With streaming services like Netflix and HBO Max dominating traditional programming, more Americans than ever before are turning to media players to bridge the gap between their apps and TVs. Two of the most popular streaming devices are produced by Amazon and Roku. During the first quarter of 2020, both were within a point of each other in popularity. In North America, 15.4% of people reported that they use Amazon Fire TV while 14.3% stated they were Roku customers. In fact, by means of streaming, the only other methods more popular were with smartphones and smart TVs.
Both Amazon and Roku have brand recognition and a reputation for reliability, but what makes them so different? Aside from their unique designs and interfaces, Roku and Amazon also part ways in picture quality, storage capacity, and more. Let’s see how each model stacks up against the rest.
Roku vs. Amazon features and specs
Roku’s line of media players far outweighs that of Amazon Fire TV by sheer numbers. However, some of Roku’s products like Premiere+ have been discontinued and are no longer available on its website. That said, you can still find these models at stores and other online venues. Here’s a comparison between all of Amazon and Roku’s products, designs, and features.
|Amazon Fire TV Stick||Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K||Amazon Fire TV Cube||Roku Express||Roku Express+||Roku Premiere||Roku Premiere+||Roku Streaming Stick||Roku Streaming Stick+||Roku Ultra LT||Roku Ultra|
|Dolby Vision support||No||Yes||Yes||No||No||No||No||No||No||No||No|
|Remote control||Alexa Voice remote||Alexa Voice Remote (2nd generation)||Alexa Voice Remote (2nd generation)||IR||IR||IR||IR, Wi-Fi Direct, Voice Search||IR, Wi-Fi Direct, Voice Search||IR, Wi-Fi Direct, Voice Search||IR, Wi-Fi Direct, Voice Search||IR, Wi-Fi Direct, Voice Search, with an headphone jack|
|Google Assistant compatible||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Dimensions||3.4 x 1.2 x 0.5 in||99 x 30 x 14 mm||86.1 x 86.1 x 76.9 mm||0.7 x 3.4 x 1.4 in||3.1 x 1.1 x 0.5 in||1.4 x 3.3. x 0.7 in||7 x 5 x 3.75 in||3.7 x 0.8 x 0.4 in||3.7 x 0.8 x 0.47 in||4.9 x 4.9 x 1 in||4.9 x 4.9 x 1 in|
Amazon Fire vs. Roku cost
When it comes down to price, Amazon and Roku match up pretty evenly. They both offer an affordable, mid-level, and premium option. But Roku provides more choice by way of design. Prices may fluctuate in stores from what’s listed on the chart above.
The savings get even better for Amazon streaming devices with a Prime membership — reducing the cost for Amazon Fire TV Stick ($29.99), Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K ($34.99), and Amazon Fire TV Cube ($99.99). If you’re intrigued so far, we recommend our complete review of the Fire TV Stick 4K. Or, if you’re looking for more power, then check out our thoughts on the Fire TV Cube.
Amazon Fire TV Stick costs the same as Roku Express at $29.99. But as the cheapest devices of their respected brands, you’ll have to settle for standard high-definition (HD) streaming quality. The Fire TV Stick is concealable, thanks to its flash drive-like design. This is reminiscent of — complete breakdown. By comparison, the Express comes in the form of a miniature set-top box that you can attach to your TV with an adhesive strip.
Another thing going for the Fire TV Stick is its remote. Unlike the basic infrared (IR) remote that’s included with Roku Express, Amazon Fire TV Stick equips you with a sleeker remote that uses voice controls. In essence, you could obtain the same voice feature with the Roku remote app and simply control your Roku Premiere with your smartphone. Ultimately, you get more bang for your buck with the Amazon Fire TV Stick, but higher value Roku products also offer similar features. To learn more about Roku’s selection of remotes, check out our full review.
After weighing each device by expense versus features, there are two clear winners— Roku Streaming Stick+ and Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K. Roku’s Streaming Stick+ is by far its most popular device. Priced at $49.99, it’s less than 4 inches long and plugs directly into your TV’s HDMI port. You’ll also receive a superior remote over the Express and Premiere models. Instead of the simple IR remote, you’ll get a Wi-Fi direct remote with voice search capabilities.
The Streaming Stick+ costs $10 more than Roku Premiere and is more suitable for 4K streaming since it supports 802.11AC. By paying a little more, you could upgrade to Roku Ultra LT ($79.99) and receive wireless connection and expanded storage.
Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K is more affordable than Roku’s Streaming Stick+, even without a Prime membership. The Fire TV Stick costs $39.99 and has a strikingly similar design to the Streaming Stick+. Although, where the Streaming Stick+ works well without a power adapter, Amazon’s Fire TV Stick 4K depends on the extra juice to function. The Fire Stick 4K is also accompanied by the 2nd generation Alexa Voice Remote.
Roku’s most premium model is its Ultra device. There’s no better way to learn the ins and outs of Roku Ultra than with our full analysis.
Available for $99.99, the Ultra provides a wireless connection to your TV, which is great for avoiding the clutter of messy cables. A quad-processor makes the Ultra Roku’s most powerful device. This is particularly useful for streaming higher resolutions, like 4K ultra-high-definition (UHD). And for a more stable connection, there’s an ethernet port giving you the option to plug directly into the wall. Otherwise, for video out, there’s the HDCP 2.2 HDMI 2.0a port. In addition to faster speeds, you’ll be able to enjoy additional storage with a MicroSD slot for things like apps and games. There’s also a USB port that’s perfect for personal media like photos and videos.
Amazon Fire TV Cube is a little more costly at $119.99. Although, with the aforementioned Prime membership, you can get it for the same price as the Roku Ultra. The Fire TV Cube is comparable to the Ultra in a lot of ways. For instance, it functions wirelessly with your TV and provides extra storage space. It has a Hexa-core processor and boasts a whopping 16 GB of storage, generating 8 more gigabytes than the Fire TV Stick and Fire TV Stick+. The Fire TV Cube also wields 8 microphones giving it superior far-field voice recognition. And as part of the Alexa-ecosystem, you can find, play, and search everything from your media to the weather by simply asking Alexa.
Roku vs. Amazon interface and personalization
The ideal user interface depends on you and your personal necessities. As a third-party device, Roku plays nice with a variety of apps and brands. Roku’s popular interface is utilized by smart TVs that include Hisense, TCL, and Westinghouse. By contrast, Amazon’s interface tends to favor its content over anything else. This is somewhat expected given that Amazon Studios produces tons of in-house movies and shows that it needs to hock. Still, Amazon’s advertisements seem a little distracting.
Once you get past the advertisements, Amazon’s interface is simple to navigate and displays your apps in a grid. A menu is scrawled across the top listing Home, Live Your Videos, Free, Movies, TV Shows, Apps, and Settings. If you hold down the Home button on your remote (the icon that resembles a house), then you’ll be redirected to a screen with the time along with a few additional features. These include a shortcut to your apps, a sleep feature, mirror mode, and settings.
There are a few ways you can customize your Amazon device. Sync up your mobile device, and your personal pictures appear as a screensaver when it’s not in use. The Your Videos section also contains purchased videos along with suggestions for titles Amazon’s algorithm thinks you’ll like. And if you have kids, then you can add a Child Profile in order to access parental settings.
Roku’s signature purple background fills the screen, displaying a gradient design that really makes your apps pop. Your most-used apps are featured at the top of the grid. But, say your go-to app is Disney+ and you want to make sure that it appears at the top of the screen. Customize the layout by repositioning your apps with the Roku remote. Press the Asterisk button on your remote and select Move channel.
The menu is accessible at the left-hand of the screen. From here, you’ll be able to scroll from your Home screen and downward to My Feed, Movie Store, TV Store, News, Search, Streaming Channels, and Settings. You also have the ability to change the theme of your background. Just navigate to your Settings, Select Theme, and Change Theme.
Roku vs. Amazon streaming quality
When choosing a streaming device, it’s best to keep your TV in mind. If you don’t have a 4K-capable TV, then you’ll probably want to consider a more affordable streaming device. Amazon Fire TV Stick, Roku Express, Roku Express+, and Roku Streaming Stick will fit the needs of most older TV models. It’s also important to note that not every video-on-demand app and cable-alternative service provides all-around 4K quality. For example, Hulu mostly streams in standard-definition (SD) and HD resolution while only making select titles available in 4K. And fuboTV is in its beta phase of 4K streaming, presenting a few available 4K channels.
However, when stacked up side-by-side, Amazon’s streaming devices take the edge over Roku. While both brands provide 4K-compatible models, this isn’t the be-all and end-all. Amazon and Roku use a high-dynamic-range (HDR) technology that improves picture quality by upscaling color, detail, and shadows. Unfortunately, Roku’s products don’t support Dolby Vision and, instead, are compatible with HDR10.
On the other hand, Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K plus the Fire TV Cube support Dolby Vision in addition to HDR10 and HDR10+. They provide superior audio, as well. You’ll be able to enjoy Dolby Atmos sound quality on your Fire TV devices (with the exception of the normal Fire TV Stick). Roku Ultra is also compatible with Dolby Atmos, but there seems to be an issue with Netflix. So, even though you’ll be able to stream Amazon Prime Video with Dolby Atmos using your Roku, if you were to switch over to Netflix, your sound quality would depreciate.
Roku vs. Amazon compatibility
With the exception of their wireless models, you’ll need to connect your Roku or Amazon device to your TV through its HDMI port. If you own an older TV and want to stream all of your apps, then Roku Express+ is the only game in town. In addition to an HDMI cable, you’ll also get a composite cable that’ll transform your outdated TV into a smart TV.
All of the latest versions of Roku support Google Assistant. And as of 2019, Roku works with Amazon’s virtual assistant, Alexa. But if you own an earlier generation model, you may encounter issues with either Alexa or Google Assistant since the firmware could be out of date.
Conversely, Alexa is native to Amazon, so you’ll get the best experience with it on your Fire TV device. But if you’d rather use Google Assistant, you can do so with a work-around.
The final cut
The best streaming device comes down to you and your preferences. If you’re new to the world of streaming, you’ll appreciate Roku’s simple interface and features. But if you have an Amazon Prime membership, you’ll find better prices with its Fire TV devices. This is especially useful if you’re someone who owns Amazon products or uses its Alexa app. Ultimately, we recommend Amazon’s Fire TV Stick 4K and Fire TV Cube for their superior audio and visual qualities.
Want to learn more about Roku and its devices? We breakdown all of Roku’s designs, features, pricing, and more in our extended review.