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Amazon Fire Stick vs Roku Streaming Stick: Which is right for you?

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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Written by Cynthia Bowman on

Both Amazon and Roku have doubled down to bring you the best streaming experience possible. The two media giants offer affordable streaming through plug-in sticks, branded televisions, and streaming boxes, which makes choosing the right one more than just seeing the price tags. This review looks at Amazon and Roku's TV sticks -- the cheapest and most versatile of both brands' streaming players to figure out who wins a spot in your home. 

Also: The 15 best Amazon Prime Day deals available right now


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
Amazon

Remote: Alexa Voice Remote Lite with four app buttons for Prime Video, Netflix, Disney+, and Hulu, 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

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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
Amazon

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

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

firetv-stick-4k.png
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

More: Best streaming device deals available right now


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-4k.png
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-4k.png
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 TieTie
Remote Control
Ease of use
Streaming quality
Price

Support

Tie

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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.

Also: Best 65-inch TVs

Remote control

Roku wins

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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+. All four Amazon Fire Sticks now include four app buttons for Prime Video, Netflix, Disney+, and Hulu.

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

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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. You could probably switch between the two systems without much of a learning curve. If price is your deciding factor, 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.

More: Best budget TVs: Streaming entertainment for less

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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