Updated Mar 19, 2020

Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K vs. Roku Stick Plus: Best Streaming Stick

Cam Secore

Streaming sticks are great because they allow you to turn any regular TV into a smart TV with ease. While they lack the power of bigger streaming devices, you probably won’t notice a huge difference. Today, we’ll look at two of the biggest stream sticks: Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K vs. Roku Stick+.

Fire TV Stick 4K is great if you love Alexa and already pay for Amazon Channels, but the interface is very ad-heavy and is constantly pushing ads in your face. Roku’s interface isn’t as polished, but it concentrates on what’s important and has a brilliant remote.

I’ll compare these two based on content, interface, smarts, and remote.

Content

Fire TV Stick 4K and Roku Stick Plus both support 4K HDR content, but Roku is better when it comes to overall content choices and finding shows and movies.

The Roku Stick Plus only supports HDR10. It does not support Dolby Vision, the other 4K standard, but there is Dolby Atmos audio. While the Roku interface can be clunky, as I’ll cover later, one of the best things is its search feature. Unlike most other streaming interfaces that restrict your search, Roku shows the content from all your installed apps based on price. So if the show or movie is free on one app, that version will be first in the search list.

Roku supports many apps like Prime Video, Vudu, Google Play Video, Netflix, Hulu, Showtime, HBO, Disney+, Sling TV, AT&T TV, fubuTV, NOW, Apple TV, YouTube TV, Pandora and more. Roku claims to support over 500,000 movies and shows. You’ll get 4K content from Netflix, Prime Video, YouTube, Apple TV, Vudu, FandangoNOW, Smithsonian Earth, and CuriosityStream. You can search specifically for 4K content and Roku has more 4K content than Fire TV Stick.

Amazon does support HDR10 and Dolby Vision along with Dolby Atmos. While it supports more HDR standards, you don’t get Google Play Video or Vudu. You’ll get HD content from Hulu, Netflix, Showtime, HBO, Sling TV, AT&T TV, YouTube, Disney+, Apple TV and more. The 4K content is mostly from Prime Video, Netflix, and YouTube.

Interface Basics

While neither has an ideal interface, the win goes to Roku for having fewer ads.

Roku has a dated interface that isn’t as ambitious as Fire TV. Loading times are about the same between both and Roku has a big ad on the side of the home screen. However, you’ll quickly forget the ad is there whereas Fire TV has ads everywhere. The Roku Feed lets you follow content and see when updates are available, but there are problems. It’s hard to unfollow content and there’s no cohesive list. The feed only shows you when there’s new content. You also can’t choose default apps to play the show or movie. You can’t mark content as played in the feed, and it’s restricted to Hulu, Prime Video, Showtime, Apple TV, and HBO.

When it comes to Amazon, I’ll assume that you pay for streaming services like HBO and Showtime already. This is Amazon’s third-generation stick with 1.5GB of RAM and a quad-core 1.7GHz processor. The last generation was very slow, but this one is much improved. There’s a section for favorite apps along with a “Recent” section for apps and shows you’ve used recently.

However, the “Recent” section brings a ton of duplicate apps to the home screen with real usage because your favorites section is right below. It’s clear that Amazon wants you to use Prime Video as there are ads everywhere for it. There’s also a sponsored section with products and the home screen keeps recommending new apps you haven’t paid for yet. Ads are between content selections, around apps, and everywhere else. Do you really want to buy beef jerky when watching TV? It’s uncomfortable.

The search is better than it was. It used to heavily favor Prime Video content, but now it shows other apps. However, it’s still cluttered with options. In general, Roku is better and definitely has fewer ads.

Ecosystem Interface

This section assumes that you don’t have streaming subscriptions yet or that you’re willing to cancel your old subscriptions and sign up with Amazon or Roku.

The Roku Channel has free, ad-supported content and it’s good if you subscribed to HBO, Showtime, Starz, Cinemax, and Epix through Roku. While Amazon adds new features with Amazon Channels, Roku is basically the same as these standalone apps. The main benefit is you can stay in one app/channel and the Up Next section has relevant content, but new episodes don’t show up consistently, you can’t add episodes, and you can’t mark content as played. It gets the job done, but it’s not ideal.

Fire TV has Amazon Channels and it’s brilliant if you subscribe to HBO, Showtime, Prime, Starz, CBS through Amazon. Amazon Channels organizes all the content, making it easy to keep track of what you’ve watched and what you’re currently watching. This also reduces (but doesn’t eliminate) your exposure to ads. You can see all your content from one app and you can even download it for offline viewing on your phone.

Amazon hosts all the content (HBO, Showtime, etc.) on their servers. As one of the largest companies in the world, this lets you experience very high bitrates and fantastic quality. Plus, you shouldn’t have any downtime even when popular new shows are released. One cool feature is that you’ll see each actor’s name whenever you pause a show or movie. It also shows any song that is playing, and the “X-Ray” tool gives you more detailed info. While you’re not locked into Amazon Channels, you can’t add Netflix, Hulu, or any live TV services to this channel.

Smarts

This refers to how intelligent the features are and overall I found the Fire TV Stick 4K to be smarter, but Roku isn’t bad either.

Roku’s remote voice search is good for movies and shows, but not complex questions or tasks like with Alexa. The Private Listening mode lets you listen through headphones without interrupting anyone else. This is also available with Fire TV, but it’s more difficult. Guest Mode is good for guest rooms and AirBnB hosts because it makes a temporary profile for people so they can sign up and keep track of their content. Automatic Account Link is good for keeping track of passwords, but it only works for Hulu, Sing, Philo, and Pandora right now.

Roku has Alexa integration, but the setup is hard, there’s a lag between issuing a command and it working, the commands are often wordy, and it isn’t ideal. Roku also doesn’t have a sleep timer, so you have to turn off the TV manually when you’re done.

Fire TV Stick remote has Alexa and you can ask it a question or issue a command by holding the button. It also works for searching content with your voice. When using Alexa to open a show directly, it’s best to be specific about which app you want to use, but then the command is wordier and harder to understand. For example, “Open Westworld on HBO” will have a higher hit rate than “Open Westworld.” Plus, Alexa tends to have a harder time with non-mainstream content, because there’s just so much content in the wild.

While you can go hands-free with your Fire TV Stick 4K if you have an Echo device, it’s meant to work with the remote. You also cannot mirror iOS without a third-party app and the performance isn’t great. But, Android users shouldn’t have any problems.

Remote

A TV is nothing without its remote and Roku easily wins here. It’s the best-made streaming device remote of all time and is significantly better than the Fire TV remote.

The Roku remote feels great because it’s molded to your hand and is more intuitive. You can use it without looking at it and has large buttons with good feedback. While the voice search is pretty good, the mic could be improved to better pick up what I’m saying. You can control both the power and volume with the remote.

The remote has four preset buttons and each seems to be different. Mine had Netflix, DirecTV Now, Sling and Hulu. It’s great if you have any or all of these services, but useless if you don’t. I’d prefer it if the buttons could be mapped, but that’s not available. The phone app is great because you can pick streaming apps from your device and use it as another remote.

Amazon has upgraded their remote from previous versions, but it’s still far behind Roku. There are physical volume and power buttons, but they’re harder to find and use. It also feels cheap and light, which isn’t satisfying. The mic is better for voice search, and the phone app is about the same by acting as a secondary remote and it works as a trackpad for the TV.

Final Thoughts

While the Fire TV Stick 4K has some great features like Amazon Channels and a robust Alexa integration, there are too many ads for my liking and they stick too closely to their own services. Roku might look outdated and the Roku Channel isn’t as strong, but the search prioritizes the most affordable way to watch content and provides a better experience with far fewer ads.

 

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