How to Decide Between a Roku and a Fire Stick

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As streaming devices go, Roku and Fire TV Stick both seem similar from the outside. They’ll both cost you around $20 to $40 depending on the device (and if there’s a sale going on). They both do a good job of turning your regular TV into a smart TV where you can stream your favorite shows, as well as watch live TV online, and you can install apps to further enhance your TV experience.

But that’s kind of where the similarities end. Both Roku and Fire TV Stick have their own ways of doing things when it comes to hardware, software, and how their own services work.

What both Roku and Fire TV Stick get right

As I mentioned above, there are things that both devices do well right out of the gate. 

  • Budget-friendly: You can get either streaming device for around $30, and they’re often on sale for even cheaper. 

  • Robust app support: Both devices feature thousands of TV apps and are popular enough that you’ll find apps for even obscure channels and utilities. 

  • Fast and responsive: If you’re buying the 4K versions, then both Roku and Fire TV Stick are pretty quick to use, and as long as you have a good internet connection, you won’t face any issues. 

  • One remote control: Except for the cheapest Rokus, both devices offer a TV remote with HMDI CEC support, which lets you control the TV volume and turn the TV on or off. This means you can stream anything using a single remote, enhancing the TV experience even further. 

  • Voice control: Both devices feature remotes with voice control built in. 

Best for UX, menus, and ease of use: Roku

Roku interface on a TV

Credit: Roku

Roku’s overall interface, especially the menus, is far better designed than Amazon Fire TV Stick. Roku has a simple app-based navigation system that you can customize however you like. Getting to Netflix or Prime Video can happen in just a couple of clicks. 

Fire TV Stick’s Home Screen, by comparison, is a mess. Amazon focuses more on TV shows and movies in addition to the apps, which are given just a thin strip between all the other content. Right on top, you’ll find an autoplaying trailer (thankfully you can turn off autoplay) for a new TV show from Amazon. 

Fire TV Stick Interface

Credit: Amazon

In day-to-day use, this becomes quite annoying. A couple of apps in the top bar fall short, and opening the full App Library takes extra clicks. 

Overall, Roku’s experience is faster, seamless, and far less annoying. Fire TV Stick’s interface is also not slow, especially when you get the 4K Max model, but it takes longer to wade through all the unnecessary promotions and tiles.

Best for voice assistance and home theater: Fire TV Stick

Amazon fire stick

Credit: Picturesque Japan/Shutterstock

If you like using your voice to control your TV— especially if you already have Amazon’s Alexa devices in your house—you’ll get more out of the Fire TV Stick 4K ($29.99) or Fire TV Stick 4K Max ($39.99) as your streaming device. 

Fire TV Stick has Alexa built in, and is much better at launching apps and looking for content than Roku is. That said, Roku’s search feature overall is faster. But when it comes to voice assistance and integration, the Fire TV Stick is superior. 

If you have an Alexa speaker, you can use the entire Fire TV interface without even picking up the remote. You can just ask Alexa to launch Netflix or to watch a show, and Fire TV Stick will turn on the TV, and launch the show. This is also a neat way to sidestep the entire issue of Fire TV Stick’s home screen interface.

Roku can integrate with Alexa and Google Nest speakers, but you have to add “on Roku” to the end of each query, and it doesn’t support TV control options.

And if you have a home theater setup with an AV receiver or a sound bar, you might be better off using a Fire TV Stick. Fire TV Stick will let you control your audio devices using the same remote, so you can truly use one remote for your TV and your sound system. Roku doesn’t have this feature. 

If you want to go for a Fire TV Stick, I would suggest spending a bit more for the $39.99 Fire TV Stick 4K Max. It comes with a new 2.0 GHz quad-core processor, Dolby Vision support, DHR10+ support, 16GB storage, and more.

Best overall pick: Roku Streaming Stick 4K

Roku streaming

Credit: renata colella/Shutterstock

When all is said and done, the Roku Streaming Stick 4K is my overall best pick. It’s small, fast to use, and fast to boot up. Plus, it supports 4K, HDR10/10+, and Dolby Vision content. It comes with a feature specific to Rokus: You can listen to audio via your smartphone using the Roku app. 

If you don’t want to spend the $39 for the Roku Streaming Stick, Roku Express 4K+ is also a great option. It’s $10 less, and you miss out on a sleek form factor, and HDR, but you get the same fast interface, and all the great Roku features. 

Best budget option: Fire TV Stick Lite

Sometimes, a $19.99 streaming stick is just too hard to beat. If you’re on a budget, or if you want to buy a streaming stick to keep in your travel bag, you can’t go wrong with the Fire TV Stick Lite. It can’t do 4K, but it will run Full HD content just fine. It also doesn’t have a remote with volume or TV controls, but it will run all your apps and channels. Just don’t expect a super-fast experience like with the Fire TV Stick 4K Max, or Roku Express. 

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