Battle of the Streaming Sticks: Roku Versus Fire Stick

If you’re in the market for a low-cost streaming device, your decision likely comes down to something in the Roku family versus a Fire TV device. Deciding between a Roku Stick and a Fire TV Stick can be tricky, though. Not sure which one is right for you? This guide can help you decide.

Which Roku and Which Fire Stick?

Much of this review will focus on the differences in user experience, content, and “stick OS,” but it’s still worth defining terms a bit. Both brands offer an entire family of devices, each with its own unique blend of features.
For the purposes of this review, assume that the comparison is between the Fire TV Stick 4K and the Roku Streaming Stick+. These two streaming sticks sit at the same price point and offer a similar feature set. That said, if you don’t see a feature you want or need, chances are either brand offers it in one of its other products.
Both of these sticks can control TV power and volume, and both support 4K Ultra HD and HDR. The Fire TV Stick 4K adds in Dolby Vision and HDR10+, too.

Roku OS Experience: Simple, Streamlined, But Segregated

One of the biggest points of differentiation between the two streaming sticks (and the two brands as a whole) is the operating system you’ll use. They both do mostly the same stuff, but they go about it in very different ways.
Roku OS is simple and streamlined, and it’s stayed consistent from the very beginning. You’ll see a grid of apps on the main screen, and they should be somewhat customized. The first time you set up any Roku OS device, you’ll be asked which apps you want during the setup process. And, of course, you can add and delete apps from the app library as often as you like.
Roku will also ask you to create a Roku account. If you do, it will remember your app library and logins so that any future Roku device will auto-populate with the content you want.
Depending on your perspective, having all your apps lined up in a grid is either the Roku OS’s greatest feature or its greatest frustration. Many users like how straightforward it is. Download only the apps you have accounts for, and you can know exactly where to go to get Hulu or Netflix content (or hundreds of other channels/apps). Your home screen can look as clean as you make it, free from clutter and, worse, content you can’t actually watch.
In the past, Roku didn’t have a universal search-across-apps feature, so the grid was a big frustration. However, the company has recently introduced exactly this feature, making the Roku experience even more compelling. Roku Search will even tell you where you can rent or buy something you don’t yet have access to.
In addition, classic Roku devices allow you to plug headphones into the remote for private listening. The Roku Stick can’t do that, but it does allow you to emulate the experience using the Roku app. Fire TV doesn’t offer anything similar.

Fire OS Experience: Flashy, Amazon-Forward, Sometimes Confusing

The Fire OS experience, on the other hand, is a little bit different. It’s very Amazon-forward. If you’re already paying for Prime, you have access to Amazon Prime Video, a very decent streaming service that couples “free” (i.e. included in your subscription) content with the ability to rent just about anything else for a reasonable cost.
For Fire OS, you can probably guess that Amazon brings its own content and services front and center. You can still download (most) apps for other services, but they aren’t presented as clearly as on Roku OS. As a result, it can sometimes be confusing exactly where you are and what service is powering the options in front of you.
Both devices offer some form of voice search, but Amazon’s is far superior. The Fire TV Stick 4K is Alexa-enabled, so it can tap into your network of connected devices (if you have one). So you can ask your Fire TV Stick about the weather, tell it to play your news report, order a pizza, or do anything else Alexa can do. You can also use it to search for media to watch, of course.
Roku OS doesn’t have anywhere near this much functionality with its voice search. That said, the Fire OS feature is of questionable usefulness: if you want to use Alexa for lots of stuff, you probably already have an Echo device.

Which One Should You Get?

So, which device is better for you? If you’re tied into the Amazon Prime/Alexa ecosystem and want to be able to do Alexa stuff from your TV, go for the Fire Stick. But otherwise, the Roku Stick is the better, more balanced choice.

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