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

Out of the abundance of streaming devices on the market, two have dominated for years: The Roku Streaming Stick and the Fire TV Stick. But how do you choose the best one for your TV streaming habits?
Written by Maria Diaz, Staff Writer on
Reviewed by Alyson Windsor
Fire TV Stick 4K vs Roku Streaming Stick 4K
Roku | Amazon | ZDNET

Whether you're just recently joining those of us who've cut the cord, or have had some experiences with the Roku streaming stick or the Fire TV stick and are wondering which one is better for your needs, we'll walk you through the biggest differences for each one, so you can make an informed decision.

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 about more than just seeing the price tags. 

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

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 make an informed decision on which is the best one for you. 

Fire TV Stick 4K vs Roku Streaming Stick 4K

FeaturesFire TV Stick 4KRoku Streaming Stick 4K
Retail price$50$50
Picture qualityFire TV Stick 4KRoku TV stick 4K
Frame rate60fps60fps
Audio qualityDolby AtmosDolby Atmos
Storage8 GB4 GB
Memory1.5 GB1 GB
Wi-FIDual-bandDual-band
PortsHDMI output, micro-USB for powerHDMI 2.0b, USB for power
Remote batteriesTwo AAA batteriesTwo 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 does bigger discounts more often on its Fire Stick than Roku does. This means that you can typically find the Fire TV Stick 4K for a lower price than the Roku. 

For example, this current holiday season has brought many sales on both Roku and Fire TV devices and, right now, you can get a Fire TV Stick 4K for $27, while the Roku Stick 4K is $33. Both are 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, both are similar in features although the Amazon player is $15 cheaper. Plus, the Fire Stick is Wi-Fi 6 compatible, which Roku's isn't yet, for extra value

2. You use Alexa in your smart home

Alexa, Amazon's infamous 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 comes with a button you can 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 ask Alexa into your Fire TV Stick remote to control them, like turn on a light or change the room temperature on your smart thermostat. You can even ask the voice assistant to show you your compatible security cameras right 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 brand new line of smart home products that can integrate its camera feeds to Roku TVs or streaming devices, but it's 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 a lot of 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, then 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. Now, I'm not a fan of YT 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 that like watching YouTube Kids, know that it's not available for Roku devices at this time. YouTube and YouTube TV are available on Roku.

You should buy a Roku Streaming Stick 4K if...

1. You prefer a more user-friendly platform

The Fire TV menu has a visually-attractive design, 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 to doing it on a Roku.

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

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

Universal search is underrated, but it's extremely useful. Unfortunately, I've fallen victim to the lack of it in the Fire TV platform, when I've paid to rent a movie only to find it 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 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. 

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 if I had to choose between my Fire TV, Roku, or even Apple TV 4K remotes, I'd choose the Roku remote.

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 a bit thicker than the Fire TV remote, which is thin and really easy to slip between the couch cushions. The Roku remote also has old-school arrows and an "OK" button, where 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 a mute and volume buttons to control compatible televisions, and your regular navigation buttons, as well as 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 be able to put your streaming device on any TV around your house, then you may be interested in the Roku's long-range Wi-Fi feature.

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

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. 

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

What apps do the Fire Stick and Roku Stick have?

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.

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

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. 

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 in to your account through Roku's interface.

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