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.
If you’re new to streaming, I recommend my TV Streaming Basics post before reading this comparison to get you up to speed.
Want to learn how I reached this conclusion? Read on to see the detailed breakdown of user-friendliness, advanced features, and remotes that informed my overall impression.
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Content: Apple TV 4K
Overall impression: Apple TV has an app store, just like iOS. You can find most streaming services and all of the big-name services are available.
- Prime Video, Vudu, Hulu, Netflix, Showtime, HBO Max, Disney+, Sling TV, AT&T TV, YouTube TV, Netflix, Prime Video, Epix, Vudu, FandangoNOW, Peacock, Spotify, and Apple TV App.
- It has everything most will need, but it may be missing some niche apps.
- 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.
- It supports Dolby Vision (the best HDR format) and Dolby Atmos (the best audio experience).
Content: Fire TV Cube
Overall impression: Fire TV has most mainstream apps aside from HBO Max, Peacock, and Vudu. The benefit of Fire TV is its Android-based operating system, which lets you sideload apps that aren’t in Fire TV’s app library.
- Prime Video, Vudu, Hulu, Netflix, Showtime, HBO Go, HBO Now, Disney+, Sling TV, AT&T TV, YouTube TV, Netflix, Prime Video, Epix, Vudu, FandangoNOW, Spotify, and Apple TV App.
- Google Play, Vudu, Peacock, and HBO Max aren’t available on Fire TV by default.
- However, if you want to get creative, you can sideload the apps with the Downloader app. It’s a way to get Google Play, Vudu, or HBO Max, or other apps on Fire TV without going through Amazon’s app database. Keep in mind, it can potentially be harmful to your device and these apps aren’t supported by Amazon.
- For 4K HDR content, there’s Prime Video, Netflix, and YouTube.
- It supports Dolby Vision (the best HDR format) and Dolby Atmos (the best audio experience).
Ease of Use: Apple TV 4K
Overall impression: The interface is smooth, fast, and reliable and it’s completely ad-free. Apple pulls content from your streaming apps and places them in one unified list. iPhone users will feel at home, but the benefits of Apple TV apply to everyone.
- 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 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.
- 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.
- On the home screen, while you’re hovering over the TV App, you choose between the “Top Shelf” where your “Up Next” appears or auto-playing trailers.
- 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.
- 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
- Create multiple user profiles 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.
Ease of Use: Fire TV Cube
Overall impression: While Fire TV Cube is more affordable than Apple TV, the interface is littered with ads. The interface gets better once you’re in the Prime Video app with Amazon Channels, but the home screen leaves a lot to be desired.
- 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.
- Speed isn’t a concern with the second-generation Fire TV Cube because it’s almost as fast as Apple TV 4K.
- Full-screen ads appear between the photo wallpapers.
Smarts: Apple TV 4K
Overall impression: Siri works seamlessly when searching for content with the physical remote or iPhone remote. Unfortunately, Siri lacks advanced hands-free controls, however, Siri on HomePod and iPhone can turn on the TV, and pause and fast-forward content.
- 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.
- 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 to 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 other services are available if Siri gets it wrong. If the content is not available for free via one of your streaming services, it’s available to rent from the TV app.
- If “Hey Siri” is enabled on your iPhone or 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.
- Mirror your iPhone’s screen via AirPlay.
- If you want to run an automation or control your smart devices away from home, you’ll need an Apple TV or HomePod to work as your “HomeKit Hub.”
Smarts: Fire TV Cube
Overall impression: You can search for content and control the TV via Alexa. Siri requires a remote, while Alexa can work hands-free, but it’s usually still easier to use the remote rather than ask a smart assistant. Wordy phrasing results in lots of errors.
- Hold down a button on the remote to ask Alexa questions.
- Or 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 for 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.
- Navigate the interface, without the remote, by saying “Alexa, scroll up,” “Alexa, select this.”
- 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.
- Some Alexa settings can’t be edited via the TV because they require the Alexa app on your phone.
- 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.
- 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.
Ecosystem: Apple TV 4K
Overall impression: The TV App tries to act like the ultimate TV guide for all of the content from your streaming services, but it falls short because of a poor user interface and lack of Netflix integration. You can use Apple TV Channels to subscribe to your premium streaming services (e.g., Showtime, STARZ) to improve your experience.
TV App promise: Apple wants you to spend all your time in the TV App, rather than opening each streaming app. The TV App pulls in the content from your apps and curates the content. You’ll get a unified “Up Next” list and a tap on a show opens the correct app. The TV App acts like an old-school TV guide.
TV App issues:
- Netflix content doesn’t appear in the TV App or your “Up Next” list.
- Apple displays lots of content from apps you don’t subscribe to and makes all content appear to be free.
- It’s also overly promotional of the Apple TV+ service.
Subscribe via Apple TV Channels:
- You can subscribe to HBO, Showtime, Starz, Epix, and 18 others via Apple TV Channels inside the TV App 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 well.
- 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 content for offline viewing on your iPhone or iPad.
Ecosystem: Fire TV Cube
Overall impression: Amazon Channels is an excellent service that lets you buy your premium streaming services through Amazon. With Amazon Channels, your content streams at a higher quality and stays in one app (Prime Video), so you don’t have to use Fire TV’s home screen as often. Unfortunately, Netflix, Hulu, HBO Max, and live TV services aren’t available via Amazon Channels.
Amazon Channels and Prime Video:
- 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.
- Netflix, Hulu, or HBO Max and live TV services can’t be purchased via Amazon Channels.
Physical Remote: Apple TV 4K
Overall impression: Despite using premium materials and looking nice, Apple’s Siri Remote isn’t good enough. The trackpad makes it hard to use because directional buttons are easy to control.
- 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.
- It has a rechargeable battery that charges via the iPhone cable.
- There are volume buttons, but there isn’t a dedicated power button. Although, when you power down your Apple TV from the control center, it usually turns the TV off too.
- 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.
Physical Remote: Fire TV Cube
Overall impression: The Alexa remote feels cheap and light, but the directional buttons and extra thickness make it better than the Apple TV remote.
- 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.
Software Remote: Apple TV 4K
Overall impression: The remote on iPhone can be accessed through the iOS control center. The remote has direction buttons and a keyboard that pops up whenever a text field appears on the TV. Your playback controller changes to match whatever you’re watching.
- 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.
- Whenever a text field appears asking for your email or password, you get a notification on your iPhone and can type on your phone.
Other iPhone features:
- 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.
- During set up, 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.
- 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.
Software Remote: Fire TV Cube
Overall impression: The Fire TV phone app is excellent. The remote gives you a choice of a trackpad or directional buttons, and it has a keyboard ready whenever a text field appears.
- You can use the Fire TV phone app to control the Fire TV Cube with a trackpad or directional buttons. The directional buttons give a slight vibration to tell if you’ve hit the button or not.
- You can tap the keyboard button anytime a text field appears.
Best For You
Apple TV 4K
Get Apple TV 4K 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.
Get Apple TV HD for $30 less. It's a great device, but it doesn’t play 4K content.
Fire TV Cube
Get Fire TV Cube 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.
Get Fire TV Stick 4K for $70 less. It has the same interface and features, minus hands-free Alexa.