In October, I bought five new streaming devices. I started with a fresh install and used each device extensively for at least two weeks. I reached the same conclusion as I did the last time that I compared streaming devices: Apple TV 4K is best, but Roku Stick Plus is probably fine for most.
- I appreciate Apple TV most for its clean and ad-free interface.
- Apple pulls content from all your streaming apps and puts your shows and movies in one organized list that updates with new episodes and keeps track of what’s been watched.
- iPhone users will love it and feel at home.
- Downsides: The ad-free interface comes at a hearty price of $179, and the touchpad remote isn’t as practical as a remote with touch controls.
- Apple TV 4K is best for you if you have no money constraints or you’re deeply embedded in Apple’s ecosystem.
- I appreciate Roku most for its ridiculous amount of channels (apps). If you have tons of preexisting content subscriptions, Roku is the easiest platform to use.
- People will love Roku’s completely unbiased search. Each app with the available content that you searched for appears in a list. Roku shows your free options first (via your subscriptions), then your paid options.
- Roku’s remote is amazing because it forms to your hand and has big buttons with lots of give.
- Downsides: There’s a huge advertisement on the home screen, but the ad stays out of your way. Roku lets each third-party app developer do their own thing, which gives you an old school app-based interface without much consistency or content curation.
- Roku Ultra is best for you if you want a more affordable alternative ($99) to Apple TV 4K that lets you watch any service in the world.
- Budget Option: If you don’t need the extra ports available on Roku Ultra (you probably don’t), Roku Stick Plus is an even better option for $49.
Amazon Fire TV
- I appreciate Fire TV most for its Amazon Channels service. You can pay Amazon directly to get premium streaming services (e.g., HBO, Showtime, Starz, Cinemax, etc.) and all of the content stays in the Prime Video app. Plus, you get a bunch of premium playback features.
- You can do powerful things with Alexa via the remote or with an Echo device. For example, “Alexa, play Stranger Things” turns on your TV, puts it on the correct input, opens Netflix, and plays your current episode. Unfortunately, Alexa doesn’t consistently work as you’d expect because there’s an enormous amount of content in the world.
- Downsides: Fire TV’s home screen is loaded with advertisements. There’s a Prime Video ad that takes up half the screen, then a smaller banner ad (e.g., cat litter, cars, razors, etc.) near the bottom. As you scroll down further, there’s an ad for paid streaming services, then another showing you Amazon.com product recommendations. Amazon is never done selling. It’s annoying.
- Fire TV Cube is best for you if you’re a huge Alexa fan or you want to subscribe to streaming services via Amazon Channels. When you subscribe to premium services via Amazon, you don’t need the ad-heavy home screen as often.
- Budget Option: If hands-free Alexa doesn't interest you, or you already own an Echo device, Fire TV 4K is a better option for $49.