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The popularity of cord cutting continues to gather pace. Collectively, cable TV companies are losing millions of subscribers every year.
If you’ve ditched your TV subscription, there’s a good chance you’re trying to decide between an Amazon Fire TV stick and one of the many Roku devices as your new entertainment platform.
Keep reading to find out which gadget you should buy: Roku or Fire Stick.
A Complicated Comparison
Unfortunately, it’s impossible to make a like-for-like comparison between Amazon Fire TV devices and Roku streaming sticks.
We need to consider two Amazon products: The Fire TV Stick and the Fire TV Stick 4K. On the Roku side, there are six devices which can be thought of as Fire TV competitors: Roku Express, Roku Express +, Roku Premiere, Roku Premiere +, Roku Streaming Stick, and Roku Streaming Stick +.
We’ll cover all of these devices in this article. If you need a primer, check out our overview of Roku TV first.
Amazon Fire Stick vs. Roku: Cost
Before we get into the features and the technical specifications, let’s deal with the elephant in the room—the cost of the devices.
Amazon’s entry-level Fire TV Stick costs $39.99. The 4K model will set you back a further $10, coming in at $49.99.
The cheapest Roku model is the Roku Express. At $29.99, it’s more affordable than the Fire TV. At the other end of the scale, the top Roku model (Ultra excluded) is the Roku Streaming Stick +, which costs $59.99.
From a cost standpoint, the nearest Roku devices to Amazon’s two products are the Roku Premiere ($39.99), the Premiere + ($49.99), and the Streaming Stick ($49.99).
Amazon Fire Stick vs. Roku: Specifications
This is where things get confusing. Let’s try and make sense of all the different models on offer from the two companies.
First, the Amazon devices. The basic Fire TV Stick has a 1.3GHz processor, 8GB of internal memory, and support for Bluetooth 4.1. It plays videos in 720p or 1080p resolution at up to 60 frames-per-second (FPS).
The 4K model is a notable improvement. You’ll find a 1.7GHz processor, support for Bluetooth 5.0, and 2160p video resolution. The internal storage stays at 8GB.
Three Roku products—the Express, Express +, and Streaming Stick—only offer 1080p resolution, the offers offer 4K.
Amazon Fire Stick vs. Roku: Controls
All Roku and Amazon Fire TV devices ship with a dedicated remote control.
Both Amazon controls support Alexa. If you want to control your Roku with your voice, you will need to buy a Roku Premiere +, Roku Streaming Stick, or Roku Streaming Stick +.
Both devices also have an accompanying remote control smartphone app.
Lastly, if you have an Amazon Echo speaker, you can sync it with your Fire TV Stick and use it to control your content.
Amazon Fire Stick vs. Roku: Interface
Visually, the Amazon platform is more modern and feels more polished. However, critics have argued that it pushes Amazon’s own content too aggressively.
It’s a valid viewpoint. You’ll only see one row of your own apps at the top of the screen. And if you have too many installed, you’ll need to scroll all the way to the right and click on View All to see them.
The rest of the home screen real estate is taken up by content from Amazon Prime Video. Even if you don’t subscribe to the service, you will still see it.
Roku’s interface is more customizable. All your channels are displayed in a scrollable list. If you install third-party add-ons, you can even place your channels into groups for easier navigation.
On the downside, Roku’s menus and visuals are dated. They badly need a refresh.
Amazon Fire Stick vs. Roku: TV Shows and Movies
If you’re looking for a provider-agnostic device, Roku is the best streaming stick on the market. It’s not only better than Amazon Fire TV sticks; it’s also better than Android TV, Apple TV, and Chromecast dongles.
You’ll find apps for just about every on-demand video and music streaming app, including Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Google Play Movies, Spotify, and TuneIn Radio.
Roku also offers a vast library of private channels. You need to enter a code in the Roku web portal to install them on your device. Be warned—many of the private channels lie in a grey area of legality.
The biggest problem with the Amazon Fire Stick is the lack of a native YouTube app. Ongoing bickering between the two tech giants forced Google to pull its apps from Amazon’s platform almost a year ago, and there’s no hint that they’ll be returning any time soon.
YouTube is still available via a web browser on the device, but it’s a clumsy workaround. You can also jailbreak your Fire Stick to gain YouTube and other missing apps.
Amazon Fire Stick vs. Roku: Web Browsing
Speaking of browsers, it’s worth noting that only the Amazon products let you surf the web. Two browsers are available—Amazon’s own Silk Browser and Firefox. You can control them both easily using the Fire TV remote.
You can also sideload apps on Fire TV Sticks. The process lets you install any browser from the Google Play Store. However, most other browsers are not compatible with the remote, meaning you will also need to install a mouse app on your Fire TV.
In contrast, Roku devices do not offer any facility to browse websites.
Amazon Fire Stick vs. Roku: Gaming
Roku devices and Amazon Fire TV Sticks both offer games on their platform.
However, hardcore gamers might find Fire TV devices are more suitable for their needs. Generally speaking, Roku games are a bit “cutesy”. Sure, they’ll keep you entertained for half an hour, but they don’t offer longevity.
The games on Amazon’s devices are beefier. You’ll find titles such as Minecraft, Badland, and Star Wars.
Of course, if the ability to game on your streaming device is high on your list of priorities, neither a Roku or a Fire TV Stick can hold a candle to the Nvidia Shield. You can stream titles from your PC using Nvidia GameStream, download a host of local games from Nvidia and Google Play, and install emulators for classic consoles.
Amazon Fire Stick vs. Roku: Screen Mirroring
Roku devices have Miracast technology built-in. If you’re not aware, Miracast is like a wireless version of an HDMI cable. Most Android and Windows devices are Miracast-compatible. Apple devices are not.
Some older Amazon Fire TV models also support screen mirroring. Oddly, it’s not available on the third-generation Amazon Fire Stick nor the 4K model.
Which Is Right for You?
It’s really difficult to choose a clear winner between the Roku and Fire Stick. Much depends on how you plan to use your device, which gadgets you already own, and which streaming service you subscribe to.
All else being equal, we’d recommend either the Amazon Fire TV 4K or the Roku Streaming Stick +. And remember, you could even buy a Chromecast or Android TV. We have written a comparison of Roku and Chromecast and a comparison of Android TV and Amazon Fire TV if you would like to learn more.