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Apple TV vs Fire TV: Which streaming platform is right for you?
When you’re deciding on a media streamer, there are many potential directions to go, since a lot of tech giants want a piece of the pie. Two of the biggest contenders however are Apple and Amazon (via Fire TV), which naturally have their own strengths and weaknesses worth considering.
Apple TV vs Fire TV: Product lineups
Practically speaking there’s just one Apple TV device sold in two configurations, whereas there are several Fire TV offerings, many of them cheaper than what Apple offers. We’re excluding full-fledged smart TVs with Fire TV built in.
Apple TV streamers
- Apple TV 4K Wi-Fi (Amazon): This model costs $129, and comes with 64GB of storage, an A15 Bionic processor (first used in the iPhone 13), a Siri Remote for touch and voice control, and Wi-Fi 6. It supports 4K HDR, including HDR10, HDR10 Plus, HLG, and Dolby Vision.
- Apple TV 4k Wi-Fi Plus Ethernet (Amazon): For an extra $20 you can upgrade to a model with 128GB of storage, a gigabit Ethernet port, and support for linking Thread smart home accessories to HomeKit.
Fire TV streamers
- Fire TV Stick Lite (Amazon): This is the cheapest Fire TV product at $30, but it’s severely limited. You get an Alexa voice remote, but it lacks power or volume controls for your TV, and the stick itself is capped at 1080p resolution, if with support for HDR10, HDR10 Plus, and HLG. You’ll have to rely on HDMI passthrough for Dolby audio standards like Atmos.
- Fire TV Stick (Amazon): The standard Stick is still missing 4K, but you do get native Dolby Atmos, and a better remote with power and volume buttons as well as preset shortcuts for a few popular services.
- Fire TV Stick 4K (Amazon): Aside from introducing 4K sharpness, this model expands HDR support to Dolby Vision.
- Fire TV Stick 4K Max (Amazon): The Max improves performance, specifically through faster processors, switching from Wi-Fi 5 to Wi-Fi 6, and increasing RAM to 2GB. This also lets it stream picture-in-picture video from Alexa-compatible security cameras and doorbells.
- Fire TV Cube (Amazon): At $140, this is the most direct competitor with the Apple TV. It operates as both a streamer and a smart speaker, meaning you can use Alexa without the remote or a separate device. The 3rd gen Cube includes Wi-Fi 6E, 16GB of storage, an Ethernet port (not gigabit, sadly), and HDMI input for devices like cable boxes. It’s said to perform twice as fast as the 4K Max, thanks to an octa-core CPU and a better graphics chip.
Apple TV vs Fire TV: Software
Every modern Apple TV is based on tvOS, which is related to iOS on the iPhone but still distinct. Here are some key features:
- Integration with other Apple platforms is a focal point. You can control tvOS with any Siri device, not just the Siri Remote, and automate it (or manage other smart home accessories) using HomeKit. You can cast or mirror using AirPlay, and easily pair a couple of HomePods as wireless speakers. You can even use your iPhone for color calibration, or pair one or two sets of AirPods for private listening.
- Likewise, it’s heavily integrated with Apple services. Apps are downloaded from the App Store, and by default you’ll have clients for iCloud Photos, Apple Music, Apple TV Plus, and so on. Some services, like Apple Arcade and Apple Fitness Plus, may only be available on Apple hardware. There are plenty of third-party apps available, thankfully.
- Video rentals and downloads are limited to Apple’s online store, unless you purchase them on the web or a non-Apple platform, in which case they’ll show up in an app when you sign into it.
- Despite the first-party focus, tvOS does have universal search. Whenever you search for a movie or show, you’ll see options for every compatible app installed on your Apple TV.
- An Up Next watchlist keeps track of everything you’ve started watching or added manually. Like universal search, app creators must specifically support this, so there’s a conspicuous gap: Netflix, which wants viewers to stay in its own catalog.
- Integration with Amazon services is de facto. You’ll be signing in with an Amazon account, and probably be using imported profiles too, although you can create separate Fire TV profiles if it’s more convenient. Expect to see a lot of promoted content from Prime Video.
- At last check, the watchlist is locked to Prime Video.
- Thankfully, the homescreen presents rows of recommendations for all supported services, not just Prime. Apps are installed via the Amazon Appstore.
- The Home view also presents shortcuts for recently-used apps, as well as the option to browse live content.
- Alexa integration is omnipresent. Beyond finding and playing media, you can also use Alexa to automate your TV or control connected smart home gear. The Fire TV Cube and 4K Max will stream picture-in-picture video from compatible cameras and doorbells, as mentioned earlier. If you have a pair of Echo speakers (of the same type), you can link them to Fire TV for wireless audio.
- Miracast is supported for mirroring. Using it isn’t as simple as AirPlay or Google Cast, however, since it requires some configuration.
- A feature called X-Ray lets you identify the actors and/or music in a given scene, as long as a title is listed in Amazon’s IMDb.
- Expect to buy or rent movies from Amazon if you’re not streaming from subscription services.
Apple TV vs Fire TV: Content
Overall there aren’t any major gaps in media content, though you may want to steer clear of Fire TV if you’re a Spectrum TV subscriber. Services like Netflix, Spotify, HBO Max, and Disney Plus have a footprint on both platforms. You can stream Prime Video on an Apple TV, or even watch Apple TV Plus (and other Apple-purchased media) on Fire devices. You can listen to Apple Music on Fire TV if you’ve enabled the appropriate Alexa skill. Before committing to any platform, check app availability.
You should definitely avoid Fire TV if you have zero interest in Prime Video. As we said, the Fire TV watchlist is limited to Prime, and you’ll see related content recommended on a regular basis. Apple does of course promote its own material, but the company is a little less obnoxious about it than Amazon.
Apple is the clear winner when it comes to games. While there are gaming options for Fire TV, including Amazon’s Luna cloud service, the Apple TV 4K offers the storage and power to play more and better local titles. Apple is unfortunately holding a tight leash on cloud gaming — presumably to block competition with the App Store — but if you’ve got a PC, you can at least use the Steam Link app to play Steam games on your TV, complete with support for Xbox, PlayStation, and other Bluetooth gamepads.
If you can afford it, the Apple TV 4K is the best option for a standalone player. Its processing power makes it lightning quick, not just for games, but for apps and streaming in general. Its watchlist is inherently more user-friendly, and though the Siri Remote takes some getting used to, you’ll soon be swiping through menus like air even when you’re not using Siri. Amazon’s remotes do offer more shortcuts, but they don’t feel that great in the hand.
The value of an Apple TV only increases if you’re invested in other Apple products and/or services. In fact, if you use HomeKit regularly you should automatically buy the Wi-Fi Plus Ethernet model, since Thread accessories will greatly enhance the speed and reliability of a smart home. You’ll need some form of Apple TV or HomePod to serve as a hub for HomeKit automations and remote access.
Let’s be clear — Fire TV is a viable option for a lot of people, but the main attraction is price. Apple doesn’t offer anything as cheap as a Fire TV Stick, and if all you care about is video, a 4K Max will more than suffice for just $55. We’d only get a Cube if you’re so deeply invested in Alexa and/or Prime Video that you want to maximize the experience. At that point, you’re probably considering one of Amazon’s Omni TV sets.