Roku Stick Plus vs. Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K: Which is Best?
After over a year of testing, I determined Roku Streaming Stick+ is the better streaming stick because it has more content options and fewer advertisements. Fire TV Stick 4K is great if you use Amazon Channels and Alexa, but the interface is loaded with ads.
I’ll compare and contrast these two streaming sticks (Roku Streaming Stick+ vs. Fire TV Stick 4K) while evaluating four categories: content, interface, smarts, and remote.
Roku Streaming Stick+
- Content: Roku has over 4,000 different streaming apps available and more 4K content options.
- Interface: Roku relies on an old school app-based interface. Roku doesn’t try to do anything fancy, it just delivers all your apps. There’s one giant advertisement that stays out of your way.
- Smarts: Roku doesn’t have a smart assistant for advanced tasks, but you can search for content and open apps with your voice via the remote. When you search for content, every compatible app appears.
- Remote: It fits your hand perfectly with easy-to-find buttons. It lets you control your TV’s power and volume.
Best for you if...
You already pay for many streaming services and want the easiest way to watch them. You’ll get an unbiased platform that gives you endless options and a voice remote that makes it easy to find content. Roku keeps the ads minimal, relevant, and off to the side.
Roku Premiere is solid for $40, but the remote doesn’t have voice control, or power and volume buttons.
Fire TV Stick 4K
- Content: Fire TV has all the apps that 99% of people need. Roku has more apps but most are super niche.
- Interface: Amazon’s home screen is ad-heavy, messy, and confusing. But if you sign up for premium services through Amazon Channels, all of your content is curated in the Prime Video app.
- Smarts: You can search for content or open apps with the remote. You can do hands-free tasks with a paired Echo device. For example, “Alexa, open Ozark on Netflix in the living room.”
- Remote: It doesn’t form to your hand and the buttons don't have as much give. You can control your TV’s power and volume.
Best for you if...
You want the best way to watch HBO, Showtime, and Prime (via Amazon Channels), and you’re a big fan of Alexa. However, you’ll be visiting Fire TV’s unpleasant and ad-heavy home screen often if you pay for your services directly or via a cable provider.
Fire TV Stick (2nd Gen) is still sold for $40, but it's unbearably slow and one of the worst devices I've ever tested.
Things to Know
- Even for those with smart TVs, I recommend a dedicated streaming device because smart TVs typically have clunky interfaces. Some smart TVs are better than others though. For instance, TCL Roku TVs run a full version of Roku OS and are comparable to Roku Stick+.
- Any streaming stick or device will work with any TV brand or style. The only requirement of the TV is that it has an HDMI port.
- You’ll need a streaming stick for each TV that you want to stream on.
- Streaming devices have minimal free content.
- You’ll need a fast internet and a strong connection. The more devices that are streaming simultaneously, the better your connection speed needs to be. I recommend at least 20/mbps for one flawless stream.
- You can’t “cut the cord” and get great content by buying a $50 streaming device. Streaming devices are your platform for the services that you’ll need to buy. Your streaming device is your new cable box. Services like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, HBO, and Showtime provide great content and cost around $15/month.
- “Cutting the cord” isn’t always more affordable than paying for cable. It sounds good in theory, but it gets expensive when you factor in an internet speed upgrade and being picky about the channels you want. To save money, you’ll need to make sacrifices with your channel requirements.
- If technology is intimidating to you, don’t cut the cord because it will be a difficult transition.
- You can stream live TV with services like Sling, YouTube TV, Hulu Live, AT&T TV, fuboTV, and Philo. The cheapest option is $30/month. (I reviewed live services.)
- Once you’re a member of a streaming service, you’ll be able to watch the service on as many devices as you want without paying more.
- Roku and Fire TV devices are affordable because they’re subsidized by ads. Roku and Amazon make money by collecting your data to better target you with services. It’s their business models, and there’s no getting around it. More than half the apps on these platforms are watching your viewing habits and preferences. And some apps are storing your device serial numbers and MAC addresses.
- Apple TV is my favorite streaming device because it’s ad-free and has a better interface, but it’s geared towards Apple nerds (like me) or people without money constraints ($100 more than Fire TV and Roku devices). Fire TV Stick 4K and Roku Stick+ are the best options for most people and provide more value for your money. View my Power Rankings to see all ten streaming devices that I’ve tested and ranked in order.
- You can play 4K HDR content, but Roku doesn’t support Dolby Vision, only HDR10.
- There’s Dolby Atmos audio support.
- There are no biases with Roku’s search for movies and shows. When searching for content, it’ll show you your free options first (from the services you subscribe to), rather than make you pay. Roku doesn’t skimp on the options, it’ll show you every service that has the searched content, unlike Amazon that simplifies your options.
- Prime Video, Google Play Video, Vudu, Hulu, Netflix, Showtime, HBO, Disney+, Sling TV, AT&T TV NOW, Philo, fuboTV, YouTube TV, Apple TV, Spotify, and Pandora are available with thousands of others. Roku claims to have 500,000 movies and shows.
- For 4K content, you get Netflix, Prime Video, YouTube, Vudu, Apple TV, FandangoNOW, CuriosityStream, Smithsonian Earth, and others. Roku has a special section to see all available 4K content.
- Roku has more 4K content than Fire TV Stick 4K.
Interface Basics (C):
- Roku’s software has traditionally struggled with a funky menu setup, dated interface, design inconsistencies, poor app quality control, and apps that don’t match the experience of the other streaming devices.
- Roku’s latest devices and software version (Roku OS 9.1) has cleaned up many of the issues mentioned above, but Roku doesn’t attempt anything ambitious like Fire TV to modernize the interface.
- You won’t notice a speed difference compared to Fire TV Stick 4K. The apps take about the same about of time to fully load.
- Roku devices have one big ad displayed on the right side of the home screen. You can easily distinguish the ad from the content and ads aren’t displayed anywhere else. After a while, you’ll forget the ad is there. Whereas Fire TV devices have ads littered between the content.
- The “Roku Feed” lets you follow movies and shows and get updates when they become available. It’s an amazing idea, but the execution couldn’t be worse. I would love to have all my favorite or “followed” shows organized in one area and the ability to play it inside the correct app that I’m subscribed to with a simple tap, but it doesn’t work smoothly:
- Once you follow a show, you can’t easily unfollow.
- You can’t see a list of shows you follow. You only see your followed shows when new episodes appear.
- There’s no way to choose your default apps for shows because it still gives you a huge list of options.
- You can’t see a list of seasons or episodes through this interface.
- It’s limited to shows and movies on Hulu, Prime Video, Showtime, Apple TV, and HBO.
- Sometimes my preferred app wasn’t shown as available.
- You can’t mark an episode as played.
Ecosystem Interface (C):
- The Roku Channel is an app made by Roku that has free movies and shows that are ad-supported. You can subscribe to HBO, Showtime, Starz, Cinemax, and Epix and keep all of your content inside one app. It’s similar to Amazon Channels. If you opt for this, you’ll pay via Roku rather than a cable company.
- You get a bunch of great features when you subscribe to premium services through Amazon Channels, but The Roku Channel interface doesn’t bring new features to differentiate from the standalone HBO, Showtime, Starz, Cinemax apps. You get to stay in one app more often, but you’ll have fewer content options compared to Amazon Channels.
- The “Up Next” list adds shows or movies once you start watching, but it’s limiting.
- New episodes don’t automatically go on my list consistently.
- You can’t mark episodes as played.
- You can’t add episodes to your list.
- There are fewer content subscription options.
- The Roku Channel gets the job done, but it locks you into Roku’s ecosystem. You’ll only be able to watch your shows on Roku devices or your phone. Amazon is way more flexible. You’re better off bringing your previous streaming subscriptions with you to Roku.
- You can ask the remote to search for shows or movies. Roku’s voice search works well. By holding the button and saying a movie title, it brings up the movie and shows you which apps you can watch it with.
- Unfortunately, your voice only works to search for content. You can’t ask questions or perform advanced tasks like you can with Alexa.
- With Private Listening mode, you can play your show’s sound through the Roku phone app, then listen using headphones. It can be useful if you have roommates or if you are trying to keep the noise down. This feature is technically available with Fire TV Stick, but you have to jump through hoops to connect Bluetooth headphones through the settings menu. It’s seamless with Roku.
- Guest Mode is great for guest bedrooms, AirBnB houses, and places where only guests watch TV. Guests get to choose a “sign out date” and sign into apps using their credentials. On the sign out date, the guest is automatically signed out, and Roku is ready for a new guest to arrive. Friends and family can sign in without worrying about forgetting to sign out when they leave.
- Automatic Account Link has a chance to be a huge feature for Roku, but it’s in the beginning stages and only four streaming channels support it (Hulu, Sling, Philo, Pandora) so far. When you set up a second or third Roku device, you’re automatically signed into your channels using the credentials used for your first Roku.
- You can play your phone’s music and videos with Roku Play-On inside the Roku app. It’s similar to Apple’s AirPlay.
- There are Google and Alexa integrations, but there are a few issues:
- The setup can be difficult.
- There’s a huge lag between asking a command and the smart assistant performing the action.
- The commands are wordy and are often misheard. For instance, “Hey Google, turn up the volume on Roku,” turns up the volume. That’s a mouthful. Why wouldn’t you just tap the volume rocker on the remote (unless you can’t find the remote)?
- Roku doesn’t have a sleep timer. Your screensaver will stay on until you manually turn off the TV.
- The Roku remote feels amazing because it’s molded to your hand. It’s more intuitive than Fire TV Stick 4K’s remote. I can use the remote without looking at it. After ten minutes of use, you’ll naturally know where everything is.
- The buttons are colored and are easily identifiable.
- The buttons are big, have a high profile, and lots of give.
- While searching for content with your voice, you have to hold the remote close to your mouth while pressing the button for it to hear you properly. The mic could be improved.
- You can control the volume and turn the TV on and off with the remote.
- There are four preset streaming service app buttons on the remote that open the corresponding app. My remote came with Netflix, DirecTV Now, Sling, and Hulu buttons, but yours may vary. The service buttons are a great idea in theory, but you’re stuck with useless buttons if you don’t subscribe to all four services included on your remote. Ideally, these buttons could be remapped to your preferred services.
- The Roku phone app is excellent. You can pick the streaming service you want to use in the app, and it’ll pop up on your TV screen. Or you can use the app as a touchpad remote.
Fire TV Stick 4K
- Amazon supports HDR10 and Dolby Vision content. Dolby Vision is the highest 4K HDR standard.
- There’s Dolby Atmos support for audio.
- For HD content apps, you have Hulu, Netflix, Showtime, HBO, Sling TV, AT&T TV, YouTube, Disney+, YouTube TV, Apple TV, and 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 pay for your streaming services, like HBO and Showtime, via your cable company or buy them directly.
- Fire TV Stick 4K is Amazon’s third-generation streaming stick. It has 1.5 GB of RAM with a quad-core 1.7 GHz processor and runs Fire OS 6. The second-generation stick was unbearably slow and one of my least favorite devices of all time, but Fire TV Stick 4K doesn’t have speed issues and can open apps as quickly as Roku Stick+.
- You get a row of five favorite apps, above that there’s a row called “Recent” that fills with apps that you’ve used or shows you’ve watched recently. However…
- The shows that you’re watching don’t appear unless they’re Amazon’s content.
- You’ll often have duplicate apps on your recent and favorites row. There were times when I had three sets of duplicates on my home screen.
- Half of Fire TV’s home screen is advertising Prime Video content with giant cover art. Amazon tries everything they can to get you in and keep you in their Prime Video app, hoping you’ll buy movies or spend money on subscriptions.
- At the bottom of the home screen is a “sponsored” section that moves with you as you scroll. You’ll see car, razor, travel, computer, and even cat food advertisements here.
- The home screen recommends content for apps that you don’t subscribe to.
- As you scroll down past the first ad, you’ll see new ads for streaming services that Amazon wants you to sign up for.
- Once you get past the second set of ads, there’s a carousel of Amazon shopping recommendations. I don’t want to buy toilet paper from my TV.
- Between the giant cover art, the irrelevant ads mixed between apps, and the relevant content, it feels like you’re being sold something every time you turn on the TV. I paid money for this device; I just want to relax.
- Fire TV’s content search has improved substantially. Previously, it’d favor Amazon’s content by defaulting to Prime Video (where you’d have to pay) even when you had free access to the content via one of your video subscriptions. Currently, the search usually defaults to the correct service that you pay for. The search interface is still too cluttered with options and it’ll show multiple versions of the same movie.
- Just like Roku, there are three different versions of HBO and Showtime (among other services). You’ll need a specific version depending on how you pay for the service (via cable, directly, or through Amazon), which can be overwhelming to newbies. Amazon has a brilliant setup interface when you download apps that shows the three versions with dumbed-down explanations of how each functions differently.
Interface Ecosystem (B):
- Fire TV’s interface is more appealing if buy your streaming services via Amazon Channels instead of through your cable provider.
- Amazon Channels is the same concept as The Roku Channel, but it gives you a more enhanced experience.
- Amazon Channels takes content from Prime, HBO, Showtime, Starz, CBS, and other services and curates it in the Prime Video app. You pay for services through Amazon monthly rather than your cable provider.
- All your services stay organized in one app. It’s easier to keep track of what you’re watching because your shows from Amazon Channels appear in your recent section.
- Amazon Channels reduces your exposure to ads because you’re in the Prime Video app more often than the home screen. Frustratingly, there are free trial banner advertisements near the bottom of the Prime Video app, but at least they’re way below the fold.
- Your Amazon Channels will appear in the Prime Video app on your phone. You don’t need HBO and Showtime apps to watch their content. One app for everything. You can download content from your channels for offline viewing too.
- Amazon hosts all the Amazon Channels content themselves. Why is this a big deal? Amazon has the highest bitrate and best video compression around. For example, HBO’s video quality through Amazon Channels is better than the quality in HBO Go and HBO NOW. Plus, you’ll avoid the notorious downtime when a popular show drops on Sunday night because Amazon’s AWS servers power most of the internet, and they know how to get things done.
- There are amazing video playback features with Prime Video content and Amazon Channels.
- When you pause the content, Fire TV displays the names of the actors who are in the scene. The names change dynamically as you watch the show.
- It shows the name of the song when music’s playing during a show or movie.
- “X-Ray” is available when you pause and tap the up button and shows you a more detailed display of the actors, music, and scenes from the content. It’s like having an organized and simplified Wikipedia page about what you’re watching.
- There are “Skip Recap” and “Skip Intro” buttons on most series.
- You’re not locked into Amazon Channels when you subscribe. For example, if you subscribe to HBO via Amazon Channels, you can still use the HBO NOW app on other devices if you need to.
- There’s still a problem: Netflix, Hulu, and live TV services aren’t available via Amazon Channels. So you’ll still need to interact with Fire TV’s home screen if these apps are important to you.
- You can hold down a button on the remote to ask Alexa a question. It can answer any question or perform any smart home task (e.g., turning off the lights, etc.), just like a typical Echo device.
- Alexa works well when you search for content, then pick a service to watch it on.
- Alexa still isn’t as smart or capable as Amazon wants you to think it is.
- Ideally, if you ask Alexa to play a show, it’d open it in the correct app. Sometimes this happens. For instance, if you say “Alexa, play Homecoming,” it automatically plays in the Prime Video app. It works well with most Netflix Originals too. “Alexa, play Ozark,” opens the next in line episode and starts playing within a second.
- Things breakdown quickly with Alexa because there are so many music and movie titles in the wild. How do you fix this? You need to be more specific by asking for the content that you want and naming the specific service you want to watch it on.
- Adding more information to the request makes it harder to say, and Alexa doesn’t always understand which service you want to use and it might not recognize the names of non-mainstream shows. It’s almost always easier to use the remote rather than your voice.
- If I’ve previously watched Dexter with the Showtime app, it should be obvious to Alexa where I want to watch it when I say, “Alexa, play Dexter,” but it’s not. In the future, I want Amazon’s AI to accurately predict which service I want to watch on, based on my previous usage.
- If you want to go hands-free, you can set up Fire TV Stick 4K to work with an Echo device, but Alexa works better with the remote. You can power the TV, play, pause, or open an app, without touching the remote.
- There’s no way to mirror your iOS devices natively. There are a couple of ways to do it with 3rd party apps, but I wasn’t pleased with the performance. Android users won’t have an issue, however.
- The Alexa Voice Remote has a dedicated volume and power button. It’s a huge upgrade from the previous generation remote.
- It’s made of cheap materials.
- The buttons don’t give a ton of feedback, and they’re hard to find without looking.
- The mics on the remote are better than Roku’s.
- The Fire TV phone app works as a secondary remote and provides a trackpad to control the TV.