Choosing the best streaming device in 2018 is far from simple. With multiple companies competing for the attention and wallets of cord-cutters, one can easily feel a bit lost when comparing features and specifications.
But no matter how you look, there are two streaming devices that are guaranteed to grab your attention: the futuristic Amazon Fire TV Cube and the affordable and versatile Roku Ultra. But which one you should buy? Well, that depends on your needs and priorities, and we’ve put together this concise comparison to help you decide for yourself.
The Amazon Fire TV Cube looks like an alternative version of the Amazon Echo smart speaker from a universe where all lines are perfectly straight, and all angles are right angles. Just like Amazon Echo smart speakers, the Amazon Fire TV Cube is packed with modern technology, including far-field voice recognition, eight microphones, and beamforming, to make physical control buttons unnecessary.
The Roku Ultra has far less exciting appearance, looking like a run-of-the-mill streaming media player. But appearance can be deceiving, and the Roku Ultra actually wins the hardware battle. Why? Because of its great selection of connectivity options.
For starters, the Roku Ultra has a dedicated Ethernet port, while the Amazon Fire TV Cube comes with an adapter. Both streaming devices can, of course, connect to the internet wirelessly over Wi-Fi, but we consider a stable wired connection to be essential for streaming content in 4K with HDR. What’s more, the Roku Ultra has an optical port for audio, a microSD card slot for affordable external storage, and a USB Type-A port for your flash drives.
The Roku Ultra also comes with a proper remote. The remote even has a 3.5 mm headphone jack for private listening, making up for the fact that the streaming device itself lacks Bluetooth connectivity. The Amazon Fire TV Cube comes with a fairly basic remote with just a few buttons. After all, Amazon wants you to control its streaming device with your voice, not your fingers.
Inside the Amazon Fire TV Cube is the Amlogic S905Z, which is a media-focused system on chip (SoC) with VP9 hardware decoding, HDR, and support for 4K video playback at 60 frames per second. The same SoC is also used in the third generation Amazon Fire TV. The Roku Ultra is powered by the reliable ARM Cortex A53, which is used in a number of different streaming devices and tablets, including the Amazon Fire HD 8. Both devices are powerful enough for their intended purpose.
The Roku Ultra has won the hardware battle, but the Amazon Fire TV Cube obliterates it when it comes to the software side of things. The cause of the loss is Roku OS, which feels dated and is a much more limited streaming vehicle than Fire OS, with its polished user interface and stellar support for apps. The only thing we don’t like about Fire OS is the fact that it’s littered with annoying ads, but that’s how things are with Amazon.
You should keep in mind that the Roku Ultra is just a streaming device, whereas the Amazon Fire TV Cube does everything Alexa can do, including smart home control, step-by-step cooking, voice search, notifications, and more. You get access to over 500,000 movies and TV episodes from Netflix, Prime Video, Hulu, HBO, SHOWTIME, NBC, and other sources. Thanks to built-in Silk and Firefox browsers, it’s possible to browse YouTube, Facebook, Reddit, and other websites.
The Roku Ultra comes loaded with content as well, providing you with access to over 500,000 movies and TV episodes across 5,000+ paid or free channels, including Netflix, Amazon Video, Hulu, VUDU, Sling TV, and PBS KIDS. You can even browse the web using the POPRISM text-based browser, but the experience doesn’t even come close to the browsers that are available to the users of the Amazon Fire TV Cube.
The Amazon Fire TV Cube and the Roku Ultra are about $30 apart, with the Roku Ultra being more affordable. Both streaming devices come with a remote, but the one included with the Roku Ultra can do a lot more than the one included with the Amazon Fire TV Cube. That said, Amazon streaming device is packed with so many interesting features—not to mention its sleek design—that its higher price tag feels completely justified.
Choosing between the Amazon Fire TV Cube and the Roku Ultra comes down to two main things: content and controls. Because the Roku Ultra is unbiased and doesn’t favor Amazon or iTunes, it’s great for people who want to keep their options open and enjoy a healthy selection of 4K content. The Amazon Fire TV Cube is perfect for Amazon Channels users who want the best Prime Video experience they can get. It also lets you control your TV by voice, but there are many situations when a full-fledged remote such as the one that comes with the Roku Ultra comes in handy.