This story is part of Amazon Prime Day, CNET’s guide to everything you need to know and how to find the best deals.
The cheapest streaming devices on the market are even cheaper in time for the latest Amazon Prime Day sale. You can choose from an Amazon Fire TV Stick or a Roku Express, each at $20. So which one is better?
Both do basically the same thing: hook up to any TV to allow you to watch streaming services including Netflix, Disney Plus, Hulu and yes, Prime Video, as well as hundreds more. In general we recommend Roku over Fire TV because Roku’s menu system is simpler, the search results are more relevant and Fire TV has a tendency to advertise and promote more Amazon stuff. But in this specific case of these dirt-cheap streamers, our advice is to get the Fire TV Stick. Here’s why.
So why do we like the Fire TV Stick deal better? It’s all about the remote. The Fire TV’s clicker has volume, mute and power buttons for your TV itself. That means you can use the streamer’s remote to turn on your TV, adjust volume and mute without having to use your TV’s remote at all. The Roku Express remote can’t do that.
Another advantage of the Fire TV remote is it has Alexa built in. You can tap the blue button at the top and speak into the remote to perform searches, launch apps and even control smart home devices. Roku’s clicker doesn’t have any voice capability (although Roku’s app does).
Roku’s remote also has to be aimed directly at the TV to work, while Fire TV’s remote does not.
And for people who want to bypass georestrictions, letting you watch content that otherwise may have been restricted in your location, the Fire TV Stick supports built-in VPN clients while the Roku does not.
Read CNET’s Fire TV Stick review.
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The Roku Express is still a solid budget streamer if you don’t want Fire TV’s extra features, and it has a couple of advantages over the Fire TV that might be more important to you.
First off, it supports Apple AirPlay. That means you can mirror your iPhone’s screen on your TV to play videos or show photos on a larger screen, for example. The Fire TV Stick doesn’t support AirPlay.
Second, as we mentioned above, we like Rou’s simpler menu system and search results. The Roku home screen is a lot like an iPhone’s, with a familiar grid of apps, whereas the Fire TV screen is more cluttered, with individual show and movie titles and thumbnails across a bunch of different apps. Roku has better search results too, which clearly show where to watch a show or movie and even how much it costs. Fire TV results are more muddled.
Note that the version on sale now is the older Roku Express, which was first released in 2019. A new Roku Express is coming out on in a few days and is available for preorder now for $30. It’s very similar to the old version but adds dual-band Wi-Fi for enhanced internet speeds, a new processor and more storage so that channels can launch more quickly, according to Roku. We haven’t reviewed the new Roku Express, but we don’t think those improvements are worth spending another $10.
Read CNET’s Roku Express review.
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Here’s where we mention that neither of these devices works with 4K or HDR video, so if you have a nice 4K TV we really recommend stepping up to a real 4K streamer for a few bucks more. Both of the above devices lack the speed and extra features of the Roku Express 4K Plus ($25), the Fire TV Stick 4K and the Fire TV Stick 4K Max ($35), for example.
But if you just want the cheapest streamer, the Fire TV Stick is the way to go right now.