Roku vs. Amazon Fire TV Stick: Finding the best streamer

Roku vs. Amazon Fire TV Stick: Finding the best streamer
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A Roku and Amazon Fire TV stick on a purple background with a versus symbol.

Roku vs. Fire TV: Setup and design

A side-by-side photo of the Roku and Amazon Fire TV Stick.

Yes, these are different. We promise.
Credit: Samantha Mangino / Mashable

With nearly identical designs, the setup processes for the Roku and Fire TV sticks should be similar, right?

The Roku was a breeze. I plugged the stick into an HDMI port in the back of my TV to get started. It powers up through a USB charger, and since I have a USB plug on the back of my TV, I just powered it up through that. This was so clutch as it kept all the cords tidy. I just needed to start up the remote and log in, and I was ready to go.

Because I am impatient and occasionally bad at following instructions, I fumbled a step on the setup, but it ultimately proved to be foolproof and had no issue. The setup screen asks you questions about which pre-download apps are for you, so I just had to log in to start streaming. I watched the latest Love Island within 15 minutes of opening the box.

The Fire TV Stick? That’s a whole different story. The stick of the Fire TV Stick is thicker than the Roku’s, so much so that I couldn’t plug it directly into my TV because it crowded the other HDMI cables already plugged in. Luckily, Amazon includes an HDMI adaptor for this issue. However, it means the Fire Stick ended up peaking out of the side of the TV, which is not ideal if you’re trying to create the ultimate home entertainment center.

A TV showing the Fire TV logo on the screen.

That little black tail peeking out on the right? Bane of my existence.
Credit: Samantha Mangino / Mashable

To power up the Fire TV, I also used the USB plug because I didn’t want to string the power cord along the back. Unfortunately, when the Fire TV Stick turned on, it informed me that the USB port wasn’t a big enough power source, confounding considering it had no problem powering up the Roku.

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Once I begrudgingly connected it to my power strip, it turned on, and the second conundrum came with the Fire TV Stick. 

Amazon offers the option of setting up its streaming device with the Fire TV app or the included remote. I chose the app since I hate typing with the remote and on-screen keyboards. However, even after following the instructions, the app couldn’t find the device over the network, so I had to set it up manually.

There is more to the saga. Once I connected my Fire Stick to my network, it powered on and went through one update, which was annoying but acceptable. Until it went through another update… and then another. I sat through 20 minutes of three different updates on the Fire TV Stick. In that amount of time, I was already streaming on my Roku.

It then took me through several screens offering free trials of apps I had no need for before I finally got to the home screen and started manually adding apps.

My partner, who left the room when I started the setup, came in right as I finished and remarked, “You’re just now finishing?” My thought exactly.

Winner: Roku

Roku vs. Fire TV: Ease of use

TV screen showing the Roku home page.

Credit: Samantha Mangino / Mashable

TV screen showing the Fire TV home page.

Credit: Samantha Mangino / Mashable

I don’t love the home pages of either the Amazon Fire TV Stick or the Roku. Both are filled with ads, but one is more flagrant than the other.

Both devices come with lots of pre-downloaded apps I didn’t need. Looking at it, I felt my body tense up with the deep desire to organize both pages rather than leave them in chaos.

Organizing the Roku home page was straightforward but tedious. I needed to arrange and delete apps individually, one at a time. The default clicking noises on the Roku was rather grating on the ears, but luckily, I discovered you can change the themes and settings of the home page, which also changes the sounds. Roku’s ads stay contained to one side while the apps are neatly organized in the center.

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Generally, I like the Roku home page better than Amazon because I would politely describe the Amazon home page as a mess. Unsurprisingly, it prioritizes Amazon Prime programming and ads, so the home page is littered with just that. There’s no convenient way to access and view all your apps directly on the home screen. Instead, your app library has to be clicked into, and even then, it needs to be more organized. However, if you watch Prime Video frequently, you’ll love the Fire TV Stick as it keeps your most recently watched Prime shows bookmarked at the top, clearly a ploy to keep you watching Prime Video over any other streaming service.

TV screen showing a beverage ad.

Just one of the many ads slowing down the Fire TV Stick.
Credit: Samantha Mangino / Mashable

The Fire TV Stick is also so, so slow. Sometimes it’s painful! Moving between apps and clicking through options on the home screen is very buggy, with delays between clicks, which is beyond frustrating. If the system wasn’t so bogged down by its own ads, it could probably go faster. Plus, after the first time I set up the Fire Stick, every time I powered it on, it required an update. Just a total slog when you want to get to the next episode of Bridgerton ASAP.

Both remotes easily connect to my complete TV system, controlling the volume. They have all the similar controls, including an arrow pad, play/pause, rewind/fast forward, volume, back, and home available as buttons. Each remote also has four buttons to take you directly to apps. 

The Amazon Fire TV Stick includes Netflix, Prime Video, DirectTV, and Peacock, while the Roku remote includes Netflix, Prime Video, Disney+, and Apple TV+. I never found myself using the buttons, but if you do, you can choose the one that prioritizes your preferred streamers.

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The Fire TV Stick’s advantage over Roku is its voice controls. Both Roku and Amazon Fire TV Stick have voice control buttons, where you can speak into the remote and ask it to search for shows, open apps, or even just hit pause. Fire TV Stick’s voice controls work slightly faster and smoother than Roku’s. Otherwise, Roku’s system is consistently more rapid, organized, and easier to use.

Winner: Roku

Roku vs. Fire TV: Streaming quality

TV screen showing an episode of Love Island.

For all its faults, the Fire TV Stick delivered a beautiful view of the Love Island villa.
Credit: Samantha Mangino / Mashable

Many usability features can be overlooked if it streams well, and because of that, the Fire Stick almost caught up here.

I don’t think my TV buffered once during my entire time using Roku. Even the first time I loaded Paramount+ (a notoriously buggy app, in my opinion), the Survivor episode took a few seconds to load. Still, when the episode started, it was crystal clear. All Roku apps are created equally because no matter what streaming service I was logged into, the picture quality was fantastic with no buffering.

The Fire TV Stick was overall less impressive than the Roku; however, when it came time to stream, it didn’t bother me nearly as much as it did in other areas. I gave it the same test, loading up an episode to stream, and at first, it fumbled. Some brief buffering quickly dissipated, and then the picture cleared.

After that initial buffering incident, the Fire TV Stick streamed clearly. The main difference I noted was how each system navigated. The Roku, as expected, moved quickly, while the Fire TV Stick experienced constant lag when trying to pick a show to watch.

Winner: Roku

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