A Roku, Amazon Fire Stick or the new Google Chromecast with Google TV?

  What’s the difference between a Roku, a Fire Stick, and the Google Chromecast? The answer is both not much and a lot. 

How is that possible? It depends on what you subscribe to and what you’d like to watch.

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Roku devices have long been a favorite among cord-cutters because it was the first of these three companies to release a device that pulls in streaming services from multiple other companies. The first Roku was released in 2008, long before most of us even dreamed we’d be able to cut the cord and still watch TV shows and movies.

The best Roku for most people is the Roku Streaming Stick+ (currently $29) for many reasons. It is 4k/HDR compatible to watch whatever 4k/HDR content from your streaming services. Even if you don’t have a 4K TV I’d still recommend the Streaming Stick+ to future-proof your device. The Streaming Stick+ is about $50 which isn’t too bad for all the content you can watch for free through the Roku Channel, Pluto, Tubi, and others. The Roku interface or screen is very clean and uncluttered. All of the apps or channels appear as tiles which can be reorganized to put your favorites near the top. There are hundreds of channels to add to the home screen for music, comedy, health and fitness, and children’s channels. A bonus now is that you can stream or cast content from your smartphone through the Roku and onto the TV screen. The only knock on the Roku devices is that they won’t play or stream HBO Max (at least as I’m writing this). 

Roku doesn’t play HBO Maxx, Chromecast doesn’t play Apple TV+

Amazon Fire Sticks (currently $29) are popular with Amazon Prime Members of course. The most popular is the Fire Stick 4K which is about $50 and streams content 4K. Amazon Prime has quite a bit of 4K programs and movies so it’s wise to choose this one if you’re set on an Amazon device for a primary TV. For other TVs in the house that you only watch casually, I’d suggest checking out the new Fire Stick Lite. It also plugs directly into an HDMI port on the back or side of the TV. These are listed now on Amazon for $25 but I’ve seen the price drop to under $18 in recent weeks. Like other Amazon devices, it’ll probably drop in price again on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. I will say these will likely sell out fast.

The Fire Stick interface is a mess

The Fire Stick and Fire TV interface looks like a mess compared to the Roku screen. There’s so much going on you can barely find what you’re looking for (unless you’ve been using it all along). Amazon’s own movies and shows are shown front and center along with the apps you’ve installed for YouTubeTV, HBO Max, AppleTV+, etc. Some Fire devices have voice remotes which make it easier to find and play something you want across any of the streaming channels. If you’re a Prime member who has Alexa devices all over the house and you primarily watch Prime Movies, the Fire Stick is an excellent choice.

Google’s new Chromecast with Google TV can compete

Google has finally released a streaming device that will compete directly with the Roku and Fire Stick. The new Google Chromecast with Google TV comes with a remote (unlike the first and second generation) and streams content from just about every streaming service, with the exception of Apple TV+. The interface is much cleaner than Amazon’s and shows more information than the Roku home screen. I especially like that it displays shows and movies I’m currently watching whether that’s from Hulu, Prime, Netflix, or Tubi TV. That makes a big difference when it comes to rejoining a stream. The new Chromecast with Google TV also has a voice remote with Google Assistant and will work with other Google Assistant devices. If you’re a YouTube TV subscriber and search for and watch a lot of content on YouTube, the new Chromecast with Google TV is an excellent choice, unless you’re an Apple TV+ subscriber. The new Chromecast is around $50. 

No, I didn’t mention Apple TV. Those set-top or table-top boxes cost three times as much as these streaming devices. It does make a good choice for a primary TV that shows 4K content and if you’re embedded into the Apple ecosystem. 

Watch for sales on these devices in the coming days and weeks. Even if you’re not a cord cutter, it’s nice to have a couple of these devices plugged into TVs around the house.