying a streaming stick. A $50 device won’t magically have free content to watch. 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.
  • 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 here).
  • 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.

Roku Stream Stick

10

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!)

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.

Google Chromecast

7

Speed (B-):

  • 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 15 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.)

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.

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.

Amazon Fire TV Stick

5

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.

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.

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.

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.
 

8 Comments

  • Lincoln says:

    So you’re telling me roku is way faster than firestick?
    The data I found here does not agree with you. Most of the reviews I found on the internet say firestick is better.

    I am new to this and just want to here your explanation on the data below before I make any decision.

    Here are the full specs for the Fire TV Stick:

    Output: HDMI
    Processor: 1.2GHz Broadcom Capri 28155, dual-core 2xARM A9
    RAM: 1GB
    Storage: 8GB flash
    Max. Output Video Resolution: 1080p
    Dimensions: 84.9(L) x 25(W) x 11.5(H) mm
    Weight: 25.1g
    Connectivity: 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n with “captive portal Wi-Fi” access
    Power: USB (Power adapter included)
    And here are the known specs for the Roku Streaming Stick:

    Output: HDMI
    Processor: 600 MHz Broadcom BCM2835
    RAM: 512MB
    Storage: 256MB
    Max. Output Video Resolution: 1080p
    Dimensions: 78(L) x 28(W) x 12(H) mm
    Weight: 18g
    Connectivity: 802.11 dual-band (a/b/g/n compatible) with WEP, WPA, and WPA2 support
    Power: micro USB (Power adapter included)

    • Cam Secore says:

      Reviews and real life tests exist because specs never tell a full story. Software is everything. A prime example is iPhone X, which only has 3 GB of RAM, while most Android flagship phones have 4-8 GB. iPhone X crushes Android counterparts in benchmark tests. This is mostly due the processing chip (A11), but the software plays a huge part in the real life speed too.

  • Monica says:

    I have a Chromecast that I cast Beach Body workouts to on my TV.
    Can I do this with the Fire Stick? Or should I buy another Chromecast for my garage TV??

    • Cam Secore says:

      You can do “Display Mirroring” if you’re using an Android phone, it won’t quite have the same effect as casting though. So I’d still recommend getting a Chromecast for the best experience.

  • Barry says:

    We tried Roku Express from a local store and it seems to work ok during the daytime but when evening comes around reception seems spotty with picture distortion and distorted sound. I like the Roku but now wonder if there is a significant difference in the models as to buffering, etc. Should I upgrade or what?

    • Cam Secore says:

      If your Roku is working during the day, the Roku shouldn’t be an issue. Check your WiFi speeds during the day to get a baseline, then check again at night. If there’s a big fluctuation, your internet provider is probably throttling your internet during peak hours and you might have to upgrade plans.

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