Roku vs. Fire TV Stick Review: Which Streaming Stick Is Right for You? – Decider

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It’s official: we’re living in peak streaming.
With every network developing a new streaming service, movies available for stream rentals, and old mainstays like Netflix and Hulu, “What do you want to watch tonight?” has become a challenging question to answer.
But that’s only the beginning. What are you going to watch it on?
Laptops, phones, and tablets are great for streaming on the go, but when you’re at home and want to watch a new episode of your favorite show, you need something a bit bigger. That’s where streaming devices come in.
These slim, profiled devices connected to TVs via HDMI were designed entirely with streaming. Here, you can download the apps of all the streaming services you subscribe to and watch anything you want.
Amazon and Roku are two of the biggest names in streaming devices, and we compared two of their best-selling models to see which one delivers a better overall experience. The Fire TV Stick 4K and the Roku Streaming Stick 4K are comparable products, so we set them up and put them to the test. Here’s what we found when comparing the two devices in several categories over several days.
Typically, the Fire TV Stick 4K UHD and the Roku Streaming Stick 4K retail for $49.99. However, the prices can easily vary depending on sales and retailers.
At the time of publication, the Fire Stick was $29.99, while the Roku Streaming Stick was $39.98.
Both the Roku Streaming Stick 4K and the Fire TV Stick 4K UHD have similar easy setups. Since they are both slim stick-style streaming players, you can keep the wires hidden, and it’s easy to mount a TV to the wall without seeing the device.
Plug the stick itself into one of the TV’s HDMI ports, then use the provided cables to connect the streaming stick to a power source.
When you turn your TV back on, you must connect the device to Wi-Fi to continue. You’ll be prompted to set up the device, which may include opening an internet browser.
To use either streaming device, you’ll need to make an account with their respective platform, depending on which you have. This ensures that your device is registered correctly.
Both accounts are free to make, and a Roku account even comes with access to the Roku Channel, a free streaming service full of TV shows, movies, and originals, like Weird: The Al Yankovic Story.
You don’t have to be a member of Amazon Prime ($14.99/month) to use a Fire Stick. However, you’ll lose certain perks, like all of the movies and shows available free of charge on Prime Video. Your homepage will be full of titles you can’t necessarily watch for free unless they’re available on Freevee.
Both the Roku and Fire TV streaming sticks come with remotes that can control the power and functions of the TV itself, including volume (on the Fire TV remote, the volume controls are with all of the other buttons; on the Roku, the volume and mute buttons are on the side).
Both have buttons that do roughly the same thing: four-way arrows with a center select button, a play-pause button, rewind and fast forward controls, and buttons that are branded and lead directly to streaming services.
The Fire TV remote has buttons I never find myself reaching to use, like the TV icon, which brings you to the live channel guide. If you subscribe to any premium cable networks through Amazon or are signed into a live TV streaming service, the live channels included will appear here. If not, you’ll see the free channels available through Freevee.
There is also a menu button that only worked in specific circumstances (i.e., not while Hulu was playing, but it did show up when the channel guide screen was on). It’s also missing one of my most used buttons from the Roku, the instant replay button, which is like rewind, but in 10-second increments.
The Roku remote seems a little more thought out regarding the layout and what the buttons do.
For example, it might seem like a minute detail, but the play/pause button on the Roku remote is slightly larger than all of the other buttons. That is handy while watching TV in a dark room or lying in bed — you don’t even have to look at the remote to know you’re hitting the right button.
It’s not that the Roku remote necessarily has fewer buttons; I just find that I use all of them much more frequently than anything on the Fire TV remote that isn’t play/pause or the arrows and select button.
And though the Roku remote doesn’t have a headphone jack for private listening, as more deluxe models do, the remote app will let you use the private listening feature through your phone.
The most significant differences between the two devices live within the interfaces. Both open to a home screen, but the similarities end here.
The Fire TV’s home screen closely resembles the landing page on Amazon Prime Video, with multiple rows of different shows and movies, some of which you can stream instantly and others that require a purchase or rental. It’s great if you’re firing up the Fire TV to watch a movie you just rented from Prime, because it’ll appear on the homepage’s first bar.
However, suppose your main objective is watching things outside the Amazon ecosystem. In that case, it takes a few more clicks of the remote and a few more steps to get to your entire channel library — the icons are smaller than any of the titles.
Even then, the non-Amazon-owned apps stay mostly hidden inside the channel library. Downloading apps is a little more convoluted. The menu options and settings are also concealed within a remote button. Sometimes, the only things obvious about this homepage interface are Amazon-branded.
For well-rounded streamers who use many different services, the interface is not very intuitive, and it takes some time to learn how to use it.
On the other hand, the Roku OS is, according to the brand, “simplified streaming,” and we would have to agree. Unlike the Fire TV home screen, the Roku home screen emphasizes streaming apps.
A small sidebar is where all of your menu options live, from “live TV” and “settings” to “streaming channels,” which is their version of an app store. However, the bulk of the screen is taken up by app icons for all of the streaming services you’ve downloaded.
It’s easy to scroll right to the one you want because they’re all easily accessible without having to file through different screens to get to it, and you can easily rearrange them to your liking using the star icon button. It doesn’t take long to pick up the navigation.
Amazon and Roku both make a few different streaming devices suited for a range of TVs, needs, and price points. Amazon’s primary offering is the stick style, aside from the Fire TV Cube, while many of Roku’s streaming devices are small blocks that sit in front of the TV. They all feature the same interface for their respective brands.
There are a lot of things that the two devices have in common, from the easy setup to the price, but the differences that do exist are big ones.
Suppose you’re already subscribed to Amazon Prime and fully plugged into the Amazon ecosystem with Echo devices, Ring doorbells, and Alexa-enabled smart speakers. In that case, it might be worth investing in a Fire Stick over a Roku.
Since it’s Amazon-owned, there’s an extra focus on Amazon’s streaming titles. Another notable feature of the Fire Stick lets you view your Ring doorbell footage live on screen. Prime subscribers who take advantage of Amazon Photos can also view their stored photos on the TV and create custom screensavers.
But if you’re not, and you’re just looking for a great streaming media player that’s easy to set up and use, we recommend the Roku Streaming Stick 4K. The interface and remote are both more user-friendly with less of a learning curve, and we found that navigation and adding new apps are much more straightforward on a Roku.

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About the author

Julia Martin

Julia Martin

Julia is a mechanical engineer with a passion for cars. She covers everything related to automotive technology, from electric vehicles to autonomous driving. Julia loves to get under the hood of cars to understand how they work and is always excited about the future of automotive tech.