Apple TV 4K vs. Fire TV Cube (Gen 2): What about Firestick?
After months of testing, I found Apple TV 4K to be the best overall streaming device because it’s ad-free, fast and has a similar interface as iOS. Fire TV Cube (2nd Gen) is solid, but the interface is loaded with ads and cluttered.
Now, let’s find out how I reached my conclusion, by comparing two 4K streaming devices (Apple TV 4K vs. Amazon Fire TV Cube) while evaluating four categories: content, interface, smarts, and remote.
Apple TV 4K
- Interface: It's a polished and ad-free design (similar to iOS). Apple pulls content from each of your streaming apps and puts them into one unified list.
- Content: The App Store is similar to iOS. It has all of the essentials apps and lots of 4K content.
- Smarts: Siri works seamlessly when searching for content with the remote or phone app. HomePod can turn on the TV, and pause and fast-forward content.
- Remote: It has two notable design flaws: a touchpad instead of direction buttons and a poor grip. The remote via iPhone is better.
Best for you if...
You want an ad-free and intuitive interface that's similar to iPhone. Apple TV takes content from all of your apps and puts it in one streamlined “Next Up” list. Apple TV is more expensive, but the experience is superior.
Apple TV HD is $149 and an amazing device, but it doesn’t play 4K content.
Fire TV Cube
- Interface: It’s littered with annoying ads throughout and does a poor job of curating content. Prime and Amazon Channels content have extra features and a solid interface.
- Content: It has all the basic apps that most will need, but it’s missing Vudu and Google Play.
- Smarts: You can search for content and control the TV via Alexa with just your voice. For advanced tasks, it's often easier to use the remote rather than ask Alexa.
- Remote: Alexa Remote is cheaply made and doesn't feel great in your hand, but it has directional buttons and gives a better grip.
Best for you if...
You want the best Prime Video experience or want to control your entertainment equipment with Alexa. The hands-free Alexa is cool, but it isn’t ready for primetime. The interface is frustrating because of its advertisements.
Fire TV Stick 4K has the same interface and features, minus hands-free Alexa.
Things To Know
- TCL Roku TVs are great smart TVs because they mimic a real Roku device, but the majority of smart TVs provide a terrible and slow interface.
- Streaming devices let you add streaming capabilities to your non-smart TV or make your smart TV better by giving it more capabilities and a better interface.
- I’ve tested ten streaming devices. Apple TV 4K is still my main device because I like its smoother interface, but Fire TV and Roku are fine for most because they’re more affordable and function similarly. Check out my Power Rankings to see all the streaming devices that I’ve tested and ranked from best to worst.
- If you want a dedicated streaming device, you’ll need a TV with an open HDMI port and a solid internet speed. I recommend at least 10/mbps per stream. If you have phones, laptops, tablets, and smart home devices already on your network, you’ll need even more. If you want three streams at once and have other tech devices running, 50/mbps is what I’d shoot for.
- Unless you plan to move your streaming device with you, you need one streaming device per TV.
- A $50 streaming device alone won’t replace cable. A streaming device is the platform that provides the apps for the content.
- You’ll find some ad-supported movies and shows for free, but you need to pay for streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, HBO, or Showtime if you want to watch content of value. These services are between $8-15/month.
- If you want to stream cable channels or have an experience that resembles cable, you need a live TV streaming service like YouTube TV, Sling, fuboTV, Hulu Live, or AT&T TV. They’re at least $30/month. I compared three live TV streaming services and found YouTube TV is best.
- Ditching cable for streaming gets expensive and is not for everyone. As more people switch, the prices increase too. For example, YouTube TV went from $30/month to $50/month in two years. If you want to cut the cord and save money, you need to make channel sacrifices because the streaming market has become fragmented with many services. If you choose them all, you’ll be paying more than you were previously.
- If you’re intimidated by technology, switching to full-time streaming isn’t for you. You’ll be using many different interfaces and apps. I don’t recommend cutting the cord to my grandparents because anything more than supplemental streaming would be overwhelming.
- Once you purchase a streaming service subscription, you can log in on all of your devices. Most streaming services have a limit on how many simultaneous streams you’re allowed.
Apple TV 4K
- It supports Dolby Vision (the best HDR format) and Dolby Atmos (the best audio experience).
- Apple TV has an app store, like iOS. You can find most streaming services and all of the big names are available. These include, but are not limited to Prime Video, Vudu, Hulu, Netflix, Showtime, HBO, Disney+, Sling TV, DirecTV, and YouTube TV.
- Apple TV has a YouTube app, but there’s no way to watch 4K content because YouTube uses a VP9 video format that’s not compatible.
- Apple TV has the most 4K HDR content of any streaming device on the market. Netflix, Prime Video, Epix, Vudu, FandangoNOW, and Apple TV have 4K HDR content.
Interface Basics (A+):
- Apple TV 4K uses the same processing chip as the first generation iPad Pro (A10X Fusion), making it the fastest streaming device on the market
- Apple TV 4K is the most expensive streaming device on the market because you’re essentially paying to remove the ads. Apple makes huge profits on their hardware. Why’s this good news? Once you buy an Apple product, Apple is done trying to sell you things.
- The tvOS interface is the most polished of any streaming device by a significant margin. If you’re a happy iPhone user, Apple TV will feel familiar and you’ll love it.
- Apple’s “Up Next” feature is fantastic. No other streaming device has anything that works as well. It tracks all of the shows you’re watching (along with the episode you’re on) and puts them in a list. You rarely have to go inside apps if you already know what you want to watch. For example, when a new episode of Shameless is available on Sunday night, it appears on my Up Next list. When I tap Shameless, it automatically opens the Showtime app and starts playing the correct episode.
- Unfortunately, Apple added auto-playing trailers in the background of the home screen while you’re hovering over the Apple TV app. Apple received lots of backlash for the trailers, but you can disable them in favor of the “Top Shelf” where your “Up Next” is displayed in tvOS 13.3.
- If you have a traditional cable provider and want access to your apps that come with your subscription, you may benefit from Apple’s Single Sign-On feature.
- You can create multiple user accounts to keep your content exclusive to your account. It’s great if you have kids and don’t want their shows cluttering up your “Up Next” list.
- Apple’s screensavers are slow-moving drone shots (in 4K) that go over huge cities. They’ll hold your attention for longer than you want to admit. People make fun of me for my infatuation with the screensavers. I’m not saying you should buy a device specifically for its screensavers, but just keep in mind that they’re awesome.
Interface Ecosystem (A+):
- “Interface Basics” assumes that you subscribe to your streaming services through your cable provider or directly. I didn’t make the assumption that you’re an iPhone user because my notes above apply to everyone.
- Apple TV is even better if you’re an iPhone user.
- During set up, you can place your iPhone next to Apple TV, and Apple TV takes your phone’s iCloud and WiFi password to automatically log you in. It saves you from entering two sets of passwords to complete the setup.
- Whenever a text field appears asking for your email or password, you get a notification on your iPhone and can type on your phone.
- If you have your passwords stored on your phone, they’ll auto-fill on Apple TV after you authenticate with Face ID or Touch ID on your phone.
- You can use your iPhone as a remote, which is an improvement over the Siri Remote (read more below).
- Your phone’s lock screen shows the content being viewed on Apple TV and gives playback controls. The lock screen content controls are awesome when they work, but it’s a newer feature and it can be buggy.
- Apple TV is a streaming device, but it is also the name of an app found on Apple TV (the device). Apple TV+ is the name of a paid streaming service that plays inside the Apple TV app on the Apple TV device. You can also subscribe to Apple TV Channels inside the Apple TV app. It’s a confusing mess, but the experiences gets better when you use the Apple TV app.
- You can subscribe to HBO, Showtime, Starz, Epix, and 18 others via Apple TV Channels rather than your cable provider.
- Apple TV Channels lets you watch your content inside the Apple TV app rather than sending you to the third-party apps when you tap on content from your “Up Next” list.
- The video quality of Apple TV Channels content is better than the third-party app because Apple hosts the content themselves and optimizes it perfectly.
- The Apple TV app is on Roku, Fire TV, iPhones, iPads, and Macs, so you can watch your Apple TV Channels content anywhere you go.
- You can download Showtime and HBO content for offline viewing on your iPhone or iPad.
- Siri justifiably gets a lot of flack on iPhone, but it’s nearly perfect on Apple TV. It does all the functions it’s supposed to, like playback controls and content searching.
- You can ask Siri on the remote things like:
- “Fast forward 30 seconds.” This is great for skipping intros.
- “What did he just say?” This goes back 30 seconds and provides captions so you can find out what was said.
- “Play Dexter on Showtime.” Dexter will open on Showtime with your current episode queued.
- Just say the name of any show or movie, and it’ll pop up on the screen, and you can choose which service you want to watch it on. Siri does a great job of recommending your preferred service based on your viewing habits, but you can choose a different service if Siri gets it wrong. If the content is not available for free via one of your streaming services, you can rent it from the TV app.
- If “Hey Siri” is enabled on your iPhone or you own a HomePod, you can control Apple TV hands-free with Siri. There aren’t as many features as Alexa (e.g., you can’t open apps with your voice), but you can control your TV’s power, and pause and fast forward content. While hands-free Siri is limited, its current commands are the only ones that I regularly use with Alexa.
- You can mirror your iPhone’s screen via AirPlay.
- If you want to run automation or control your smart devices away from home, you’ll need an Apple TV or HomePod to work as your “Homekit Hub.”
- Siri Remote has an aluminum back and a glass front. You move side-to-side and up-to-down by swiping on the touchpad. It looks great and has a premium feel.
- Unfortunately, Apple prioritized sleek design over usability.
- It doesn’t fit well in your hand because it’s so thin.
- It’s a rectangle without any bends or curves, making it hard to tell which part is the front by just grabbing it.
- Directional buttons are easier to use than a touchpad. I don’t hate Siri Remote’s touchpad, but it’s not as responsive as a phone’s touchscreen, so it can get frustrating.
- If you buy an Apple TV, I recommend the elago R1 remote case for $7. It gives the remote extra thickness and a better grip. The case doesn’t fix the issues with the trackpad, but it makes the remote feel better in your hand.
- It has a rechargeable battery that charges via the iPhone cable.
- There are volume buttons, but there’s isn’t a dedicated power button. Although, when you power down your Apple TV from control center, it usually turns the TV off too.
- iPhone users can control Apple TV through the iOS control center (pull down from the top right corner and tap the remote symbol).
- A touchpad is on by default, but you can change the touchpad to directional buttons in the Accessibility settings.
- It has buttons that let you fast forward or rewind in 15 second increments.
- When password fields appear on your TV, your phone’s keyboard appears.
- Your phone’s lock screen will display what you’re watching and give playback controls.
Fire TV Cube
- It supports Dolby Vision (the best HDR format) and Dolby Atmos (the best audio experience).
- For HD content, there’s Hulu, Netflix, Showtime, HBO, Disney+, Sling TV, AT&T TV, YouTube, YouTube TV, Apple TV app, and many others available.
- For 4K HDR content, there’s Prime Video, Netflix, and YouTube. Google Play and Vudu aren’t available.
Interface Basics (D):
- This section assumes that you already have paid subscription plans in place from your cable provider or directly.
- Fire TV Cube (2nd Gen) got a huge spec bump from the first generation. Interestingly, the more affordable Fire TV Stick 4K was faster than first generation Fire TV Cube. Speed isn’t a concern with the newest Fire TV Cube because it’s almost as fast as Apple TV 4K.
- It’s great that streaming devices are affordable for everyone, but in exchange, you get ads littered throughout the interface. Amazon is not done selling after you’ve bought one of their devices. Free internet services like Facebook and Google, have similar business models, but Amazon’s ads are disappointing because you paid for something and still see ads.
- Amazon tries everything they can to get you in the Prime Video app to get you to sign up for one of their subscriptions or buy a movie.
- Fire TV Cube’s home screen is terrible.
- There’s an ad for Amazon’s Prime content that takes up half the screen.
- Five of your favorite apps appear on the home screen, but Amazon has a row above it that shows your “recently used” apps. You’ll get duplicate apps on your home screen because your favorite apps are usually recently used. It looks awful and it doesn’t make sense from a usability perspective.
- There’s an ad near the bottom that’ll show anything from cat litter to Nerf guns.
- As you scroll, there’s a third ad showing off one of their paid subscriptions.
- Near the bottom, there’s a row with Amazon products that it recommends for you.
- They show exclusive content to streaming services that you don’t subscribe to. I want the content from my subscriptions to be curated to make it easier to choose something to watch, rather than content that can’t be seen without paying more money.
- You get full screen ads between the photo wallpapers.
Interface Ecosystem (B):
- Amazon Channels lets you buy your streaming services like HBO and Showtime through Amazon, and it enhances the experience because you won’t need Amazon’s home screen as often.
- Your subscribed services stay organized in the Prime Video app and you never need the third-party apps. Plus, you can watch your Amazon Channel subscriptions on the Prime Video phone app.
- Prime Video and Amazon Channels content shows in the “Recently Used” section similar to Apple’s “Watch Next,” but it’s a shame that it doesn’t work with services outside of Amazon’s ecosystem.
- When you subscribe to services via Amazon Channels you get lots of awesome features.
- Just like Apple TV Channels, Amazon hosts the content themselves, which gives you higher quality video playback.
- When you pause content, it’ll dynamically show you the name of the song or the actors that appear in the scene. You can go deeper with “X-Ray” to get more information on actors or select your scenes.
- You get “Skip Recap” and “Skip Intro” buttons on most series.
- Apple TV Channels is better than Amazon Channels because:
- You can’t mark episodes as played.
- The ads are less pervasive than Fire TV’s home screen, but they’re still in the Prime Video app.
- When tapping on a TV series, it doesn’t always bring you to the correct episode.
- Netflix, Hulu, and live TV services can’t be purchased via Amazon Channels.
- You can hold down a button on the remote to ask Alexa questions.
- Or you can use the wake word “Alexa,” and one of the Fire TV Cube’s eight far-field microphones will pick up what you say.
- Alexa performs these commands well:
- “Alexa, turn on the TV.”
- “Alexa, turn up the volume.”
- “Alexa, Westworld (or any show or movie).” It’ll bring up the show with options of where to watch it.
- “Alexa, turn off the TV.” This speaks to my laziness, but I found this helpful at night when I was ready to sleep but didn’t want to reach for the remote.
- “Alex, go home.” This brings you to the home screen.
- Alexa is more advanced than Siri. For example, when you say “Alexa, play The Office on Netflix.” Alexa will turn on your TV, put your TV on the correct input, fire up Netflix, and cue up the right episode.
- Alexa doesn’t work consistently enough for it to be a substantial advantage, but it’s fantastic when it works.
- The phrasing gets wordy because you need to say the show and the service you want to use. Alexa misunderstands half of the time, no matter how slowly you speak. Amazon should use their AI technology to predict which service you want to use based on previous uses, or let you choose your preferences. I want to say “Alexa, play Nathan for You” and have everything done for me.
- You’ll have expectations of what Alexa should do and it doesn’t happen because each app functions differently. Simple commands don’t always work; saying “Alexa, pause,” won’t always pause correctly on each app.
- Sometimes Alexa hears exactly what you ask, and even repeats it, but does not perform that action appropriately.
- It’s easier to use the remote in many cases because Alexa commands are inconsistent and don’t always work correctly.
- Fire TV Cube functions like other Echo devices. It can handle questions and smart home commands that any smart speaker can perform.
- You can navigate the interface, without the remote, by saying “Alexa, scroll up,” “Alexa, select this.”
- Fire TV Cube comes with an IR blaster, which lets you control devices with Alexa that wouldn’t otherwise be compatible. You can connect stereos, game consoles, DVD players, and cable boxes.
- If you have lots of devices plugged into your TV, Alexa will be helpful at switching your HDMI input. For example, when you say “Alexa, turn on the PS4,” you can configure it to turn on your PS4 and put your TV on the HDMI 3 input.
- You can’t change some Alexa preferences via the TV, you need to go in the Alexa app on your phone. It doesn’t make sense.
- Fire TV Cube isn’t for everyone because some people don’t want listening devices in their house. Plus, if you put it in a cabinet, Alexa won’t hear you clearly.
- If you’re sold on the Fire TV platform, I recommend Fire TV Stick 4K because it’s more affordable, has the same interface, and similar performance without hands-free Alexa. You can always add hands-free Alexa later by buying Echo Dot.
- Alexa Voice Remote has TV volume and power control.
- It has a button to talk to Alexa.
- It feels like a toy relative to the Apple TV remote, but it feels better in your hand because it’s thicker. If a great remote is a priority, you should look at Roku.
- You can use the Fire TV phone app to control Fire TV Cube with a trackpad.