2021 Apple TV 4K has an iPhone-like interface that’s free from ads, and it puts all your content in a unified list. Fire TV Cube has intriguing features when you pay for your services via Amazon, but it’s too cluttered with ads.
While Apple 4K and Fire TV Cube have a similar number of apps, I have to give the win to Apple for a much better layout, an app store that’s just like any other iOS device, and significantly more 4K content.
Apple supports Dolby Vision, the best HDR format, along with Dolby Atmos for equally amazing sound. The Apple TV app marketplace is great and you get all the big apps here, like Prime Video, Vudu, Hulu, Showtime, Netflix, HBA, Disney+, Sling TV, YouTube TV, DirecTV, and many others.
Apple TV also has the most 4K streaming options through Netflix, Prime Video, Vudu, Epix, FandangoNOW, and the Apple TV channel. YouTube doesn’t have 4K content because it uses a VP9 video format that isn’t compatible with Apple TV 4K
The Fire TV Cube has many great content options too, but not as many. You get the same format support with Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos. HD content is available through Netflix, Hulu, Showtime, HBO, Sling TV, Disney+, AT&T TV, YouTube TV, and Apple TV. However, there is less 4K content with only Prime Video, Netflix, and YouTube.
Content winner: Apple TV
This covers the basics of the interface that you immediately see when turning on the device. Unlike the content section where the differences are relatively minor, there is a huge difference here. Apple TV has one of the best interfaces around while Fire TV is one of the worst, largely because of the invasive ads.
2021 Apple TV 4K uses the A10X Fusion processing chip, making it super fast. While this device is more expensive than most others, you won’t have to worry about any ads. The tvOS layout is beautiful and similar to a large iPhone or iPad. The “Up Next” feature is one of the best. It tracks shows you’re watching and puts new episodes on the list. Plus, it seamlessly plays the content from your “Up Next” list in the correct app.
One very minor issue is that Apple will autoplay trailers when you hover on the Apple TV app, but this can be disabled in the settings. Apple’s Single Sign-On feature saves your username and password, so no more entering your login credentials. You can make different accounts so everyone has their own “Up Next” list and the screensavers are among the best with beautiful, detailed drone shots of nature, space, cities, and oceans.
Then we have Amazon’s Fire TV Cube. Speed is good and feels nearly the same as the Apple TV 4K. This is a huge boost over the last generation Fire TV Cube, which was actually slower than the Fire TV Stick 4K. While the Fire Cube is $60 less than Apple TV 4K, you’re paying in the long run with a tremendous number of ads. These ads are everywhere, between the lists of movies and shows, and so many other places. Plus, Amazon heavily pushes its Prime Video app. It’s not that the Prime app is bad, I just want to make my own choice.
The Fire TV home screen is awful. There’s a huge ad for Amazon Prime content, the “Recently Used” section shows your last apps, but it’s often full of duplicates. There are ads near the bottom for a variety of products (robot vacuums, toilet paper, razors, etc), another under that for ads for paid subscriptions, and then yet another one for Amazon products. They also show lots of content for shows you might like, but from services that you aren’t subscribed to. Oh, and don’t worry, there’s yet another full-screen ad between photo wallpapers.
I know Amazon wants my money, but this is desperate and very intrusive. Apple might be more expensive upfront, but you’re paying for a better experience.
Interface winner: Apple TV
This section gets more into the functionality of the streaming devices when you’re deep into the companies ecosystem. Apple is still the winner here, but the gap isn’t as large. Amazon has some good features once you get beyond the ads.
Apple TV is great, and it’s even better with an iPhone. Place your iPhone by the Apple TV and it shares your iCloud and WiFi passwords with your Apple TV. You can use your iPhone’s keyboard to enter text on the TV, and you can use the iPhone as a secondary (and better) remote. You get playback controls from your iPhone’s lock screen, but there are sometimes problems with the buttons working properly.
One problem with Apple TV is that the “Apple TV” name is used for four different things: the physical device (Apple TV 4K), an app (Apple TV app), their paid streaming service (Apple TV+), and a channel where you can subscribe to premium streaming services (Apple TV Channels). It’s a mess. You can subscribe to HBO, Starz, Showtime, Epix, and more via Apple TV Channels. This lets you watch the content within the Apple TV app itself, which has better quality because Apple hosts the servers themselves. You can download Showtime and HBO content for offline viewing, and the Apple TV app is available on iOS devices, Roku, and Fire TV.
Amazon Channels is similar to Apple TV Channels and allows you to subscribe to Showtime, HBO, and others, and this keeps you away from the home screen (i.e., fewer ads). All your content is organized in the Prime Video app, plus you can watch this content from the Prime Video phone app. The “Recently Used” list shows apps and content that is up next, but it doesn’t work with content not paid for with Amazon Channels.
Using Amazon Channels gives you many great features. Amazon hosts the content themselves, which ensures high download speeds and better video quality than the mainstream apps (i.e., HBO NOW). When you pause, the content shows each actor’s name along with the song played, and the “X-Ray” feature goes even deeper into this information. There are also buttons to skip most recaps and intros.
However, Apple TV Channels is superior because Amazon Channels doesn’t allow you to mark content as played and there are still ads (though less than the home screen). You also can’t subscribe to Hulu, Netflix, or any live TV through Amazon Channels.
Ecosystem winner: Apple TV
Fire TV Cube is moderately better than Apple TV 4K when it comes to intelligence.
Apple’s Siri is looked down on with iPhone, but it works great when you talk into your remote or phone for playback and voice search. You can tell it to fast forward or rewind, open content in specific apps, and more. You can also tell it to pull up a movie or show and you will be given the option of which app to play it in. Plus, you can use Siri for your HomePod. While there are fewer features than Alexa, it’s still good.
Amazon’s Alexa is great with questions and commands, and the eight far-field mics easily pick up what you say. You can ask Alexa to turn on the TV, change the volume, play content, or return to the home screen. While Alexa is more advanced than Siri and understands more complex commands, it doesn’t work consistently and the commands can get wordy.
You can connect the remote with other devices like DVD players, cable boxes, and even game consoles. You can even use voice commands for switching the HDMI port with commands like, “Alexa, turn on the PS4.” However, you can’t change some preferences from the TV, you can only do it from the app, which is strange.
Fire TV Cube won’t hear you properly if you put it in a cabinet, so keep that in mind. Instead, I recommend Fire TV Stick 4K as it provides similar performance with the same layout at a lower price. The downside is that the only way to activate Alexa is with the remote.
Smarts winner: Fire TV
Neither remote is great, but I give the win to Amazon as it feels better and has better features. However, the 2021 Apple TV 4K has a greatly improved remote compared to previous versions.
The Siri Remote is made from premium material, but it doesn’t feel great in the hand. The remote has a rechargeable battery and volume buttons for the TV. You can use your iPhone to control your TV. As mentioned above, even though the new remote isn’t perfect, the 2021 version of the Apple TV 4K has a much better remote than the previous model.
The Alexa Voice Remote has both volume and power buttons and a button to activate Alexa. It’s better molded to your hand, but it’s lacking a solid weight and premium feel. You can use the Fire TV phone app for a secondary remote too.
Remote winner: Fire TV
The Fire TV Cube has a slightly better remote and more smarts, but the interface is littered with ads. I don’t want to buy toilet paper while watching my shows and movies. Apple TV 4k has a beautiful and streamlined interface and has more content options. It might be more expensive, but the 2021 Apple TV 4K is worth it.