As recently as five years ago, we were marveling at the fact that we were able to stream Netflix through an expensive Blu Ray player. Today, the streaming landscape has been turned on its ear by streaming sticks like the Roku and Amazon Fire.
These two devices look almost identical, and they bring similar functionality to the table, so how do you decide which is the best streaming stick? Read on as we take a closer look at the different features and specs of these two popular streaming sticks.
Short on Time?
No time to get into the nitty-gritty details of these products? Here’s the Cliffnotes version:
Go For The Roku Stick If:
Go For The Fire Stick If:
Key Features - Roku Streaming Stick
Roku has been a major player in the streaming media space since day one, so it’s safe to say that Roku’s technical specs are on par with their competitors.
The fact that this stick offers a great streaming experience without any hiccups or significant product flaws certainly suggests that Roku isn’t skimping in the hardware department.
As for the other specs, Roku uses dual band wifi to stream content, just like all the competition.
As for audio, the Roku Stick acts as a pass-thru for audio codecs such as Dolby Digital and Dolby Digital Plus. Some competitors have onboard support for Dolby Digital, which is a plus.
But, it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference, considering your surround sound system will be able to decode the audio for you to provide surround sound.
The Roku interface is streamlined and easy to understand, which makes the Roku Streaming Stick a solid option for those who are looking for the easiest choice when it comes to streaming.
Of course, each of Roku’s competitors also has sleek, easy to understand interfaces. However, they can be a little easier to “get lost” in than Roku. With Roku, everything you need is laid out in an easy to understand grid format that’s as simple as navigating to the channel you want and clicking OK on the remote.
While the Roku remote doesn’t feature Amazon Alexa support, it does provide plenty of useful features that users love.
Compared to the Amazon Fire Stick remote, the Roku adds controls for volume and power, which make the Roku Stick even easier to use. It also includes a D-pad to navigate the interface, and shortcut buttons for Netflix, Sling, Hulu, and DirecTV Now.
The remote is easier to understand and is much more full-featured than the remotes included with other streaming dongles. In the case of Google Chromecast, no remote is included at all.
Of course, you’ll lose out on Amazon Alexa with the Roku Stick. So, you won’t be able to sync your streaming dongle to other smart devices, and you won’t have some of the impressive functionality that Amazon Alexa brings to the table.
Voice search is still included with the Roku remote so that you won’t lose voice functionality altogether, it just isn’t as comprehensive and full-featured as the voice function on the Amazon Fire Stick.
One point that differentiates the Roku Stick from other streaming options is its comprehensive app.
Other streaming dongles may provide an app which provides the same functionality as the remote would. Roku takes that one step further. The Roku app provides all the functionality of the remote, as well as the ability to cast videos from your phone or tablet to your television.
If you’d like that same functionality with the Fire Stick, it requires a third-party app. As you’d expect, it’s not as streamlined as an experience as the Roku app is, and it tends to be a bit “buggy.”
When it comes to available channels, the Roku certainly doesn’t skimp on availability. Virtually any channel you can think of is available on the Roku, which makes it a very popular option for cord cutters.
You’ll be able to enjoy content from hundreds of different providers like Netflix, Hulu, FOX, NBC, ABC and more. You can search the full lineup of available channels on Roku’s website. Also, unlike the Fire Stick, which requires you to access YouTube through a browser, Roku comes with a YouTube app, which makes it even easier to find content on YouTube.
Also included is The Roku Channel, which provides hundreds of popular blockbuster movies that you can stream for free.
One area the Roku leaves a bit to be desired is when it comes to games and applications. The Fire Stick offers thousands of different games and apps for you to download, whereas the Roku falls a bit flat in this area and offers far fewer options.
Design wise; the Roku Streaming Stick is nearly flawless.
The remote is the most full-featured and easiest to use of any streaming dongle, and anyone will be able to pick up on its features in just a few seconds. The buttons for volume control and power also eliminate the need for an additional remote to control the functions of your TV.
The dongle itself is also well designed, and it’s significantly slimmer than the Fire Stick. The Streaming Stick measures in at 3.3 inches long by .8 inches wide, which is slim enough for even the tightest control panels. The port that powers the Streaming Stick is also conveniently located at the rear of the dongle, so you won’t have to worry about it getting in the way of other cables.
Other Roku Devices
While the Streaming Stick is one of Roku’s most popular devices, there are other options as well, including the Streaming Stick+, Express Stick, and Roku Ultra.
The Roku Streaming Stick+ provides identical functionality to the Streaming Stick, with two notable additions.
First, the Streaming Stick+ is capable of streaming 4K content at 60 frames per second, whereas the original Streaming Stick tops out at 1080p at 60 frames per second. The + model also includes an advanced wireless receiver that provides four times the range of the original, making it a good option for TVs that are far away from your router.
The Express Stick is the most affordable option from Roku, and will only set you back about $30. However, it doesn’t include voice search or dual band wifi reception.
Upgrading to the Roku Ultra will provide you with an advanced remote with gaming buttons, headphone jack, and a handy remote finder feature. Unlike the Streaming Stick+, it lacks the advanced WIFI receiver, so if your TV is far from your router, you may run into the same streaming issues you’d have with the Express or Streaming Stick.
Key Features - Fire Stick
Now that we’ve covered everything you need to know about the Roku Stick let’s compare it to the Amazon Fire Stick by taking a closer look at the Fire Sticks features.
Amazon proves once again that big things can come in small packages with the Fire Stick. Amazon manages to fit plenty of storage and memory, a quad-core 1.3GHz processor and a Mali450 MP4 GPU into the tiny 3.4” frame of the Fire Stick.
This streaming stick uses Bluetooth 4.1 technology to communicate with the remote, and dual-band, dual-antenna wifi for streaming content. This translates to a smooth and uninterrupted streaming experience.
The 8 gigabytes of onboard storage and 1 gigabyte of memory ensure that you’ll have no issue streaming content from any of the 190+ channels and apps on the Fire Stick.
The Fire Stick also supports Dolby Audio, 5.1 surround sound, and two-channel stereo, so you won’t have to worry about any compatibility issues when it comes to your existing equipment.
As for the picture, you’ll be able to enjoy full HD 1080p video quality at 60 frames per second.
Amazon drew a bit of criticism from their customers when the Fire Stick was first introduced, as they put a heavy emphasis on Amazon products and services in the interface, making it more difficult to find popular apps like Netflix, Hulu, or Youtube.
Fortunately, they listened to their customers and had since provided these popular applications with more real estate, making them easier to find and navigate.
Now, the interface is extremely easy to navigate with the remote. Plus, if you’re ever having issues finding what you’re looking for, the Alexa voice remote is more than helpful.
Perhaps one of the most impressive features that helps differentiate the Fire Stick from its competition is the Alexa voice remote. This slim remote provides basic controls for navigating the interface, and playback. The remote also includes home, back, and info shortcuts, which make it even easier to navigate.
You can also download the Amazon Fire TV remote app on your smartphone, which provides the same functionality as the remote itself, plus some cool extras, like the ability to use your keyboard to search. This is particularly helpful if you ever lose the remote to your Fire Stick.
The standout feature of the remote is it’s Amazon Alexa support, which allows you to give voice commands to control the Fire Stick, as well as other Amazon connected and smart home devices you may have.
Some people argue that while this feature is cool, it’s not exactly necessary. But, it’s hard to argue against how cool it is that you can use your remote to order a pizza. The Alexa feature offers practicality as well since you can use it to find anything you’re looking to watch or listen to with the Fire Stick.
If there’s one knock against the Fire Stick remote, it’s that it’s streamlined to the point where it may be difficult for those who aren’t technologically inclined to control. Although thanks to Alexa, even your grandmother will be able to find exactly what she’s looking for on the Fire Stick.
The Fire Stick doesn’t disappoint when it comes to channels, games, and apps. If you’re considering cutting the cord, the wide array of features from the Fire Stick is likely going to be enough for you to feel confident calling your TV provider and telling them you’d like to cancel.
Of course, you can expect to find channels from some of the most popular media providers in the world, including Netflix, Hulu, Vimeo, and major networks like ABC, NBC, and FOX.
Unfortunately, due to the ongoing feud between Google and Amazon, you’ll need to use a workaround to access YouTube. Using YouTube on the Fire Stick is easy enough. However, you’ll just need to use a web browser on the Fire Stick to navigate to Youtube.com.
Beyond television channels, there are also tons of apps and games available. In fact, you’ll find over 6,000 of them in the app store. You can find a full list of channels, apps, and games that are available on the Fire Stick on Amazon’s website.
The design of the Fire Stick is one of the few areas that we were able to poke holes in this product.
Amazon scores points for the streamlined, modern design of the remote control. It’s one of the most attractive and easiest to use remotes we’ve ever seen. However, the lack of power or volume controls on the remote take away from its overall functionality.
The remote is also streamlined to the point where there may be a bit of a learning curve for the less technologically inclined as they’re getting to know the product.
As for the Dongle, it measures in at 3.4 long by 1.2 inches wide, which is quite large when you consider how tight the controls are behind your television.
Amazon also put the power port for the Fire Stick on the upper side of the device, which could pose a problem if you have other ports you need to utilize that are located above the HDMI port you have the Fire Stick plugged into.
Other Amazon Devices
While the Fire Stick is Amazon’s most popular streaming dongle, they do offer an alternative for those looking for even more in the way of streaming entertainment: The Amazon Fire TV.
Fire TV resembles the Google Chromecast in design and features a diamond shaped dongle that hangs off the back of your television. Inside that dongle, you’ll find all of the technical features of the Amazon Fire Stick, with a few notable upgrades.
Most importantly, the Fire TV is capable of streaming 4k video at 60 frames per second. The processor has also been upgraded from 1.3GHz to 1.5. The Fire TV also supports Dolby Atmos audio, which is a notable upgrade for audiophiles.
All of the other features, including the Alexa Remote, are identical to the Fire Stick.
While the Fire TV is near twice the price of the Fire Stick, it’s still very affordable, and it’s worth considering if you want to be on the cutting edge of streaming technology.
Picking a Winner
When it comes to these two popular streaming dongles, it’s hard to go wrong. Both the Roku Streaming Stick and Amazon Fire Stick provide similar functionality at similar price points. Picking a winner largely boils down to your own needs.
However, we still have to pick a winner of course. Based on our experience with each of these two products, we believe the Amazon Fire Stick provides the most features, functionality, and value when compared to the Roku Streaming Stick (and other streaming sticks, like the Google Chromecast, Apple TV and Android TV for that matter.)
What sets the Fire Stick apart from other options is the inclusion of Alexa voice search, which allows you to control other connected devices and services to simplify your life further.
Also, the vast selection of additional apps and games contributed to our decision as well. Of course, the primary reason for buying one of these products is to stream video, but it’s nice to have such an inclusive library of additional apps and games at your disposal, especially if you have kids.
Add to that the fact that the Amazon Fire Stick is one of the most affordable streaming dongles on the market (it’s $10-15 cheaper than the Roku Streaming Stick) and you have a streaming solution that provides all the functionality you need, for a price that anybody can live with.