Cord-cutters have many digital options these days. For watching a TV show or streaming a movie, several smartphone apps are available at their fingertips. However, watching the same on a phone or laptop can be inconvenient for several of us. This is when a smart streaming solution is considered for watching them on your TV. This is when streaming devices such as Roku and Fire TV Stick are evaluated.
Although there are other streaming devices, the competition between the two seems to be tough. Roku and Firestick are, at present, the two most popular as well as economical smart TV or streaming sticks. So, in this post, let’s find out how both differ from each other in terms of a few aspects. For that, the post is comparing both the sticks in general instead of focusing on any of their specific models.
Are Roku and Firestick the Same Thing?
Apparently yes! Both the devices are compatible with a variety of streaming platforms, channels, and applications, including YouTube, Amazon Prime, and Netflix. They are outstanding options for those who are purchasing their first player, need another device for kids or another TV, or wish to give a great gift without spending lavishly.
Over the years, Amazon Firestick and Roku have come up with their exceptional range of models suitable for people of any budget.
So, does this mean both these sticks are the same even technically and feature-wise? Does this mean that you can just go ahead and pick any of them? Well, no! As fine as they may be, there are a few differences between Roku and Amazon Firestick, which are likely to affect your choice.
Differences between Roku and Firestick
Let’s explore the differences between the two.
Comparing the different models can help you trace a significant difference between Roku and Firestick. Currently, Roku has six players on offer. Of these, Premiere and Express are highly affordable. However, you get infrared remotes to operate, which are infamous for their unresponsiveness and lack of integrated TV volume or power buttons.
For 1080p playback, Express+ is a better version. If you are looking for 4K HDR, the Streaming Stick+ is the best option. You also get its variant featuring a remote with a headphone jack. For those who prefer a USB port, ethernet port, and programmable buttons on the remote, the Ultra is ideal but will make you pay more a somewhat more than the former models.
On the other hand, the product line of Amazon’s Firestick is quite simple. The TV Stick is the cheapest player but is infamous for its lethargic performance. Competing with Streaming Stick+ is TV Stick 4K that is known for 4K HDR video rendering and quicker performance. Of all the Roku and Firestick models, Amazon’s Fire TV Cube is the priciest one ensuring you the best performance and built-in Alexa.
Both Stick 4K and Cube support Dolby Vision, Dolby Atmos decoding, and HDR10+. The Atmos one is required for Netflix. However, none of the Roku models come with these features. Firestick devices are also superior in recalling your position in recent apps than Roku devices wherein apps restart after exiting.
In short, Amazon’s Firestick devices are better models.
The lower line of both Roku and Firestick devices deliver HD content at 1080p, while their advanced models deliver at Ultra HD 4K. Both Roku and Firestick support Dolby Atmos audio, which is the best audio standard to enjoy a theatrical experience.
HDR support comes only from the two latest Roku devices but the support is only for HDR10. On the other hand, Firestick supports the most advanced HDR format, the Dolby Vision. While TV Stick and its Lite version support only HDR10, Stick 4K and Cube support both Dolby Vision and HDR10.
So, how does this matter to you? Well, Dolby Vision HDR is the best HDR video standard. It is superior to HDR10 in terms of sharpness, brilliance, and color integrity. However, for the latest standard to work, your TV should support it. If not, Roku and Firestick gadgets will have no difference in terms of performance.
Even in case of the audio, your speakers should support the latest standard. So, if your speakers and TV support Dolby Vision and Atmos, one of the latest Firestick devices should be your choice.
Both are easy to install but installing Roku is a breeze. You only need to connect the device to your TV, start the Internet, and make a Roku account. For the Amazon Firestick devices, the process differs a bit from that for the Fire Cube.
All Roku and Firestick models are USB-type gadgets due to which you can easily connect any of them to your TV. For improved performance, consider connecting the device to an electrical outlet using a USB cable.
Nevertheless, Roku seems to be one step ahead while installing its 4K versions. In other words, you will find it easier to install Roku Stick+ than a 4K version of Firestick. This is perhaps because the Fire Cube, the latest 4K HDR device from Amazon, is likely to demand one more step that includes the use of an Ethernet cable and adapter. Nevertheless, both of them are required only in a couple of situations.
A Roku device is quite comfortable for those who love to use apps on a smartphone. It features a simple, clean, and minimal interface. While the theme is changeable, the spotlight remains on the apps and functionality. The menus are light enough to load quickly.
The primary menu holds a series of icons for launching streaming apps swiftly. It takes no time to search for the most famous popular apps in its Channel Store section. Importance is given to the apps too such that you can organize them as you like.
A big advertisement does appear on the right side of the screen. However, it is not distracting at all. You will also love the Feed for following shows and movies and getting updates to know about any new content.
On the flip side, it is not easy to unfollowing any content. There is no separate menu with followed contents. Rather, you will have to manually look for a specific show, movie, or personality you followed and go to its menu to unfollow.
The Up Next list is handy, as it shows the automatically-added upcoming episodes. However, you cannot mark the watched episodes. However, its search utility is quite instinctive. All you have to do is select Search from the remote and find content as per its categories such as channel, genre, actor, director, and movie. Its suggestions related to the search input are commendable.
On the other hand, the menu of Firestick seems to be complicated and cluttered. There is no single launcher of apps but a series of individual rows showing recent apps, favorite apps, and a master list accessible via the home button. The home screen has many additional menus for apps, shows, and movies, each further split into suggested videos. There is also the possibility of curating your apps.
Upon the launch, the menus are flooded with the content of Amazon Prime. Even when you search, the recommendations belong to the Amazon network. For accessing content from other platforms such as Spotify and Netflix, you need to use the corresponding app separately. In short, this constant Amazon campaign can make you irritated.
As the importance is given to the style and not apps, hovering over the banner menus plays HD trailers. While this is a good way to make you view the content, it increases the load time. Unlike Roku, Firestick has ads across the content menus and in the front and center.
Conversely, its video playback and navigation utilities are awesome. Pausing content displays the scene’s actors and allows having a detailed overview of their history.
Undoubtedly, Roku has a superior interface.
Interestingly, the Firestick interface is superior when it comes to suggesting what to see without you navigating through different apps. The app list itself shows rows of suggested content to view, although most are from Amazon’s Prime Video platform. Although this is dominating, it is handy when indecision is governing you.
On the other hand, Roku follows a conservative approach when it comes to finding content. The Home screen’s Featured Free section highlights free movies and shows but has no way to tell what is new on Hulu or HBO. While Roku provides a curated section for different genres, it requires digging up many menu layers to view them.
When it comes to content digging, Amazon’s Firestick is better.
This aspect may not give a major difference between Roku and Firestick. However, it is worth knowing the minor gaps. Both of them provide all main streaming services along with a big list of categories and genres.
However, Roku seems to be ahead with its free app called Roku Channel offering a budding list of ad-supported content. You can even find videos for kids in the apps and free live channels such as MGM Sci-Fi and WeatherNation due to its drive of line expansion.
Roku and Firestick both allow searching content by voice. However, while Roku facilitates hands-free controls through Google Home and Echo speakers, they are limited in number and the composition is a bit awkward.
Firestick allows content directly via a voice remote in services more than that of Roku, including Netflix. In some services, you can easily switch to live channels. With an Echo speaker, launching any content is a breeze, as there is no need of the remote. Even Alexa assistant performs well by giving control over smart devices and playing security camera feeds. This is not possible on Roku devices.
This marks another main difference between Roku and Firestick. The remote of a Roku device features a headphone jack, which is handy for watching late at night without disturbing the sleep of others.
All you have to do is just connect the remote to your earphones. Instead of the remote, you can even enjoy private listening via a smartphone. Just open the Roku app on it and connect your earphones to the audio jack or via Bluetooth.
You can watch and listen privately via your earphones while increasing or decreasing the volume via the remote, earphone’s controls, or smartphone. The soundbar of your TV will go in mute mode.
On the other hand, the remote of Firestick has no headphone jack. This means private listening is only possible with wireless headphones. The only exception here is the Ultra model that offers premium JBL headphones. With Bluetooth headphones, the audio quality is not up to the mark due to the noticeable delay in rendering.
This is another main point of difference between Roku and Firestick. Roku comes with the guest mode feature, which is handy for those having guestrooms, hotels, resorts, and apartments on rent. The owners only need to make a guest account by submitting the date of signing in and signing out.
Then, the guests can use this account and can even import it. Through this account, your guests can access Roku without using or involuntarily modifying your accounts and suggestions.
The guest mode feature is unavailable on Amazon Firestick. Thus, your guests will be using your Amazon Firestick account.
Roku is a better option for those who, rather than a player, wish to invest in a TV featuring integrated streaming features. Interestingly, unlike the Roku players, a few Roku TVs come with Dolby Vision HDR support. It is easy to find them with a myriad of features and in different sizes from several popular sellers such as Walmart, TCL, Hisense, and Sharp.
On the other hand, TVs supporting the Firestick software are available only from Toshiba and Insignia and, that too, with a few options for sizes and features. So, do not expect a 70-inch TV with 4K HDR supporting Firestick operating system.
This is another distinguishing feature. The smartphone app of Roku works like an ancillary but advanced remote with all the features of the primary remote. It connects flawlessly to the Roku device. The app provides access to channels, keyboard-based search, and private listening. You get a trackpad too.
Above all, the Roku app works as a mirroring tool in which you can mirror the screen of your phone to the TV in no time. It is possible to play or browse from your phone and send the same to the TV. You can even use this feature for video calling wherein the screen is shown on the TV, not on your phone.
On the other hand, the mobile app of Firestick is quite elementary. It allows looking for content by typing from the keyboard, using the trackpad as a remote, and browsing content. There is no scope for private listening, though.
The app is reported to be somewhat erroneous, as it is common to get disconnected frequently from the Firestick device. This can be irritating apart from being time-consuming.
If you are someone who loves to play with technology, the Firestick platform is a better option. As it is made using Android as the base, you can easily enjoy some similar tech utilities. It is possible to use a Bluetooth controller to play games while sideloading apps unavailable in the store of Amazon.
There are more options for connecting with a wireless antenna. For instance, the Channels DVR utility can play live channels without compromising quality.
This feature is unavailable on Roku devices although you can use Plex DR and Table instead. It is a limited system. While it is possible to set private channels belonging to stores other than Roku, the options are only a few.
So, if you are a technical geek, Amazon’s Firestick is quite appreciable.
This is another main point of difference between Roku and Firestick. Roku has a robust track record for giving continual support to old models, as smart TVs and advanced players keep upgrading with new features and apps.
On the other hand, the Firestick platform is not very old but it has abandoned some streaming devices on older Android versions. Although the features remain the same, it does not indicate continuous app support.
Nevertheless, for both platforms, app makers could not opt to assist older hardware. For example, YouTube TV is incompatible with the original firestick as well as with some older Roku devices.
So, if you are looking for long-lasting support, Roku is for you.
Which is Better: Roku or Firestick?
Evidently, Roku and Firestick share many common features and apps. They provide affordable players that can connect with any flat-panel TV and offer access to a myriad of streaming services, ranging right from Disney+ to YouTube TV.
Tilling somewhat deeper exposes a few logical differences between the two. While Roku focuses on simplicity, Firestick highlights flashiness. The former offers expansive models to appeal to each budget range, while the latter offers a few but effective models with an extensive interface.
For ease of use and those who are new to the world of streaming, Roku is ideal. Firestick is for those who are okay to have a learning curve. In short, it all depends on your personal preference.