Roku vs Fire TV vs Chromecast vs Apple TV 4K: Which streaming device is best?

(Clockwise from top left) A Roku Streaming Stick, a Fire TV Stick, the Chromecast with Google TV and the Apple TV 4K.
(Image credit: Henry T. Casey / Tom's Guide)

There are streaming device Black Friday deals on Rokus, Fire TV Sticks, Chromecasts and even the Apple TV 4K, but that's only half of the process. Some out there may still be trying to figure out which platform is best for their streaming.

So, I figured this was a good opportunity to leverage my expertise. I've tested (and often reviewed) every single streaming device that's come across Tom's Guide over the last few years. In that time I've gotten a good sense of how these devices differ, and who's right for what. And I stay aware of the updates with a closet full of all the recently released models.

Below, you'll find not only my advice on which streaming devices are right for which users, but — wait — that's not it. I'm also throwing in our recommendations for each platform, and all of the top Black Friday deals on those streaming devices. All in a compact and easy to digest manner, so you can get back to streaming.

You should buy a Roku if you like to keep it simple

I recently debated giving my parents an Apple TV 4K for the holidays. It's not a cheap gift, and it's the fastest streaming device, but I ultimately settled against it. Why? Because the Apple TV's remote is a touch-surface too sensitive, and they're used to the Roku's simplicity.

The Roku Streaming Stick 4K

(Image credit: Henry T. Casey)

While other streaming devices offer a ton of recommendations (Chromecast with Google TV, I'm looking at you) or seem to perpetually live on discount (i.e. Fire Sticks), Rokus are almost the Switzerland of streaming: they're quite neutral. The Roku remote has big blocky rubbery buttons, and they're all clicky. If you can use a smart phone, you can use a Roku.

Which Roku should you buy?

We recommend the Roku Streaming Stick 4K for most people. It's speedy enough, it's got a good remote and it's only $24 right now for Black Friday.

Roku Streaming Stick 4K: was $49 now $24 @ Amazon (opens in new tab)

Roku Streaming Stick 4K: was $49 now $24 @ Amazon (opens in new tab)
The latest version of Roku's popular streaming stick is our pick for the best streaming device you can buy, and that was before it dropped to a new low price. The Roku 4K offers access to all the streaming services you need via clean interface. Plus, Dolby Vision ensures solid picture quality to a strong standard, and the new long-range Wi-Fi receiver helps you ditch buffering issues.

Two kinds of people buy Fire TV Sticks

The Fire TV Stick is best known for being amazingly affordable. So much so that one might call them cheap. That is less of an insult, and part of the charm. Especially for those who don't need 4K, and are OK with the Fire TV interface (more on that below). With the rising cost of ... everything, and the ever-increasing number of streaming services (which are having their own price hikes), Fire TV Sticks offer a salvation for price sensitive folk.

A Thursday Night Football ad on the Fire TV home screen on a TV connected to the Fire TV Cube (2022)

(Image credit: Henry T. Casey / Tom's Guide)

Then, there are the other Fire Stick users, the side-loaders. Once you know how to side-load (our guide on how to install Kodi on the Fire TV Stick can show you how), you can run all kinds of software on your stick, and some of it may help you watch stuff for free. The legality of these services (which may be why they're not in the Amazon Fire TV app store), varies.

Both of these people have one thing in common: they're OK with Amazon's ad-heavy interface. This is the one bar that not all may want to cross, but it's probably not a line in the sand to many more.

Which Fire TV Stick should you buy?

We recommend the Fire TV Stick 4K Max for most people. It's the fastest Fire Stick (fixing a speed problem than annoys many). That said, if you're fine with waiting a little in exchange for saving cash up front, the Fire TV Stick 4K is probably a good call.

Fire TV Stick 4K: was $49 now $24 @ Amazon (opens in new tab)

Fire TV Stick 4K: was $49 now $24 @ Amazon (opens in new tab)
The Fire TV Stick 4K is one of the most popular streaming devices available with apps for all the leading services. Right now it's down to just $24. It offers 4K Ultra HD streaming at 60fps with HDR support and includes an Alexa Voice Remote. 

Fire TV Stick 4K Max: was $5 now (opens in new tab)

Fire TV Stick 4K Max: was $5 now $39 @ Amazon (opens in new tab)
The Fire TV Stick 4K Max is the ultimate Fire TV streaming device. Faster than the 4K, streaming apps and menu loading times are vastly reduced. It also features Wi-Fi 6 compatibility for even smoother streaming. 

Who should buy a Chromecast with Google TV?

If you love to 'cast your streams — sending a stream from your phone or laptop to your TV — your fate is cast. But you're not alone.

The Chromecast with Google TV 4K is one of our favorite streaming devices for a few different kinds of people. Those who want an all-around good streaming device with an excellent remote — Google's the only streaming device maker whose remote has an input-switch button, something many of us appreciate — have no reason not to get the Chromecast. 

The Chromecast with Google TV HD home screen with a DC League of Super Pets recommendation on a 4K TV

(Image credit: Henry T. Casey for Tom's Guide)

Also, those who want recommendations on what to watch will probably be well off with the Chromecast with Google TV, as it uses Google smarts to figure out what you'd probably like to watch.

Cord cutters? You're also going to want to pay attention, as the Chromecast's "live" section and home screen offer solid integrations with Sling TVYouTube TVPluto TV and Philo.

Which Chromecast should you buy?

This is going to be the first and only time we even think about recommending an HD streaming device, as both the 4K Chromecast and Chromecast with Google TV HD are pretty darn good. Choose your streamer based around the TV you're going to plug it into. 

Chromecast with Google TV (HD): was $29 now $19 @ Best Buy (opens in new tab)

Chromecast with Google TV (HD): was $29 now $19 @ Best Buy (opens in new tab)
The best HD streaming device, the Chromecast with Google TV offers an intiutive interface and provides easy access to all of the best streaming services, complete with HDR support. It also offers personal recommendations and lets you find stuff to watch via voice using the Google Assistant button.

Chromecast with Google TV (4K): was $50 now $40 @ Amazon (opens in new tab)

Chromecast with Google TV (4K): was $50 now $40 @ Amazon (opens in new tab)
Google's enhanced streaming device offers 4K resolution for the latest TVs and is $10 off right now through Google. In addition to HDR support for better colors and detail, the Chromecast with Google TV 4K delivers fast streaming performance and lets you control your smart home devices. 

The Apple TV 4K is for Apple users and those with a need for speed

The Apple TV 4K is my favorite streaming device, but it's not for everyone, especially when the new Apple TV 4K starts at $129. But as my Apple TV 4K (2022) review explained, it's the fast streaming device around — so you kinda get what you pay for.

The Apple TV 4K (2022), with the Siri remote propped on its right side.

(Image credit: Henry T. Casey / Tom's Guide)

Not only does the Apple TV 4K have the cleanest interface around, but its A12 Bionic (2021 model) and A15 Bionic processors open most apps faster than any other platform. Just look at the results I did from timing them all.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Time (in seconds) to load apps
Header Cell - Column 0 Apple TV 4K 2022Apple TV 4K 2021Amazon Fire TV Cube 2022Roku Ultra 2022Chromecast with Google TV 4KRoku Streaming Stick 4K
Netflix4414101717
YouTube2346613
Disney Plus4659713
Peacock66691110
HBO Max795879
Sling1213148199
Spotify3479311
Dead Cells78n/an/an/an/a
Pathless1820n/an/an/an/a

Which Apple TV 4K should you buy?

Honestly, most people should buy the Apple TV 4K (2021), at least on Black Friday. We've seen it as low as $79 — $100 off its MSRP. 

If you want the fastest Apple TV 4K, or care about the Matter smart home standard, there's a case to be made for the Apple TV 4K (2022), though it costs $70 more for the model with the Thread modem for Matter, and an Ethernet port for more-stable streaming.

Apple TV 4K (2021): was $179 now (opens in new tab)

Apple TV 4K (2021): was $179 now $79 @ Amazon (opens in new tab)
Lowest price!
The Apple TV 4K supports high-frame rate HDR streaming as well as support for multiple users. Apple has added a speedy A12 Bionic chip for snappy performance, but it's the new remote which we like the most. It retains touch and gestures, but adds actual buttons as well as an intuitive jog wheel that recalls the old iPods of yore. 

Henry T. Casey
Senior Editor

Henry is a senior editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.