Fire Stick vs. Roku: It’s a Coin Toss
You’ve cut the cable cord but you still want to stream the hottest shows on Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Disney+ and more.
But how will you access those streaming services now that you’ve smartly ditched the cable box and the bill that comes with it? Most people find themselves narrowing it down to Fire Stick or Roku. This guide gives you the scoop on Fire Stick vs. Roku. You will find:
Portable Streaming Devices
Fire Stick and Roku are portable streaming devices that let you show programs on your TV via access to the internet. Fire Stick is an Amazon product. Netflix was an early investor in Roku, which is a publicly held company as is Amazon.
These portable streaming devices turn any TV into a smart TV as long as it has an HDMI port. They both look something like a remote control and you can add them to your other smart home devices.
As far as pricing goes, Roku and Amazon’s Fire Stick are virtually identical, with a few small nuances.
The most basic Roku and Fire Stick both cost $29.99. The remotes that come with either of these devices at this pricing tier do not allow you TV controls like volume. Streaming is available in 1080p, with HDR support for the Fire Stick.
At the next pricing tier — $39.99 — you can get HDR and 4K with Roku. You can also opt for a Fire Stick model that allows you to stream 4K at this price point. At this price, the remote on both devices can control TV settings like volume.
Then there are more expensive options, like the Amazon Fire TV Cube for $119.99, which can be synced with your Alexa for voice controls.
Roku’s higher-priced products range from $99.99 to $179.99 and come with advanced audio and visual presentation features.
Once you’ve purchased the device, there are no monthly fees. You’ll have to pay money to the streaming platforms you subscribe to, like Hulu or Netflix. But you won’t owe any money to Amazon or Roku simply for using the device on a monthly basis.
Free Prime Subscription with Amazon Fire TV Stick
When you purchase a Fire Stick, you will get a month-long free trial of Amazon Prime, including Prime Video. At the end of the first month, billing will begin.
In the battle for content access, Roku comes out slightly ahead of the Fire Stick. The only major streaming service Roku did not carry was HBO Max, but that changed at the end of 2020. You can now access HBO Max on Roku. Amazon added HBO Max to its Fire TV Stick in early 2021.
You still cannot access Peacock from NBC through the Fire Stick’s main app store, but it is available through Roku. Technically, you could download Peacock to your Fire Stick through a process called sideloading — which is essentially downloading the Peacock app outside of Amazon’s app store. You do have to be careful, though, as the process of sideloading can potentially open you up to security threats.
Roku also has its own streaming channel known as The Roku Channel. Here, you’ll find free content to watch along with ad-supported streaming of live news.
Overall, both Roku and Fire Stick have an easy-to-navigate user interface. Both search engines work well, but the algorithms behind them are different.
When you search for a show using your Roku, the system will bring up your search results in order of price. Content that is free-to-you will show up at the top, with the most expensive items at the bottom. Content could be free to you because it’s free to everyone, or it could be streaming on a platform to which you’re already subscribed.
Amazon, on the other hand, pushes its own content. Content on the Prime Video platform is more favored and therefore more likely to show up at the top of your search results. The search function still works well, but if you want to watch something from another platform you may have to scroll a little.
Amazon also pushes its own content on the Fire Stick’s homepage. Right along Netflix, Hulu and Disney+, you may find native ads for “Jack Ryan” or “The Underground Railroad.” The goal is to get you to engage with Prime Video content more often, which can be a little invasive and annoying if that’s not what you want to watch. But it doesn’t affect the overall utility of the Fire TV Stick interface.
Roku and Fire Stick are comparable in price and streaming platform access. One isn’t overwhelmingly better than the other.
Roku does come with access to Peacock and The Roku Channel, and you won’t be bombarded with the Amazon marketing push integrated into Fire Stick’s user interface.
However, if you’ve been thinking about getting an Amazon Prime subscription anyway, the free month of Prime with a Fire TV Stick may be an attractive offer for you. And while Amazon does put a heavier emphasis on its own content, it still gives you access to almost all of the most popular streaming platforms.
Ready to jump off the streaming deep end and save even more? Consider these free streaming apps. Be warned though, you’ll get plenty of free movies and “Bewitched” episodes but “Bridgerton” will be as out of reach as the Duke. And if you’re still trying to decide about cutting the cable cord, read this before you cancel.
Pittsburgh-based writer Brynne Conroy is the founder of the Femme Frugality blog and the author of “The Feminist Financial Handbook.” She is a regular contributor to Codetic.