The arrival of 4K-ready streaming sticks means more devices to choose from, and potentially more confusion. But if you don't want to spend more than $50 on a device, the choice is actually pretty simple: Do you get an Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K ($50) or a Roku Premiere ($40). The two devices can deliver UHD content from dozens of channels, and full-HD content from thousands.
The Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K is a much better device on most counts. While the Roku Premiere has a few small touches in its favor, it's generally not worth the $10 savings, though for a certain of subset of users, it may fit the bill.
Read on to find out which one better suits your streaming lifestyle.
Physical design isn't usually all that important for streaming devices; after all, one small black box or stick is pretty much like another. But the Roku Premiere goes beyond looking unattractive; it's functionally obnoxious.
Rather than a stick or a solid box, the Premiere is a tiny, lightweight little cylinder, the size and weight of a small cigar. It doesn't plug directly into an HDMI slot, dongle-style. As such, the force of the average HDMI cable will hoist it up and make it dangle. You can use an included adhesive strip to tape down the Roku Premiere, but if you ever need to move it after that, good luck.
By contrast, the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K is, well, a streaming stick. It plugs directly into an HDMI port. However, at 4.1 x 1.2 inches, the device is a bit on the big side (most streaming sticks are around 3 inches long), and it requires an external power source to work properly. Neither design decision is ideal. But it's still a better experience than trying to finagle the tiny Premiere into place.
Winner: Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K. A straightforward streaming stick design saves users a lot of headaches, particularly if they ever want to transport the device.
The one area where the Roku Premiere enjoys a major advantage over the Fire TV Stick 4K is in its interface. Roku has had the best interface in the streaming game for quite a few years now, with only the Apple TV giving it a serious run for the money. (And that costs $180 for a 4K variant — not exactly a budget device.) Roku has clear, clean, lightweight menus, which let you customize your home screen with your favorite apps and a variety of attractive themes. The system could not be more attractive or simpler to use.
In contrast, the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K is all about that Amazon Prime content. Do you have a Prime subscription? Because the very first thing the Fire TV Stick does when you set it up is show you a video about how much better your life would be if you do. Past two initial rows of apps, the home screen is nothing but a long string of Amazon recommendations. Almost every other tab is a long line of Amazon-curated TV and movies, while the music and photo apps default to you — you guessed it — Amazon. It's functional, but it comes on a little too strong.
Winner: Roku Premiere. The Premiere has a clean, customizable interface that prioritizes what you want to watch, rather than what Amazon wants you to watch.
Content and Apps
Both the Roku and the Fire TV Stick 4K have access to more than 5,000 apps apiece. That includes Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, Spotify, Pandora, PlayStation Vue, Sling TV, Google Play TV and Movies and so forth. You can even access films you bought through iTunes, provided you've activated your Movies Anywhere account.
There are only two major differences between the platforms: the Roku Premiere doesn't have any decent games; the Amazon stick does. But the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K doesn't have a dedicated YouTube app like Roku does due to Amazon's spat with Google. Since you can still use YouTube through a web browser, though, it's not a huge loss. Having a big selection of thoroughly decent games, from Shovel Knight to Knights of the Old Republic, is admittedly pretty cool.
Winner: Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K. The content selection on the two platforms is almost identical, but having some killer games doesn't hurt.
Roku's search is top-notch; in fact, if not for Apple's surprisingly nuanced voice recognition, Roku's search would be positively unparalleled. Using either text entry or your voice, you can trawl hundreds of different services, which will then direct you to the best place to watch just about any piece of content imaginable — or show you strange behind-the-scenes clips that you didn't even know existed.
By contrast, Amazon's search is much more straightforward. It can find dozens of apps, true, but only if you've installed them first. As such, its primary function isn't really to find stuff for you to watch — it's just to show you where to get it for the cheapest price. Once again, Amazon's focus on its own content kneecaps the Fire TV Stick here, since there are a few extra steps involved with finding non-Amazon sources.
Winner: Roku Premiere. Roku wins this one by both sheer numbers and ease of use.
Remember when I said that the Roku Premiere's design was a serious flaw? Part of the reason why is how the device interacts with the remote control. Unless you pony up $50 for the Premiere+, you'll get a simple line-of-sight remote. Naturally, this is a problem if you stick the Premiere behind your TV, or if you're not sitting directly in front of your entertainment center.
Compare and contrast the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K remote. Not only does it come with a voice-search feature, but it can also pair with your TV to control power and volume. And you don't need a direct line of sight to use it.
Winner: Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K. More buttons and better functionality make this an easy win for Amazon.
The Roku Premiere is cheaper than the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K, it's true. But your extra $10 buys you a better design and a much better remote. The Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K feels inexpensive; the Roku Premiere feels cheap.
Winner: Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K. Ten extra dollars for a remote that controls your entire TV is worth the cost increase.
After testing both devices extensively, I found that the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K is simply a better experience where it counts. The design and the remote control alone make it a better device. Those count for a lot, considering that 90 percent of your experience with a streaming stick is simply picking something to watch, and playing it.
|Roku Premiere||Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K|
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The Roku Premiere isn't a bad choice if you have a perfect line-of-sight location to place it, but there's just not much reason to recommend it when a much, much better product costs only $10 more. Granted, you could upgrade to the $60 Roku Streaming Stick+, which is arguably still the best streaming device on the market — but that's another face-off.
Credit: Tom's Guide