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Amazon Fire Stick vs Roku Streaming Stick

Two sticks dominate the plug-and-play streaming world -- Amazon and Roku. We dig deep to help you choose the best one.

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Both Amazon and Roku have doubled down to bring you the best streaming experience possible. They both offer affordable streaming through plug-in sticks, branded televisions, and streaming boxes. This review looks at the sticks -- the cheapest and most versatile of both brands' streaming players to figure out who wins a spot in your home. 


Amazon Fire TV Stick:

Amazon has four stick players available. There are two HD players and two 4K Ultra HD versions.

All the Fire Sticks 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.

Here's a breakdown of each:

Fire TV Stick Lite

Fire TV Stick

Fire TV Stick 4K

Fire TV Stick 4K Max

Price

$30

$40

$50

$55

Picture quality

1080p Full HD

1080p Full HD

4K Ultra HD

4K Ultra HD, picture-in-picture

Audio quality

Dolby-encoded

Dolby Atmos

Dolby Atmos

Dolby Atmos

Storage

8 GB

8 GB

8 GB

8 GB

Memory

1 GB

1 GB

1.5 GB

2 GB

Wi-FI

Dual-band

Dual-band

Dual-band

MT7921LS

Bluetooth

5.0, LE

5.0, LE

5.0, LE

5.0, LE

Fire TV Stick Lite

firetv.png
Amazon

Remote: Alexa Voice Remote Lite, does not control a TV or other peripherals

Picture quality: 1080p Full HD (1920x1080), HDR 10, HDR10+, HLG, H.265, H.264, Vp9

Audio quality: Dolby-encoded

Wi-Fi: Dual-band, dual-antenna Wi-Fi (MIMO), supports 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi networks

Bluetooth: Bluetooth 5.0, Bluetooth Low Energy

Storage: 8 GB

Memory: 1 GB

Quad-core processor: CPU 1.7GHz, GPU 650MHz

Includes: Stick, remote, HDMI extender, USB cable with power adaptor, and two AAA batteries

Fire TV Stick

stickfire.png
Amazon

Remote: Alexa Voice Remote with buttons for Prime Video, Netflix, Disney+ and Hulu, includes TV voice controls

Picture quality: 1080p Full HD (1920x1080), HDR 10, HDR10+, HLG, H.265, H.264, Vp9

Audio quality: Dolby Atmos

Wi-Fi: Dual-band, dual-antenna Wi-Fi (MIMO), supports 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi networks

Bluetooth: Bluetooth 5.0, Bluetooth Low Energy

Storage: 8 GB

Memory: 1 GB

Quad-core processor: CPU 1.7GHz, GPU 650MHz

Includes: Stick, remote, HDMI extender, USB cable with power adaptor and two AAA batteries

Fire TV Stick 4K

4kfirestick.png
Amazon

Remote: Alexa Voice Remote, includes power and volume controls for IR-enabled TVs, soundbars and receivers

Picture quality: 4K Ultra HD, Dolby Vision, HDR 10, HDR10+, HLG, H.265, H.264, Vp9

Audio quality: Dolby Atmos

Wi-Fi: Dual-band, dual-antenna Wi-Fi (MIMO), supports 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi networks

Bluetooth: Bluetooth 5.0 + LE

Storage: 8 GB

Memory: 1.5 GB

Quad-core processor: CPU 1.7GHz, GPU 650MHz

Includes: Stick, remote, HDMI extender, USB cable with power adaptor and two AAA batteries

Fire TV Stick 4K Max

4kmax.jpg
Amazon

Remote: Alexa Voice Remote, includes power and volume controls for IR-enabled TVs, soundbars and receivers, buttons for Prime Video, Netflix, Disney+ and Hulu

Picture quality: 4K Ultra HD, Dolby Vision, HDR 10, HDR10+, HLG, H.265, H.264, Vp9, picture-in-picture mode

Audio quality: Dolby Atmos

Wi-Fi: MT7921LS, supports 802.11a/b/g/n/ac/ax (Wi-Fi 6)

Bluetooth: Bluetooth 5.0 + LE

Storage: 8 GB

Memory: 2 GB

Quad-core processor: CPU 1.7GHz, GPU 750MHz

Includes: Stick, remote, HDMI extender, USB cable with power adaptor and two AAA batteries


Roku Streaming Sticks:

Roku offers two streaming sticks, although you may find other versions made for specific retailers such as Walmart or Best Buy.

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.

Here's a breakdown of Roku's sticks:

Roku Streaming Stick 4K

Roku Streaming Stick 4K+

Price

$50

$70

Picture quality

4K Ultra HD

4K Ultra HD

Audio quality

Dolby Atmos

Dolby Atmos

Remote

Two AAA batteries

Rechargeable, more buttons

Roku Streaming Stick 4K

roku4k.jpg
Amazon

Remote: Voice-compatible, controls most TVs, buttons for Prime Video, Netflix, Disney+ and Hulu

Picture quality: Dolby Vision, HDR10+, 4K, HD

Audio quality: Dolby

Wi-Fi: Long-range 802.11ac dual-band, MIMO Wi-Fi

Quad-core processor: Yes

Includes: Stick, remote, USB power cable, USB power extender cable, power adaptor, and two AAA batteries

Roku Streaming Stick 4K+

4k-roku.jpg
Amazon

Remote: Roku Voice Remote Pro is rechargeable, controls most TVs, buttons for Apple TV+, Netflix, Disney+ and Hulu

Picture quality: Dolby Vision, HDR10+, 4K, HD

Audio quality: Dolby

Wi-Fi: Long-range 802.11ac dual-band, MIMO Wi-Fi

Quad-core processor: Yes

Includes: Stick, remote, USB power cable, USB power extender cable, power adaptor, remote charger cable


Amazon Fire Stick vs Roku:

Which wins, category by category? 

Amazon Fire Stick

Roku

Support

Tie

Tie

Remote control

Ease of use

Streaming quality

Pricing

Support

Tie

fire-tv-cube-couch.jpg

Both sticks offer a wide variety of picture and audio support to ensure compatibility with older and new televisions. Picture quality is only as good as the television itself -- you won't get 4K Ultra HD from a ten-year-old HD TV. Luckily, both companies provide compatibility for tons of picture modes including HDR 10, HDR10+, HLG, H.265, H.264, and Vp9. 

Amazon's audio support may be better since three of the four models also support Dolby Atmos. However, Roku's 4K+ offers a private listening mode so you can connect to your earbuds or audio headset.

Remote control

Roku wins

roku-voice-remote.jpg

Roku's streaming sticks make navigating and selection far simpler than Amazon Fire TV Sticks. You'll notice the Roku remote has more control buttons and quick access to the top streaming apps of Apple TV+, Netflix, Hulu and Disney+. Only two of the four Amazon Fire Sticks include four app buttons on the remote.

A common question users ask is whether they can remap the app buttons to switch out Hulu, for example. It isn't possible to reprogram the presets, but Roku's remote has two extra programmable shortcut buttons that can be used to add quick navigation to other viewing or music apps.

Ease of use

Roku wins

roku-voice-control-pic

Roku makes navigating to what you want to watch incredibly simple. It certainly requires fewer clicks to tune in than Amazon's Fire Stick. Performing a search on Roku gives you a list of viewing options with pricing as the main point. You can quickly find the free version or know what channel will let you stream it cheaply. 

Fire TV's search results require extra work to sift through. You're given one primary channel and have to select "more ways to watch" to see all the other options. You'll often find multiple options are available, but clicking on them may lead to a paywall or dead end. 

Streaming quality

Fire TV Stick 4K Max wins

As far as streaming quality goes, the upper-end sticks from both companies are capable of delivering 4K quality to compatible televisions. However, Amazon's 4K Max wins because it edges Roku out on sound quality with Dolby Atmos and zippier connection due to its wider Wifi options. Although the Roku may possibly deliver a longer range through 802.11ac dual-band, MIMO Wi-Fi, the Amazon Fire Stick supports WiFi 6, which could provide a more stable internet connection for streaming with less buffering. 

Pricing

Amazon Fire TV Sticks win

When it comes to price, Amazon's Fire TV Sticks beat Roku on price. Roku's streaming sticks retail for $50 and $70. Amazon's range in price is between $30 and $55. In a head-to-head match between the two top-end models, the Roku 4K+ and Fire TV Stick 4K Max, both are similar in features although the Amazon player is $15 cheaper. Plus, the Fire Stick is WiFi 6 compatible (Roku's isn't yet) for extra value.

Amazon Fire Stick vs Roku: which is the right one for you?

Deciding between Amazon and Roku comes down to nitpicking, really. Both companies offer a great streaming solution at an affordable price. Honestly, you could probably switch between the two systems without much of a learning curve. If you have to choose one stick over the other, it all comes down to price point. Amazon's Fire Sticks are cheaper.

However, the Roku Streaming Sticks are just a touch more user-friendly. You'll notice the difference when you search for a specific movie or show. The remote is also better designed, with all the buttons you need in one place, plus a couple of extra programmable ones.  


Are there alternatives worth considering?

A streaming stick may not be the perfect solution for all applications, but it's a small, portable and relatively inexpensive solution to turn a standard TV into a smart one. You could always go with 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.

If you're happy with your current TV and not ready to upgrade to a Roku or Amazon Fire model yet, you could always upgrade to a freestanding player. Roku offers the Roku Express and Ultra streaming boxes or the Roku Streambar, a soundbar with video streaming capability built right into the audio device. As for Amazon, the Amazon Fire TV Cube is a freestanding streaming box with more storage and power than the sticks. 

Do Amazon or Roku streaming sticks have a monthly streaming fee?

Neither sticks charge 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 hundreds of thousands of free programming available through your Roku or Amazon Fire player. 

Do I need to pay for subscriptions if I have a streaming TV stick?

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 into your account through Roku's interface.







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