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Fire TV Stick 4K Max vs Fire TV Stick 4K: What should you buy?

The Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max and the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K
(Image credit: Amazon)

Amazon's new Fire TV Stick 4K Max is very much like the popular Fire TV Stick 4K ... just a bit more to the max. And since we just published our full Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max review, we thought it was time for a face-off against its physically identical sibling. 

Aside from the remote, the differences between the two Sticks aren't visible at first glance, but you'll find a neat set of perks once we drill down in this Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max vs Fire TV Stick 4K face-off. One difference between the two Fire Sticks is that only one is on our list of the best streaming devices. But which one is it? Let's find out.

When we wrote our Fire TV Stick 4K review, we never saw performance as a flaw in the streaming stick. But over time, as that model stood still and other competitors got faster, it wasn't hard to see that Amazon's UHD streaming device could use a little more speed.

Let's see how they stack up:

Fire TV Stick 4K Max vs Fire TV Stick 4K: Specs

Fire TV Stick 4K MaxFire TV Stick 4K
Starting price$49.99$54.99
ResolutionUp to 4K UHD at 60 fpsUp to 4K UHD at 60 fps
ProcessorQuad-core 1.8GHz (750MHz GPU)Quad-core 1.7 GHz (650MHz GPU)
WirelessWi-Fi 6, 802.11a/b/g/n/ac/ax802.11a/b/g/n/ac
Dimensions4.25 x 1.18 x 0.55 inches4.25 x 1.18 x 0.55 inches
ColorsBlackBlack
AudioDolby Atmos, 7.1 surround sound, 2-channel stereo and HDMI audio pass through up to 5.1Dolby Atmos, 7.1 surround sound, 2-channel stereo and HDMI audio pass through up to 5.1
VideoHDR10, HDR10+, Dolby VisionHDR10, HDR10+, Dolby Vision
RemoteAlexa Voice Remote w/ Live TV and App buttonsAlexa Voice Remote
Live View picture-in-pictureYesNo

Fire TV Stick 4K Max vs Fire TV Stick 4K: Price and value

The Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max costs $54.99, a mere $5 more than the $49.99 Fire TV Stick 4K. Those prices are far from permanent, as Amazon often puts its own hardware on sale. Right now the Fire TV Stick 4K is currently $33.99.

As we'll explain throughout this piece, you get small perks in exchange for that extra cash. If the difference in pricing is closer to the $5 price of their regular MSRP, we'd give this category to Fire TV Stick 4K Max. At this very moment, the Fire TV Stick 4K is the better deal. But that could change whenever Amazon's sales adjust.

Winner: Draw (depends on the day)

Fire TV Stick 4K Max vs Fire TV Stick 4K: Audio and video

The Fire TV Stick 4K Max and Fire Stick 4K are exactly identical when it comes to the sound and picture of the shows and movies you'll watch. And because of that we expect many to just pick the cheaper option.

Both sticks stream at 4K UHD at 60 fps, and both support the high-end video quality Dolby Vision, HDR 10 and HDR10+ formats, which should ensure stronger and bolder colors.

The movie Midsommar on an Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max

(Image credit: Henry T. Casey)

The story stays the same on audio output. Both 4K Fire TV sticks support the Dolby Atmos sound standard, which looks to give you a spatial audio experience where the sounds of the shows you listen to are supposed to surround you.

To that end, both Fire TV Sticks support 7.1 surround sound speaker setups, 2-channel stereo and 5.1 channel-audio via HDMI audio pass through.

Winner: Tie

Fire TV Stick 4K Max vs Fire TV Stick 4K: Performance

Okay, here's where the differences kick in. And while Amazon claims that Fire TV Stick 4K Max is "40% more powerful," you won't see that much of a difference in every department. The Fire TV Stick 4K Max's new processor is one of the ways it improves, with a 1.8GHz quad-core CPU and 750MHz GPU (the normal Fire TV Stick 4K's got a 1.7GHz quad-core CPU and a 650MHz GPU).

That said, the Fire TV Stick 4K Max offers snappier menu navigation, something I've always had an issue with when it comes to Amazon devices. 

Fire TV home screen on Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max

(Image credit: Henry T. Casey)

To try and test them in similar situations, I tried loadings apps from a fresh, restarted state. Disney Plus loaded in 8.87 seconds on the Fire TV Stick 4K Max, shedding 34% of the Fire TV Stick 4K's 13.47-second load time. My stopwatch wasn't exactly necessary for this test, as the animated "Disney+" logo stuttered on the Fire TV Stick 4K, and not on Fire TV Stick 4K Max. Similarly, Netflix loaded in 1.38 seconds on the Fire TV Stick 4K Max and 20 seconds to load on the Fire TV Stick 4K.

The YouTube app was a different story. The Fire TV Stick 4K Max loaded the program in 5.64 seconds, only a little more than a second faster than the 6.91 time from the normal 4K stick.

Live TV screen on Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max

(Image credit: Henry T. Casey)

Actually watching content is a dead-heat, as I saw when I timed how long it took to start the Black Widow movie on the Disney Plus app. The retro comics of the Marvel Studios logo appeared 8.89 seconds in on the 4K Max, and at 8.41 seconds on the Fire TV 4K, and since those times are so especially close, I'm willing to chalk this one up to a difference in how fast my fingers can tap my stopwatch.

Amazon's also upgraded the wireless modem in the Fire TV Stick 4K Max to support Wi-Fi 6 / 802.11a/b/g/n/ac/ax. To see the differences, you'll need a Wi-Fi 6 router (which doesn't feel like a must-have yet, though it's something we will probably get sooner or later). 

Winner: Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max

Fire TV Stick 4K Max vs Fire TV Stick 4K: Apps and software

FireTV apps screen on TV turned to Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max

(Image credit: Henry T. Casey)

No matter which Fire TV device you buy, you get the same apps and interface. That means both the Fire TV Stick 4K Max vs Fire TV Stick 4K have the same 12,700+ apps. 

That includes the best streaming services, such as HBO Max, Netflix and Hulu, as well as Disney Plus, Plex, Paramount Plus and more. 

Both devices also have the same version of the Fire TV OS.

Winner: Draw

Fire TV Stick 4K Max vs Fire TV Stick 4K: Design

The Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max (top) and Fire TV Stick 4K (below)

(Image credit: Henry T. Casey)

In a week's time, after I've not seen these Fire Sticks in my hand, when the Max is still tucked away behind my TV, I don't know if I'd be able to tell you which Stick is which. As you can see above, they are rectangular dongles of the exact same shape and size (4.25 x 1.18 x 0.55 inches), with HDMI ports.

The only thing that differentiates them (aside from the fine print with their respective model numbers) is the logos. The older Fire TV Stick 4K only has the Amazon "smile arrow" logo, while the Fire TV Stick 4K Max has a smaller version of that 'smile' with the 'fire tv' branding above it.

Winner: Tie

Fire TV Stick 4K Max vs Fire TV Stick 4K: Features

The Live View picture in picture mode on Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max, with the feed of a delivery person in the corner of a yoga routine video

(Image credit: Amazon)

One new feature stands between the Fire TV Stick 4K Max and its slightly more affordable sibling — and it's not a boon to the 'streaming' that we think about when we're talking about the best streaming devices. 

The Fire TV Stick 4K Max lets you check your connected home security camera feeds around your home with Live View Picture-in-Picture feature (formerly exclusive to the Fire TV Cube). 

Another smart home feature (which isn't available yet, but is coming soon) for the Fire TV Stick 4K Max is the ability to wirelessly connect to the best Alexa speakers for "immersive audio" (Amazon's words).

Winner: Fire TV Stick 4K Max

Fire TV Stick 4K Max vs Fire TV Stick 4K: Remotes

The Fire TV Stick 4K Max and Fire TV Stick 4K remotes

(Image credit: Henry T. Casey)

The Fire TV Stick 4K Max and Fire Stick 4K have very similar Alexa Voice Remotes, but  Amazon added five new buttons for the Max's remote. The value of those buttons may vary depending on the services you use. 

Cord cutters will likely love the Live TV button (right under the Fast Forward), which jumps you to the Live TV Guide (which you can connect to your live TV service of choice under Settings > Live TV > Sync Sources > select your source). 

The Live TV screen on the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max

(Image credit: Henry T. Casey)

The other four buttons are dedicated app buttons that you may have seen on Roku remotes. It doesn't matter if you don't subscribe to Hulu, Disney Plus, Netflix or Prime Video (though that would be surprising, considering this is an Amazon device), you're getting buttons for those apps, and you can't remap those to any other programs. We think of these buttons as a sort of minorly insidious way to advertise for services (Amazon likely gets paid a ton by these companies). That said, if you use those services (and they are popular) you're probably not offended by their presence.

Oh, and they changed the Alexa button from a black button with a microphone logo to a blue button with the Alexa logo. This isn't a huge change, but it does help that button stand out visually.

Winner: Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max

Fire TV Stick 4K Max vs Fire TV Stick 4K: Scorecard and verdict

Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K MaxAmazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max
Price and value (15 points)1212
Audio and video (20 points)2020
Performance (15 points)1411
Remote (10 points)108
Apps (10 points)1010
Features (15 points)1513
Design (15 points)1515
Total (100 points)9691

This scorecard shows that the difference between the Fire TV Stick 4K Max vs Fire TV Stick 4K is, in academic terms, an A- vs an A+. The original Fire TV Stick 4K is still pretty damn good, but the 4K Max is just a bit better in a few ways. 

The Fire TV Stick 4K Max has the speed advantage (though it's not as grand as we'd hoped), a few extra buttons on its remote and a couple of new special features for the smart home. And if the price difference between the two is only $5, we'd say go with the Fire TV Stick.

Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max and remote alongside the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K and its remote

(Image credit: Henry T. Casey)

But if Amazon drops the Fire TV Stick 4K to a much lower price and widens the gap between them, you may want to just go with the Fire TV Stick 4K. When it comes to actually streaming shows and movies, it's just as good as its counterpart (unless you have a Wi-Fi 6 router). 

And for those who are debating upgrading? Well, we're not sure if smart home camera and speaker support, a bit more speed and that new remote seem like they're worth $55, when you already have a good streaming stick. The choice is yours.

Kelly Woo

Kelly covers streaming media for Tom’s Guide, so basically, she watches TV for a living. Previously, she was a freelance entertainment writer for Yahoo, Vulture, TV Guide and other outlets. When she’s not watching TV and movies for work, she’s watching them for fun, seeing live music, writing songs, knitting and gardening.