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.
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.TL;DR? Skip to the conclusion
Content: Roku Stick Plus
Summary: Roku has over 4,000 streaming apps and more 4K options than Fire TV. It’s missing HBO Max, but it has all the other mainstream apps and thousands of niche apps you’ve never heard of.
- Prime Video, Google Play Video, Vudu, Hulu, Netflix, Showtime, HBO, Disney+, Sling TV, AT&T TV, Philo, fuboTV, YouTube TV, Apple TV, Peacock, Spotify, and Pandora are available with thousands of others. Roku claims to have 500,000 movies and shows.
- HBO Max is the only mainstream app not found on Roku’s platform.
- Roku has a better setup for free content than Fire TV. There’s a section dedicated to free content that shows all the available movies and tv shows in The Roku Channel app.
- In The Roku Channel, there’s a Live TV guide with hundreds of free channels. I’ve never heard of any of these channels, and I’m not sure you’ll find anything worth your time in the guide, but it might be worth a look.
- Ad-supported free content is available in Tubi, Pluto TV, and Crackle, but there isn’t a huge selection.
- If you subscribe to cable or a live tv streaming service, you use your credentials with network apps (CBS, CNN, FOX, ESPN, etc) and watch those apps for “free”.
- Netflix, Prime Video, YouTube, Vudu, Apple TV, FandangoNOW, CuriosityStream, Smithsonian Earth, Disney+, and others. Roku has a special section to see all available 4K content.
- Roku has more 4K content than Fire TV Stick 4K.
- Roku doesn’t support Dolby Vision, only HDR10.
- It has Dolby Atmos support for audio.
Content: Fire TV Stick 4K
Summary: By default, Fire TV is missing HBO Max, Peacock, and Vudu. Fire TV is an Android-based operating system, which lets you sideload HBO Max, Peacock, Vudu, Kodi, or any other Android app.
- Prime Video, Hulu, Netflix, Showtime, HBO Go, Disney+, Sling TV, AT&T TV, Philo, fuboTV, YouTube TV, Apple TV, Spotify, Pandora, and Twitch.
- Google Play, Vudu, Peacock, and HBO Max aren’t available.
- Fortunately, Fire TV is an Android-based OS and lets you sideload apps. Download apps outside Amazon’s app store by downloading the Downloader app, then enter the APK file URL.
- Installing apps outside of Amazon can be done safely, but I don’t recommend it because there are risks. If you download a bad APK file, a bad actor may take over your device or steal your data. Verify that the APK file is legit by checking Reddit.
- You can log into network apps with the credentials from your cable provider or live tv streaming service.
- Fire TV has 20,000 free movies and TV episodes from apps like IMDb TV, Pluto TV, TUBI. Fire TV’s free tab just displays the apps that feature free content, while Roku shows you the titles.
- Prime Video, Netflix, Apple TV, Disney+, and YouTube.
- Amazon supports HDR10 and Dolby Vision content. Dolby Vision is the highest 4K HDR standard.
- It has Dolby Atmos support for audio.
Ease of Use: Roku Stick Plus
Summary: Roku uses an old-school app-based interface that doesn’t try anything new or ambitious. There’s one giant ad on the right side of the home screen, which is a better system than Fire TV. The interface isn’t great, but it gets the job done.
- 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 9.4) has cleaned up many of the issues mentioned above, but Roku doesn’t attempt anything ambitious like Fire TV to modernize the interface.
- Roku devices have one big ad displayed on the right side of the home screen. The ads can be easily distinguished 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.
- You won’t notice a speed difference compared to Fire TV Stick 4K. The apps take about the same amount of time to fully load.
- 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.
- There’s no 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.
Ease of Use: Fire TV Stick 4K
Summary: Fire TV’s home screen interface has tons of ads, duplicate apps with the favorites bar, and it displays content that you’re not subscribed to. Unlike Roku, Fire TV displays movies and shows from your apps and tries to organize it, but it doesn’t work out well.
- 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 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. Fire TV Stick 4K doesn’t have speed issues, like previous generations. It opens apps as quickly as Roku Stick+.
- 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.
Smarts: Roku Stick Plus
Summary: Roku doesn’t have a smart assistant built into the remote, but the remote works well for searching for content. You can launch apps, adjust the volume, or pause content with Google and Alexa speakers. Roku displays every streaming app where the content can be watched when you search, and it’s ordered from free to most expensive.
- 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 to watch it with.
- 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.
- 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.
Google & Alexa speakers:
- Roku works with Google and Alexa speakers, but the setup can be difficult.
- There’s a huge lag between asking a command and the smart assistant acting.
- 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)?
- Private Listening mode plays your content’s sound through the Roku phone app, which can then be listened to with your 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 in to your channels using the credentials used for your first Roku.
- Play your phone’s music and videos with Roku Play-On inside the Roku app.
- AirPlay content from your iPhone to Roku with the new Roku 9.4 update.
- Add your Roku to the Apple Home app to turn the TV on and off with Siri.
Smarts: Fire TV Stick 4K
Summary: You can search for content or open apps via Alexa on the remote or go hands-free tasks with a paired Echo device. For example, “Alexa, open Ozark on Netflix in the living room” opens Ozark. Alexa is more advanced than Roku’s voice remote, but it still makes you scratch your head more often than not.
- Alexa works well when you search for content, then pick a service to watch it on.
- 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.
- Hold down a button on the remote to ask Alexa a question and it answers any question or performs any smart home task.
- If you want to go hands-free to power the TV, play, pause, or open an app, set up Fire TV Stick 4K to work with your Echo. But I found that Alexa works better with the remote.
- 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 break down 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.
- 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.
Ecosystem: Roku Stick Plus
Summary: Roku is great if you’re already subscribed to streaming services and bring your subscriptions over. But you can subscribe to premium services through The Roku Channel too.
The Roku Channel:
- 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.
Ecosystem: Fire TV Stick 4K
Summary: You can subscribe to your premium subscription services via Amazon Channels and get lots of unique features and it keeps you off of Fire TV’s home screen. It turns Fire TV into an excellent experience, but unfortunately, you’ll need the home screen for Netflix, Hulu, and live TV.
Amazon Channels and Prime Video:
- Fire TV’s interface is more appealing if you 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.
Advantages and disadvantages:
- You’re not locked into Amazon Channels when you subscribe. For example, if you subscribe to Showtime via Amazon Channels, you can still use the Showtime 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.
Physical: Roku Stick Plus
Summary: The Roku remote is one of the best remotes of all time. It forms to your hand. After ten minutes of use, you’ll naturally know where everything is because the buttons are colored, big, have a high profile, and have lots of give. It comes with four preset app buttons to launch the services, which can be helpful or useless depending on which services you subscribe to.
Physical: Fire TV Stick 4K
Summary: The remote feels cheap. It’s overly thin and the buttons provide almost no feedback. You’ll often find yourself looking down at it to make sure you actually pressed a button. The only upside is that the mic for Alexa is an improvement over Roku’s mic.
Software: Roku Stick Plus
Summary: The Roku phone app is excellent. There’s a directional touchpad that offers vibrations as you tap, a keypad for entering text, and a way to launch any app with one tap. The volume controls should work with most TVs.
Software: Fire TV Stick 4K
Summary: The Fire TV app remote looks like the physical remote. It has an added keypad for entering text, an app launcher, and a way to speak to Alexa. The downside is that your TV’s volume can’t be controlled.
Which is best for you?
Get Roku Stick Plus if you want the easiest way to watch your existing streaming services. Roku's unbiased platform gives you endless content options and an easy way to find what you want. The ads are minimal, relevant, and off to the side. Get Roku Premiere for $10 less. The remote doesn’t have voice control, or power and volume buttons.Check Amazon’s Price
Get Fire TV Stick 4K if you love Alexa and want the best way to watch HBO, Showtime, and Prime (via Amazon Channels). Unfortunately, the home screen is ad-heavy and needed if you pay for your streaming services directly or via your cable provider. Get Fire TV Stick (2020) for $10 less and a great option if you don't have a 4K TV.Check Amazon’s Price