Roku Streaming Stick vs. Amazon Fire TV Stick: Best Stick For 2018?

Cam Secore
Updated 11/08/2018

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 stick vs fire stick

Roku Streaming Stick+

8
  • 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.

Budget Option

Roku Stick (3800R) has the same features and speed without the 4K compatibility. Roku Stick+ will work with any TV type, but if you don't have a 4K TV, get 3800R for $49 instead.

amazon fire stick vs roku

Fire TV Stick 4K

6
  • 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.

Budget Option

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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    1. I’ve been obsessed with gadgets since I was eight years old.
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    best streaming stick

    Common Misconceptions

    • 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 $25/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.

    best streaming stick

    Roku Stick+

    8

    Interface (C):

    • While Roku 8.0 software was a substantial upgrade because were low-quality apps that apps didn’t match the experience of the other streaming devices, Roku software still has work to do. The apps are more consistent, but I still don’t like how the menus are set up, the interface looks dated, and there are design inconsistencies throughout.
    • 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. The difference between Roku and Fire TV is that the Roku ads stay out of the way, and you can easily distinguish ads from the content.
    • 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.
    • “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.

    Content (A):

    • 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 9.0) 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.

    Smarts (D):

    • 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 you’re 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.

    Fire TV Stick 4K

    6

    Interface (D):

    • 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.

    Content (C):

    • 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 actors when pausing a show.
    • For HD content, there’s Hulu, Netflix, Showtime, HBO, Sling TV, DirecTV, PlayStation Vue, and others available.
    • YouTube TV is the best live TV streaming service, but there isn’t an app and won’t be.
    • There’s no YouTube app either, but you can go to the built-in internet browser as a workaround.
    • 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.

    Smarts (B-):

    • 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.
     

    47 Comments

    • Rose 💙 says:

      Hey Cam! First of all thank you for this! Your comparison is very complete and helpful. I’m almost ready to order the Roku Streaming Stick + . The only thing that worries me a little is that I see several customer reviews on sites like Amazon and Best buy where they say the remote control of that Roku model is defective or “dies” very soon. What has been your experience with it? Thanks so much!

    • Sonia says:

      Thank you. Really appreciate the information.

    • Alicia says:

      I have the old roku. Should I get the stick and what speed internet do I need

      • Cam Secore says:

        There are seven generations of Roku. I’m not sure what “old” is in your book is, but if you’re not having issues with it, keep it! I’d shoot for at least 20/mbps per stream.

    • Crystal says:

      Hi! I’m new to the streaming devices as I’ve been using an Xbox 360 to stream Netflix for the past several years. I was looking at Walmart’s Black Friday ad that has a “Roku SE” for $20, but I’m not sure which version the SE is. Is it older or is it one of the versions you suggested? TIA!

    • Jackie says:

      Cam I am so glad I found you. I’m not techie and your content I can understand. Thanks! I am going to get the Roku 3800R.

    • Marie says:

      So, I just bought the Roku based on your article. I’m very interested to see it as I previously used the Fire Stick and constantly had issues with it. Pairing problems between the remote and stick. Then, issues with the app and stick. Now, it doesn’t recognize anything and was stuck in a loop. Amazon Tech tried to help me. But, could not get it to stop looping. But, to Amazon’s credit they did issue me a credit for it. Thanks again for the comparison.

    • Belle Wray says:

      After a lot of research I think I am ready to get the Roku stick. My ? is, can I still keep my Dish Network acc for all my sports, local channels, and all other channels I enjoy and just use the stick to access Hulu, Amazon video etc? Is is hard to flip back and forth from Dish to Roku stick? Thanks

      • Cam Secore says:

        That’s what most people do. You just change the HDMI input on your TV when you want to switch.

    • Heba says:

      Hi,so you meant Roku is better??i have No experience at all with any of it .i have Not smart TV and I need to buy either google chromecast or Roku or for stick to make it smart Tv and also be able to connect the content of my phone through the TV like YouTube .what is your ecommendation?

    • Bikelady says:

      Cam, please tell me what is the basic cable stuff that I need to use the Rouku+ which I just ordered along with hd antennae. I want to lower my $200 monthly cable bill. I have tv, phone, internet, dvr. I have 200mbps internet. What’s the basic I will need to use Roku? What can I give up, the dvr?
      Haven’t install Roku, want to know the basics. Thanks

    • Christine says:

      Hey Cam-

      When u say the Roku plays Amazon video is that the same as Amazon Prime video?

      Thank u!!

    • Kathleen Garrett says:

      Thank you so much for this information. I am 75 years old & wanted an understandable comparison of the Fire Stick & Roku. You did it!!

    • Jenni says:

      I am trying to wrap my head around all of this. I currently subscribe to Dish Network. I have 4 tvs. I would love to cut the cord with Dish. My internet comes from my local telephone cooperative. If I am understanding this right, I would need 4 Roku sticks, plus 4 tv antennas (for my local channels),is this correct? I already have subscriptions to Netflix and Amazon Prime.
      Please help! Trying to cut costs!

    • Tavonda says:

      Hey with the roku stick will I be able to download the app Xfinity Buddle’s to watch live TV or with directtv live will it have to go thru a contract what’s the best way to go for live TV

    • Gerry says:

      I am so ready to cut the cord with cable.. i just am concerned I will not get local stations abc,cbs etc. I am confused I got the fire stick latest one but now Ithink I should get Roku

      • Cam Secore says:

        Neither of these is going to help you get local channels. You need a live TV service for $40/month.

    • Sarah says:

      Does Emby work on both Roku or firestick? I, too, am new and uninformed about technology. I am trying to buy my boyfriend one of the sticks, but don’t know which exact one to get him. I have subscriptions to Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and my brother gave me a login name for his emby “server” to help save money on all the movies I was buying.

    • L Wolf says:

      Excellent review. I’m breaking up with consumer reports!

    • Mike c says:

      Great comparison. I’m not sure why mine would be different, but I do not see any advertisements on the Fire TV Stick 4k – no cat liter or anything else. It does make the Amazon Video information available, but I’m fine with that as a Prime subscriber. Nice to see what I can get that is included in that subscription. I can also hide or remove apps that I don’t want to use or download. Rokus as nice as well, but I don’t know that the Fire TV is only for users in the Amazon ecosystem.

      • Cam Secore says:

        I’m looking at my Fire TV Stick 4K and Fire TV Cube, on the latest software, and I’m seeing a giant ad saying “UGG – Celebrating 40 Years of Defying Convention.”
        ad

    • Brook says:

      I loved your article, thank you so much for making it so comprehensive. I’m definitely leaning toward the Roku now, but I do have a question about the three that you recommended. I got lost reading the specs, but they all seemed to say mostly the same thing. So my question is, what are the relevant differences between the three?
      Roku Ultra (4661R)
      Roku Streaming Stick+ (3810R)
      Roku Streaming Stick (3800R)
      My main purpose for this is to stream Netflix and Hulu.
      Thanks in advance!

    • Rod Cooling says:

      Help!! I recently cut the cable and started streaming Swooptv thru my amazon firesticks… What a boat load of channels and movie options… problem is it recently started buffering alot… I upped my speed to 50 mb and it didn’t help… when it works, it is awesome, but so bothersome when it buffers… trying to nail down the problem… Is it swooptv, is it my firesticks?… wierd part is it’s not always every channel, but sometimes it’s most channels… NFL network always works???

      • Cam Secore says:

        First, download a speed test app on your phone and check from your internet speed from the Fire Stick’s location. If your speed is poor, you’re not getting enough internet range, and you’ll need to upgrade your router.

        Do you have Fire TV Stick 4K or the cheaper version? Fire TV Stick version is dreadfully slow.

    • John W. says:

      To repeat many prior comments, thank you immensely for such an extensive review, and sharing your knowledge with those of us who desperately need it. Hoping to cut the satellite TV cord shortly and believe you have given me the information needed to. One question I have is related to having my TV as a part of a home entertainment system incorporating a receiver and surround system. Would I just plug my streaming device into an HDMI port on my receiver the same as my satellite currently is?

      • Cam Secore says:

        There are many ways to pull this off, but if your satellite receiver is currently plugged into your audio receiver via HDMI, you’d just plug in Roku Stick the same way.

    • Patricia says:

      There is a big price range with the Roku Stick that I saw yesterday at Walmart. While the sales person was helpful, I still came away with some questions. Given they range in price from $29.99 to $99.99 what am I looking for in this price range? And how do they differ? Especially since you recommend the 3800R version and what is that price? Thanks

    • Ann Dellinger says:

      We have a Roku stick and have been using streaming channels for awhile now. We are mostly happy with it, but I would love to have something to record our shows, as we do miss our DVR. Any suggestions? We have an Isignia tv, and are also Amazon Prime members.

      • Cam Secore says:

        You need a live streaming service (Sling, PlayStation Vue, Hulu Live, YouTube TV, DirecTV Now) for $40/month with DVR.

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