Recent developments in smart TV sticks and streaming devices has made it so easy to access your favourite streaming services even when your TV is far from the latest model. But, with so many streaming sticks on the market, which one should you buy?
In this guide we compare two of the biggest brands in streaming, Roku and Amazon, to help you make that decision. Because, while Amazon may be one of the biggest brands in the world, Roku shouldn’t be ruled out of the fight. The brand is a streaming device specialist with a good track record of making affordable streaming devices.
To see which smart TV range comes out on top, we will compare a range of features including price, design, voice control and the variety of apps and channels available.
We will be focusing our attention on the brand’s mid-range devices, the Roku Premiere and original Amazon Fire TV Stick but we have also included a full breakdown of every device on offer from both Roku and Amazon so that you can see how far your budget will stretch and whether its worth spending a little extra.
To find out more about Amazon Fire TV devices, read our Amazon Fire TV Stick review and Amazon Fire TV Cube review. And if you’re thinking of giving your TV an upgrade, then our which TV to buy guide isn’t to be missed, or try our Chromecast vs Fire TV Stick explainer.
Roku vs Fire Stick: what’s the difference?
Roku Premiere and the Amazon Fire TV Stick are both brilliant mid-range smart TV sticks that allow you to watch streaming services such as Netflix, Disney+ (which is soon to launch Star on Disney Plus, a new channel aimed at adults) and Amazon Prime Video on older and ‘non-smart’ TVs.
And while they both do this job well, there are some features, apps and design elements that can only be found on specific smart TV sticks.
Both the Roku Premiere and Amazon Fire TV Stick have a RRP of £39.99. For this price, the Amazon Fire TV Stick offers full HD streaming and voice search via the new Alexa remote.
Roku have done one better with their Premiere media player and it provides 4K streaming capabilities. If you are after 4K streaming from Amazon, you will need to pay an extra £10 for the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K. You’ll also need a 4K television – for more information about what these our, read our what is a 4K TV explainer.
The Roku Express is almost identical to the Roku Premiere except that it only streams in HD and the media player itself is a little more square. In comparison, the Amazon Fire TV Stick Lite is a more stripped back version of the original Fire TV Stick and lacks small features such as volume and power buttons on the remote.
The Amazon Fire TV Stick was updated in 2020 to include a much-requested feature – power and volume buttons on the remote. Admittedly, they also made the smart TV stick 50 per cent more powerful than its 2019 predecessor but the simple addition of the buttons means you no longer have to switch between remotes to turn the volume up or down.
The Roku Premiere does not have volume buttons but it does have shortcuts to Netflix, Spotify and Google Play. The streaming device also comes with the free Roku mobile app that includes an extra remote and the volume can be adjusted this way.
The app also contains a feature unique to Roku called the ‘Private Listening’ mode. This function allows you to listen to your TV audio with headphones via the Roku mobile app. A great feature if you have an unconventional sleep pattern or just simply don’t want to disturb others in the house.
When it comes to the interface itself, it is fairly intuitive but Amazon definitely makes sure that its own content from Prime Video is prominent. This is great if you have an Amazon Prime Video membership but could be mildly irritating if not.
Roku’s homepage is simple and user-friendly, but is also a lot more neutral. Because Roku does not have its own streaming service (though it does have The Roku Channel), this might be a better option for those who want a single place to access all their channels, subscriptions and apps from a range of providers.
Both the Roku Premiere and Amazon Fire TV Stick allow you to control the TV with your voice. With the Amazon Fire TV Stick it comes in the form of a button on the remote, and on the in-app remote for Roku.
In both of these occasions, you hold down the button to speak and the smart TV sticks will pull up the requested content. We have reviewed both of these devices and found them to be fast responding with manual and voice searches and had no problem understanding our requests.
If you would prefer to use voice search as the primary way of navigating these streaming devices, you many benefit from investing in the Amazon Fire TV Cube. At £109.99, it is more expensive than both the mid-range devices we’ve been discussing but it is more powerful.
The Fire TV Cube is a result of Amazon combining its streaming device with an Amazon Echo smart speaker. This means that the voice search is more sophisticated and you can control your TV simply by speaking aloud to Alexa – no button needed.
The Fire TV Cube can also be used to control other smart home devices such as lights, plugs, thermostats and other smart speakers. It is a great option if you want more than to simply access your streaming services.
To find out if you’d be better off with the Fire TV Cube, read our Amazon Fire TV Cube review.
Apps and channels
As we’ve mentioned, Amazon does like to show off its services on the Fire TV homepage. Amazon Prime Video shows are front and centre on the Amazon Fire TV Stick but both media players offer a great range of apps.
Roku also has Prime Video and they both offer access to the likes of Disney+, Netflix, BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, Spotify, NOW TV, BT Sport and YouTube.
These same apps and channels are available whether you choose the cheaper Roku Express or the more sophisticated Fire TV Cube.
Both streaming sticks can also be used to cast your photos and videos from your mobile phones (iOS/Android) to your TV.
Roku overview: what smart TV sticks are available?
There are three smart TV sticks in Roku’s main range. These are:
The Roku Express is the cheapest streaming device from Roku. Offering HD streaming, the media player has a RRP of just £29.99 and other features including casting photos, voice search and the Private Listening mode.
The mid-range offering from Roku, the Roku Premiere provides HD and 4K streaming of your favourite Netflix, Disney+ and NOW TV shows. The media player is thinner than that of the Roku Express but still gives you access to all of the same features.
Roku Streaming Stick+
The Roku Streaming Stick+ is the brand’s most expensive dedicated streaming device and streams HD, 4K Ultra HD, and HDR. The media player is in a stick-style so can be hidden behind the TV unlike the other two Roku devices but has many of the same features including voice search and Private Listening mode.
Amazon Fire TV Stick overview: what smart TV sticks are available?
Amazon’s smart TV stick range is now made up of four devices. These include:
Amazon Fire TV Stick Lite
The Amazon Fire TV Stick Lite was released in 2020 and is now Amazon’s cheapest smart TV stick. The remote does not have power or volume buttons but it does have voice search and HD streaming.
Amazon Fire TV Stick
The Amazon Fire TV Stick was also updated in 2020 and now features power and volume buttons on its Alexa remote. The smart TV stick plugs into the back of the TV so is relatively hidden and is 50 per cent more powerful than the 2019 model.
Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K
With a RRP of £49.99, the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K offers HD and 4K streaming. Other features include voice search and the same Alexa remote as the original Fire TV Stick. It also supports live camera feeds, can check the weather, dim lights, and stream music.
Amazon Fire TV Cube
The most powerful, and most expensive, streaming device from Amazon. The Fire TV Cube is the fastest Fire TV model and can control a compatible soundbar, lights, smart plugs and other speakers. For £109.99, it also supports Dolby Vision and Atmos.
Which smart TV stick should you buy?
This decision largely comes down to how much you watch Amazon Prime Video and how many other Amazon subscriptions you have. If the answer for both of these questions is ‘a lot’, you would probably benefit from getting an Amazon Fire TV device over a Roku smart TV stick.
Amazon Prime Video shows and movies are prominent on the Fire TV homepage and this may become a nuisance if you have no interest in watching any of it. Though, voice search somewhat negates this because you don’t have to manually scroll.
However, it is also worth considering that while both the Roku Premiere and Amazon Fire TV Stick are the same price, the Fire TV Stick only streams in HD while the smart TV stick from Roku also offers 4K. If you do own a 4K TV, it may benefit you to buy the Roku Premiere to get the most from it.
Amazon Fire TV Stick: