Android TV and Roku both set out to do the same general thing, but they vary enough to the point where each platform does a better job at serving certain groups of people. Android TV tends to be a better choice for power-users and tinkerers, whereas Roku is simpler to use and more accessible for less tech-savvy individuals. The rest of this article will take a closer look at various aspects of each system to see where each one comes out on top.
Streaming boxes are the best way to get access to everything Android TV and Roku have to offer without spending hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars on a new television set, and this is one area where Roku pulls an easy win. Roku currently offers a variety of streaming boxes and sticks that range in price from just $29 up to $99, each with their own set of features and limitations.
As for Android TV, your only real option is the NVIDIA Shield TV. The Shield TV is a phenomenal streaming box with support for 4K HDR content and a large collection of games, but the higher retail price of $199 (or $179 without the game controller) can be tough to swallow. The price often fluctuates, allowing you to snag a Shield TV for less, but this is an area where Roku consistently has the upper-hand.
Moving over to televisions, the story is mostly the same. There's a decent selection of Sony options to pick from that feature Android TV built-in, but they all err on the expensive side. Skyworth has been entering the market with more afforadable options, but comparatively, the overall selection leaves a bit to be desired.
Roku has the upper-hand with streaming boxes and smart TVs.
Companies like TCL, Insignia, Sharp, HiSense, and others have adopted the Roku platform, and this has allowed for a variety of televisions with Roku for just about every buyer. For example, you can go on the low-end and pick up the TCL 32S325. This costs just $128 and comes equipped with a small 32-inch screen and a lower 720p HD resolution. Alternatively, you can splurge for the TCL Class 6-Series and get a QLED 65-inch 4K display with Dolby Vision, HDR, and more for a little under $900.
Roku is a much more popular and well-known platform in the smart TV market, and as such, it's available on a wider variety of devices — whether it be streaming boxes or full-on televisions.
Roku and Android TV both take different approaches when it comes to their respective user interfaces, and considering that this is something you'll interact with every single time you use your TV, it's important you use one that works best for you.
When it comes to Roku, the big focus is on simplicity. Your main home screen shows a list of all the channels/apps you have installed, and you can navigate through other pages with the menu on the left.
- Featured Free — Featured content that you can watch on Roku for free.
- My Feed – Updates on any movies or TV shows you're interested in, such as when they're available for purchase or when they go on sale.
- Movie/TV Store – Quick access for buying or renting movies and TV shows.
- Search – Universal search to find a certain title across all of Roku's popular apps.
- Streaming Channels – Library of paid and free apps you can download to your Roku.
- Settings – Change your Roku's theme, adjust the time, control accessibility options, etc.
Roku's interface is extremely simple to navigate and understand, but it's looking a bit dated these days.
By contrast, Android TV benefits from a more modern interface that's still easy to navigate while offering a more visually-interesting experience.
The top of your home screen showcases your most-used apps, with a button next to it for looking at everything installed on your box/TV. Below that is a row of your favorite apps, with little feeds accompayning each one. For example, the YouTube app on your home screen can showcase the latest trending videos while the Netflix one highlights a row of recommended shows it thinks you'll be interested in.
The interface you like best all comes down to personal preference, but Android TV is the one that I think is the most pleasing to look at. I appreciate Google's work to make the home screen come to life with different content, rather than it being a static row of apps the way it is on Roku.
There used to be a big content discrepency between Roku and Android TV, but in recent years, that gap has narrowed considerably to put both platforms on a relatively even playing field.
Whether you use Roku or Android TV, you'll be able to download all of the popular streaming apps — including the likes of Netflix, Hulu, YouTube TV, HBO NOW, Movies Anywhere, Philo, etc. With that said, Android TV does still suffer from some odd quirks.
To give you one example, Xfinity customers can't use their credentials to log into the HBO GO app on Android TV as a result of Comcast not wanting to support Android TV for whatever reason. TV Everywhere apps, such as Food Network, HGTV, and Travel Channel, also suffer from a similar issue.
Furthermore, the Roku channel store is filled with a bunch of smaller channels that you will likely never see on Android TV. Not all of them are good (some of them are quite bad, actually), but if you want access to the most content possible, Roku is the way to go.
Roku added voice controls back in 2015, but not every box/TV comes with a remote that supports this out of the box. Most premium options do, but Roku also sells its Enhanced Remote that supports voice search so you can upgrade your current system after the fact.
For the most part, Roku's voice feature works just fine. You can use it to find specific titles you're looking for, browse content from a certain actor or director, launch apps, and search genres within them, and more. Plus, if you have a Roku TV, you can use your voice to change inputs, go through different broadcast channels, and launch Roku's Smart Guide.
Google Assistant and Alexa support has helped Roku's voice control options, but Android TV still offers more functionality.
Similarly, if you have an Alexa or Google Assistant speaker in your home, you can use that to control Roku, too. Alexa and Google Assistant integration for Roku are very similar, with each allowing you to use your voice for pausing/resuming what you're currently watching, launching apps, and searching for specific genres that are available across all of your apps/channels. The functionality is pretty much identical to what you can do with the Roku voice remote, but it has the benefit of you not needing any special Roku hardware and being able to perform the commands entirely hands-free.
Moving over to Android TV, the out-of-the-box voice control offering is leaps and bounds better than what Roku offers. Every Android TV box/television comes with a voice remote that allows you to talk to the Google Assistant. You can ask the Assistant to pause your show, open Netflix, and other media-specific things, but it goes far beyond that.
The Google Assistant you get on Android TV is the full-fledged Google Assistant experience, meaning you can use it to find out about the weather, look at any upcoming calendar appointments, control smart home devices, etc. It's light years ahead of Roku's built-in voice controls, and for some people, that'll make a big difference in your buying decision.
Lastly, it's worth pointing out that some Android TV devices also offer Alexa integration — the NVIDIA Shield and Sony televisions being prime examples.
As you can see, both platforms are pretty much split down the board when it comes to their respective pros and cons. Roku has a broader selection of hardware and is the content king, but Android TV is the clear leader when it comes to its user interface and voice control features.
Because of this, the ultimate decision of which platform is best comes down to your personal preferences and use cases. If you want to have access to as many channels/apps as possible, like having a wide choice of compatible hardware, and prefer an interface that's simple to use at the expense of not looking flashy, Roku is a fantastic pick.
On the other hand, Android TV is still a great platform, especially if you're invested in Google's services and get a lot of value out of powerful voice control.
No matter which one you choose, you can rest assured that you'll end up with one of the best ways to smarten up your living room. However, if we were to go with one option it would be Roku, simply based on the amount of content that you get access to for the price.
Best for Roku
Roku's most powerful streaming box to-date.
The Roku Ultra is the streaming device to get if you prefer what the Roku platform brings to the table. 4K HDR streaming is on-board, as is a remote with a headphone jack for private listening and a function to sound an alarm if you lose track of it.
Best for Android TV
The best streaming box for Android TV.
The NVIDIA Shield TV is the best way to experience Android TV in 2019. It has powerful hardware, supports 4K HDR streaming, Dolby Atmos for immersive audio, and doubles as a great gaming machine. It is expensive, but the feature-set you're getting is unmatched.
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