Roku vs Fire Stick: Which one is right for your streaming needs?


Roku vs Fire Stick

Maria Diaz/ZDNET

Whether you’re just recently joining those of us who’ve cut the cord, or you’ve learned about the Roku Streaming Stick or Amazon’s Fire TV stick and are wondering which one is better for your needs to upgrade your TV experience, we’ll walk you through the biggest differences for each one, so you can make an informed decision.

Also: The best live TV streaming platforms: Sling TV, Hulu, YouTubeTV, and more

Both Amazon and Roku are trying to bring you the best streaming experience possible. The two media giants offer affordable streaming through plug-in sticks, branded televisions, and streaming boxes. This makes choosing the right one more than just seeing the price tags. 

For this article, we compare the Fire TV Stick 4K and the Roku Streaming Stick 4K, with extra information on each company’s other streaming devices, so you can decide which is the best one for you.

Fire TV Stick 4K vs Roku Streaming Stick 4K

Features Fire TV Stick 4K Roku Streaming Stick 4K
Retail price $50 $50
Picture quality Fire TV Stick 4K Roku TV stick 4K
Frame rate 60 fps 60 fps
Audio quality Dolby Atmos Dolby Atmos
Storage 8GB 4GB
Memory 1.5GB 1GB
Wi-FI Dual-band Dual-band
Ports HDMI output, Micro-USB for power HDMI 2.0b, USB for power
Remote batteries Two AAA batteries Two AAA batteries

You should buy a Fire TV Stick 4K if…

1. You want the most features for less money

When you compare the tech specifications of a Fire TV Stick 4K against the Roku Streaming Stick 4K, you’ll find that both devices are very similar, even down to the price. One thing is certain, however: Amazon offers bigger discounts more often on its Fire Stick than Roku does. This means you can typically find the Fire TV Stick 4K for a lower price than the Roku. 

For example, last holiday season brought many sales on both Roku and Fire TV devices, and you could get a Fire TV Stick 4K for $27, while the Roku Stick 4K was $33. Both were discounted, but the former is a better deal.

Also: The best Fire TV players: Fire TV Stick, Cube, Lite, and more compared

Amazon also features other Fire TV Stick models that range between $30 and $140 at regular price, while the Roku lineup ranges from $30 to $130. In a head-to-head match between the two higher-end sticks, the Roku 4K+ and Fire TV Stick 4K Max, the two are similar in features, although the Amazon player is $15 cheaper. Plus, the Fire Stick is Wi-Fi 6-compatible, while Roku isn’t yet, for extra value

2. You use Alexa in your smart home

Alexa, Amazon’s voice assistant, seems to be a must in every Amazon device. The Fire TV Stick 4K is no exception. The Alexa-enabled remote included with this streaming device has a button to press and hold to ask Alexa questions. Though the Roku also comes with a voice remote that you can use for navigation within the Roku platform, the Alexa remote can go beyond searching for your favorite TV show.

Also: Amazon Fire TV Stick: What it is and how to use it

If you have Alexa-enabled devices as part of your smart home setup, you can tell Alexa via your Fire TV Stick remote to turn on a smart light or change the room temperature on your smart thermostat. You can even ask the voice assistant to show you compatible security cameras on your TV. 

Camera feed on TV

Asking your remote to show you Alexa-enabled cameras in your home displays the feed on the TV.

Amazon

Roku has a line of smart home products that can integrate its camera feeds with Roku TVs or streaming devices, but the feature is still pretty new and limited to its own Roku Home devices.

3. You watch Prime Video and Youtube Kids (and don’t mind ads)

Unsurprisingly, the Fire TV platform is more focused on Prime Video, as it is, after all, an Amazon device. Being an Amazon product, it’s also not surprising that you’ll find many ads while navigating the system. Personally, I don’t mind the ads so much; I ignore most of them. But if you’re an avid watcher of Prime Video content, you’ll find the ads to be geared to users like you. 

Fire TV Stick 4K on TV

Amazon

Keep in mind that some apps are available on Fire TV that are not available for Roku and vice versa, as is the case for Youtube Kids, though Youtube recently announced a way to access it on Roku. I’m not a fan of YouTube Kids, so if my kids ever watch it, I only allow it on the TV, where I can see or at least hear what they’re watching. If you have little ones who like watching YouTube Kids, know that it’s not available as a standalone app on Roku devices at this time. YouTube and YouTube TV are available on Roku.

Also: Why I chose YouTube TV out of the sea of streaming options

To access Youtube Kids on Roku, you must download the YouTube app on your Roku device and go into the Accounts tab to switch to a child’s profile. This will give you access to Youtube Kids’ content and parental controls within the YouTube app.

You should buy a Roku Streaming Stick 4K if…

1. You prefer a more user-friendly platform

The Fire TV menu is visually attractive, but it’s simply not as straightforward and user-friendly as the Roku platform. It’s a sleek design, but it often takes extra steps to do something compared with doing it on a Roku.

Another noteworthy feature of the Roku platform is the universal search, which the Fire TV platform executes poorly. Universal search lets you search for a title and have your Roku show you all the different apps you can watch it in, along with how much it costs to rent or buy, if applicable. 

Also: I cut my video streaming bill in half, and so can you

Universal search is underrated, but it’s extremely useful. Unfortunately, I’ve fallen victim to its poor performance of it on the Fire TV platform, when I’ve paid to rent a movie only to find that it’s included in my Netflix subscription the next day. 

Fire TV’s search results require extra work to sift through. You’re given one primary channel and must select “more ways to watch” to see all the other options. Multiple options are often available, but clicking on them may lead to a paywall or a dead end. 

2. You want an easier-to-use remote control

Admittedly, Fire TV remotes have come a long way to become more user-friendly and, in the process, more like the Roku remote. But I still find the Roku remote easier to use than its competitor. 

Also: The 5 best streaming devices

It’s the buttons for me; give me good old arrows, and I know where to go. I don’t want to sound like a dinosaur here, but I’d choose the Roku remote if I had to choose between my Fire TV, Roku, or even Apple TV 4K remotes.

Hand holding both Roku Stick & Fire Stick remotes

My Roku remote (left) doesn’t get lost in my couch cushions nearly as often as the Fire TV Stick remote (right).

Maria Diaz/ZDNET

The Roku remote is rounded and thicker than the Fire TV remote, which is thin and easy to lose between the couch cushions. The Roku remote also has old-school arrows and an “OK” button, whereas the Fire TV remote has a circle with a round “OK” button in the middle and, you guessed it, no letters or arrows in this navigation wheel, which makes it a little less intuitive for someone getting familiar with it.

Also: Which Roku is right for you? The top players and TV options compared

Aside from this, both remotes are pretty similar: Both have mute and volume buttons to control compatible televisions, your regular navigation buttons, and four channel shortcut buttons that are not reprogrammable on either remote. Also, both devices have a mobile app that enables your phone to double as a remote should you lose your physical remote control.

3. You need the long-range Wi-Fi feature

If you’ve got a bigger home or want to put your streaming device on any TV around your house, then you may be interested in Roku’s long-range Wi-Fi feature.

The Roku Stick 4K has a larger antenna than previous devices, allowing four times the wireless range. This is thanks, in part, to the included USB power cable with a Wi-Fi receiver, which holds the Wi-Fi hardware on the line farther away from the device for less wireless interference.

A streaming stick may not be the perfect solution for all applications, but it’s a small, portable, and inexpensive solution to turn a standard TV into a smart one. 

There’s also the option of a more expensive alternative, such as buying a smart TV that’s already Wi-Fi-integrated and equipped with the most popular streaming apps. However, the investment is far more than the cost of a $50 TV stick.

FAQ

All the Fire Sticks support the following apps: Netflix, HBO Max, Prime Video, Youtube Kids, Apple TV, Sling TV, Disney+, Peacock, Starz, Showtime, Paramount+, YouTube TV, IMDb TV, Tubi, Pluto TV, Amazon Music, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, and many more.

Similarly, all of Roku’s offerings support the following apps: Netflix, HBO Max, Prime Video, Apple TV, Sling TV, Disney+, Peacock, Starz, Showtime, Paramount+, YouTube TV, IMDb TV, Tubi, Pluto TV, Amazon Music, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, and more.

Neither stick charges you to stream your favorite apps. You could save money by only watching the free TV and movie channels such as Vudu, Roku TV, Peacock, or Tubi TV. And if you have an Amazon Prime account, Amazon Video is included. While more recent movies and shows may come with a fee, Amazon Video has plenty of free programming available through your Roku or Amazon Fire player. 

Streaming players broadcast what’s available from the apps. While many streaming apps offer free content, some of the most popular such as HBO Max, Disney Plus, ESPN+, and Netflix come with a monthly subscription fee. If you’d like to access Netflix from your Roku Streaming Stick, for example, you would need to pay for a monthly Netflix subscription and log in to your account through Roku’s interface.





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