I got some hands-on time with the Amazon Fire TV Stick and the Roku Streaming Stick recently. There has been much debate about these two media plug-ins. Both offer access to a ton of TV content, both are relatively cheap and easy to use. So how do they directly compare?
There are lots of options for consuming media these days; Amazon, Roku, Netflix, Hulu, Chromecast, Apple TV, Disney+, and lots of others. Most of us couldn’t care less about who makes the device or runs the service that feeds us content, we only really care about what content is available on what device. I count myself in this group. I do not have a set loyalty to either Amazon or Roku. I did use them recently and after spending time with both the Amazon Fire TV Stick and the Roku Streaming Stick I have detailed the comparison in the following article.
Amazon Fire TV Stick
The Amazon Fire TV Stick is just $34.99 and has changed quite a bit since the last version. This new hardware is more powerful than before with a quad-core processor, 1GB of RAM, 8GB of storage, WiFi, Bluetooth, Alexa voice support, HD output, and Dolby 5.1 output.
Smart home integration is the big advantage of the Fire TV Stick. The Alexa assistant can do a lot with your other smart home devices right after being set up. Commands like, “fast forward three minutes,” to “skip commercials,” or “find movies starring Jack Black,” and so on. The range of voice commands is fairly wide so I didn’t test all of them, but the ones I did worked well.
The content mix is strong, with Amazon Prime being front and center. You also get access to other services such as Netflix and Spotify, TV Catchup, and a range of channels depending on your region. If the service has an app, you can access it. I have, currently, Netflix, Hulu, Disney +, Plex, YouTube and a few others lined up in my “most used” section, and they all work seamlessly with the software.
The interface is nice to look at and has had an overhaul from previous versions. The menus are snappy and intuitive, the search function very good, and the experience positive. The only downside is that Amazon’s universal search doesn’t seem to work properly. Sometimes you’ll try using it to find a show only to have the search results come up blank. Then you’ll look for it manually and it will be right where you expect it to be. Aside from that gripe, the Fire TV Stick is solid.
Using the Amazon Fire TV Stick
Using the Amazon Fire TV Stick is simple. Plug it into an HDMI port, log in to your Amazon account, set up WiFi, and configure Alexa if you want. Select a TV show from the carousel or use the menus at the top to find exactly what you want. Or just use the magnifying glass icon to search.
If your internet connection is decent, there is very little buffering and playback is flawless. HD content plays well and the entire user experience is a good one. I didn’t use any voice commands or play any games, but for consuming TV content, the Amazon Fire TV Stick is very good indeed.
Roku Streaming Stick
The Roku Streaming Stick is $50 and has a similar design to the Amazon Fire TV Stick. It slots into an HDMI port, has its own remote control, and works in much the same way. The hardware isn’t as powerful as Amazon’s, though it certainly gets the job done.
You can use voice control with Roku using the Roku app on your phone, though it’s not nearly as universal as Amazon’s Alexa. So, instead of using voice control, I found myself using the remote control or mobile app to operate the device. The remote is very simple, which works in its favor. It has directional and selection buttons and some quick access buttons that take you immediately to Netflix, Sling TV, Hulu, and DirecTV Now.
Setup is a breeze. Plug the Roku Streaming Stick into your TV’s HDMI port, add batteries to the remote (AAA), join your WiFi network, register the device with a Roku account, and you’re all set! You will need a computer or phone with internet access to do that last part, but that’s the only time you need a different device.
Roku will then search for updates and then allow you to pair your remote. After that, it will load the default channels. The entire process takes less than five minutes, including setting up the Roku account online.
Using the Roku Streaming Stick
Once configured, the Roku interface is very simple to use. The menu is on the left and will take you wherever you need to go. Navigate your favorite TV shows, movies, and news outlets, search for content, add channels or configure settings. The menu is fast and responsive and does a good job of keeping everything in one place.
The content works a little differently than the Amazon Fire TV Stick. Amazon provides access to its own content first and then to other providers. Roku is more agnostic and provides access to a huge number of channels, some free, some paid for. There are over 500,000 shows and movies to choose from, so I didn’t even scratch the surface.
The streaming performance was excellent. Even though the Roku is less powerful than the Fire Stick, I had no problems with streaming HD TV shows.My WiFi is good, not great, but even then, there was very little buffering and no stuttering or performance issues. Menus work well and even the search function is fast.
The only issue I saw was the slow loading of a couple of apps. The Netflix app, for instance, took maybe 20-30 seconds to load. That’s slightly more time than the app on my smart TV, though it’s definitely not a dealbreaker.
Amazon Fire TV Stick vs Roku Streaming Stick
Both the Amazon Fire TV Stick and the Roku Streaming Stick are great devices that don’t cost a lot to buy or run. They have slightly different intents but the result is the same. They give you access to streaming TV direct to your living room. While Amazon is more intent on delivering first-party content, Roku streams just about anything.
In my opinion, were I to buy one, I would buy the Roku. The device may not be as powerful, but I don’t need an Amazon Prime account to get the most out of it. Aside from Amazon Prime Video content, you can access the vast majority of what is available on Fire TV on Roku without the expense.
If there are indeed over 500,000 shows and movies available on Roku, that is more content than I could consume in a lifetime. With channels like Crackle, Netflix, BBC, and Twitch, I already have my usual content requirements met without even trying anything else.
If you’re looking for HD content done well and done simply, both devices deliver. Neither are capable of 4K streaming (though both Amazon and Roku offer 4K alternatives). For the now, either of these will give you what you want, but my vote goes to the openness and flexibility of Roku.