Amazon Fire TV vs. Apple TV: Which streaming player should you buy?

Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV do the same things. They run a full version of their respective company's operating system. They run apps. They have access to their respective media libraries and can stream video and music and play games and control things via your voice.

So let us stipulate that Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV are very similar products.

They're also wildly different in a number of ways.

Let's take a look.

It's the little things

Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV: The basics

There's no way we can't compare these things side by side, right? And immediately — actually, before you even buy one of these things — there's one huge discrepancy.

Apple TV 4K (which is the only one you should buy) starts at $179. (There's a $199 with extra storage, too.) Amazon Fire TV — which also can handle 4K video just fine — is, on a bad day, $69. And you often can find it for as low as $49.

That's as much as a $130 swing for a device that streams video and music and plays games and has apps and does smart stuff.

But it's the little things where Apple TV really starts to stand out in the specs department.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
CategoryApple TV 4KFire TV
Row 0 - Cell 0 Row 0 - Cell 1 Row 0 - Cell 2
Form factorSet-top boxHDMI dongle
Operating systemtvOSFire OS 6 (Android)
ProcessorA10XAmlogic S905Z
Internal storage32GB/64GB8GB
External storageNoNo
ResolutionUp to 4KUp to 4K
Dolby VisionYesNo
Dolby AtmosNoYes
Remote controlYesYes
Bluetooth outYesYes
BuySee at Amazon (opens in new tab)See at Amazon (opens in new tab)

What really stands out here? First, the form factors. Apple TV is a set-top box. You'll need some room for it somewhere. Fire TV is an HDMI dongle that dangles off the back of your TV or receiver.

Apple TV has better hardware. Fire TV has more affordable hardware.

Then there's storage. While neither handles external hard drives, Apple TV starts with 32 gigabytes of on-board storage, with an option for double that for just $20 more. (We'd recommend springing the extra dough if you can.) Fire TV? A mere 8 gigabytes of storage. On paper, that's a big deal. In actuality? It depends on how you used these things. If you're not downloading movie after movie or loading up huge games and all you're doing is streaming video or music, 8GB might well be enough.

But still — more storage is always better.

Comparing processor and RAM is sort of an Apples-an-oranges thing. Capitalization there was on purpose, though. Apple's platform is simply more powerful. Period. And the matters in ways we'll talk about in a second.

Video is the other big standout. Apple TV can do both HDR10 and Dolby Vision. The former looks OK. It makes colors pop. The latter really makes colors look brighter and dark spots look darker. (That's provided that you have a compatible television, of course.) If you have to pick between the two, you want something that can use Dolby Vision. Fire TV only does HDR10.

So, yeah. These are the same devices. Only not really.

Watch all the things

Apple TV and Amazon TV: The libraries

I tend to think this one's a wash these days. Mostly.

Yeah, iTunes was first and is huge. But Amazon's really not all the far behind it. And given that so much of what we watch and listen to these days is available on just about any and every streaming service — save for exclusive content, of course — it's mostly a push. Sure, you can find things Apple TV has that Amazon doesn't. Or you could point out that to watch, say, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel you'll have to load up the Amazon Prime Video app on Apple TV, when it's already built in to Fire TV.

You'll be hard pressed to find content that you can't watch on either of these devices.

If you use iTunes Match and want to play that music over your TV or entertainment system, then Apple TV is the way to go. If you don't care about local music in the slightest and just want to stream things? You can do that just fine on Fire TV.

All the major streaming services are available on both platforms. OK, sort of. You can't get iTunes content on Fire TV. But you can get Amazon content on Apple TV. Google content is out. But apps like Movies Anywhere bridge that gap a bit.

Really, this one's going to come down to the edge case. Do you already have a bunch of content purchased on one service? Then stick with their hardware, too. It's just easier and more enjoyable in the long run.

Apple TV remote and Fire TV remote

OK, and worse

Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV: The remotes

There's a good chance you're going to be spending a lot of time with the remote control in your hand. There's good news and bad news here. The Fire TV remote is functional. It won't win any awards for design, and it uses AAA batteries instead of having something internal and rechargeable. But it works, and it works well, and it also serves as a voice controller for Alexa.

The Apple TV remote is still bad.

Apple's "Siri Remote" — yes, they gave the damned thing a name — is a bad remote control. It lacks any economics whatsoever. It likes to pretend the Menu button is a Back button, except for when the Menu button is a Home button. Or when it's actually a Menu button. Or when you'll want to use the swiping not-a-directional-pad to bring down what otherwise would be considered a menu.

And the Siri Remote charges over Lightning, so it uses the same cable as your iPhone or iPad. That's fine if you're the sort of person who has Apple devices laying around. It's probably not fine if you bought an Apple TV because you prefer it but don't own a lot of other Apple stuff.

No. Don't use the Apple TV remote. At least put a rubber sleeve on it (opens in new tab). But better yet is to just get a better remote control (opens in new tab).

Siri vs. Alexa

Apple TV vs. Amazon Fire TV: The smarts

Everything has to be "smart" and "connected" these days. (It doesn't actually have to be, and maybe it shouldn't be, but that's another thing for another time.)

So to that end, Apple TV has Siri baked in. You can do a lot of the things — but not quite all the things — that Siri can do on your phone or tablet. And Apple TV has the added bonus of being a HomeKit hub. Without getting too far into the weeds, that's a good thing and sometimes can save you from needing a half-dozen other little hubs connected to a half-dozen other smart devices.

Siri is integrated across devices, Alexa is ubiquitous.

On the other hand, Amazon Fire TV has Alexa. And if you've used Alexa at all in the past year or two, you know that it mostly just works. And everything — damned near everything works with Alexa these days. With a quick voice command, I can tell the Fire TV on my back patio to show me my doorbell camera. It's pretty cool.

So which one's right for you? Again, it kind of depends on which ecosystem you're in. Or are going to be in. If you're committed to HomeKit, Apple TV is the way to go. (And AirPlay beats the socks off of the screen sharing built into the Fire TV.) If you don't care? Fire TV is seriously economical.

Helping out

Apple TV vs. Amazon Fire TV: Accessibility

If there's a leader in the accessibility space, it's Apple. That is, adding features that help the hard-of-hearing or visually impaired or some other physical thing — basically anyone who may need a little help to use a piece of tech.

And Apple TV has a wealth of accessibility options, from captions to VoiceOver (wherein it's reading screen items) to audio balance and video contrast.

Fire TV has a few accessibility options as well. There are captions, of course, and also it's own "VoiceView" screen reader, plus high contrast and a screen magnifier.

The bottom line

Apple TV vs. Amazon Fire TV: Which one should you get?

Generally speaking, you get what you pay for in tech. But Amazon also has the means to drastically undercut competitors.

Does that mean Amazon Fire TV is as good as Apple TV? No. It's not. I use both devices (on different TVs) almost every day, and I think it breaks down to this: Apple TV is what I'd call an everyday sort of TV box. It's fast. It's more flexible. Applications run quicker on it.

But Fire TV is also plenty capable. In fact, it'll work just fine for most folks, especially given how inexpensive it is. For me, it's great on a secondary screen. If it was going to be the box I'd be using the most, I think it'd be worth ponying up the money for something a little more powerful.

So, yeah. Two streaming devices that mostly do the same things. One just does them better — the other does them far less expensively.

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Phil Nickinson
  • I go for neither. Up front, I've never tried the Apple TV, but I don't buy anything Apple anyways. I have a Nexus Player and a Fire TV and I wouldn't buy either again, not at least until they get their squabbles settled. I have content on Google Play and Amazon Prime so what do you do there, cause I don't want two boxes that do 90% of the same thing short of their own stores, you go Roku. It plays nice with just about everyone and have devices that cover cheap to expensive depending on what you want. We have three Rokus and would buy another in a heart beat if I needed another streaming box.
  • I would not buy either either anymore... Get a Nvidia Shield TV, it has Amazon Prime Video and of course Google Play and most other services out there. And I can't wait for Google's Android TV stick to come out... I've been waiting for a good low cost Android TV stick.
  • Have the Apple TV 4K and like it, but really only use it for streaming the movies already in my iTunes library, and HBO subscription. I had the first gen Amazon Fire TV in the past, and a Fire Stick, and they both went belly up. The Fire TV that I had took a dive and wouldnt work about a week after the 1 year manufacturer warranty expired - Amazon wouldnt replace it (not that I expected them to) but I didnt expect the device to die in 12 months.
  • Or for 199 for the expensive version of the apple, just get an XBox oneS, plays games much better, and the apps are better for plex etc. Supports 4k (all of the standards) hdr (all of the standards) all the audio formats, also plays bluray 4k..... And is just better than either of these choices in the long run....
  • It's not even a contest. Apple TV all the way. Cheapest 4K content out there by far. This is especially true when you are not in the US as there isn't even a possibility of using Vudu (which is still much more expensive than Apple's 4K content).
  • Have both on 2 tvs. I have the older Fire TV boxes and all are hard wired. Going with apple TV on a third TV. Not going to buy a dongle fire tv. Thought about roku and got one from costco, but have not opened it and will most likely return it. Decided to get a third apple TV 4k because of native you tube app.
  • You should give the roku a shot seriously if you have not tried one.
  • The Nvidia ShieldTV.
  • I wish that Amazon would continue making the 2nd generation Fire TV, this new 3rd Generation dongle version is a step backwards.
  • Agreed. That's what has stopped me from upgrading from my gen1 Fire TV box.
  • Why No Roku??
    I have DirectTV Now and have unfortunately been down all the roads so far and it has proven to be the most "Invisible" while using.
    Chromecast the easiest to use if your use to it and apps on phone. Worst issue is no remote and explaining casting to someone staying over can be a drain
    Firestick Ok and works no big positives just does it job. Worst issue is wading through a interface that emphasizes Amazon content over your other stuff. Great if you only use it for Amazon Prime.
    Apple TV 4K Fast and great and wonderful interface. Worst issue the remote it is like someone just threw something together at the last minute functionally and said done. Sorry, buying a remote to fix a remote is a no go.
    Roku Streaming Stick +/Ultra Fast and does what you need it to without the hangups of Firestick overall very good. Worst issue there is a section to the right of the menu they show suggestions on that I feel is a waste of space other than that that is it. Remote functions like one should and it is compatible with everything from Google Play to some obscure tv app.
  • I have an apple TV I got free when I did the direct TV now deal back when they first started up so it is not the 4k version but it runs direct TV now wonderfully on it. I bought a roku premiere plus for my other TV and direct TV now keeps buffering every so often where as the apple TV does not. The roku is closer to the router so I am wondering if the roku WiFi just sucks. I need to move my modem so I can set it up with my homes built in ethernet connection and then test the roku with a hard wired connection to see if that fixes the buffering but as of right now I would prefer apple TV over roku even though I am not a fan of apple. I only have a first Gen fire TV stick and that thing sucks big time. Streaming TV services lag so bad on it including ps vue which I had prior to direct TV now.
  • I have two Roku’s on two bedroom tv’s and an Apple TV 4K in the living room. Both platforms are great for what they do. I have a 2015 Samsung 4K tv and it has all the goodies but hdr. Vudu doesn’t support 4K on my tv so using the native app is limited to 1080p. But by using Apple TV 4K, I can buy 4K content direct which is great and now if I buy 4K content using the Apple TV vudu app, it will display in 4K.. So Apple TV 4K is it.
  • Nvidia Shield TV. But Google seriously needs to do something about their pricing of 4k content. Apple and Vudu have them beat.
  • I bought a Sony TV that runs Android TV. I am happy with it. I got all the apps for my streaming services. Plus lots of other stuff.
  • Who cares about your apple tv. Why are you posting this here.
  • Easy. ShieldTV
  • Amazon is not a candidate without YouTube. For those of us that have really 'cut the cord' - YouTube is significant component of our cable free world.
  • Good comparison, but I think it leaves out special case arguments. I haven't tried the Apple TV, but I have tried the Chromecast Ultra, Roku, & Fire TV. At the time we were after only one thing -- using the TNT app to stream shows my wife missed because of work. I'm hearing impaired & need captioning. The Fire TV was the only one of the 3 that could get it close to right with that app. The takeaway is that if there's an app you want/need to use, performance across these devices can vary. The new Fire TV does have a wired Ethernet option, but as fans of the Fire TV are eager to point out, the latest version is a step backwards, making it Amazon's mid-range device, assuming their plans to release an upscale version are accurate. You can buy the Amazon branded wired Ethernet add-on, or you can use a WTG Y-cable with an Ethernet dongle. I went the 2nd route because at the time the Amazon add-on was on back order, plus I already had an Ethernet dongle I wasn't using, so I saved a couple of bucks buying the Y-cable for $3.50. I've also got a Ethernet dongle that's a USB hub -- I'd guess that using that with the Y-cable, there *might* well be a way to use external storage. I don't need it so I've never tried. The Fire TV does have the most limited selection of apps available -- only a small subset of what's in Amazon's App Store. Side loading apps is possible, but a bit of a PITA, and those apps you side load may well not work, so make sure that what you want/need is available or look elsewhere. And finally, while it's not terrible, navigating the Fire TV's menus could be much, Much better, e.g. when it comes to menus, the Vizio TV the Fire TV's connected to has a better Amazon app than the Fire TV. Roku IMHO has the best menu setup out of all these streamers. And while it can't of course do anything about the menus in an app, the Roku Android app can make scrolling though long lists slightly more bearable.
  • "Amazon Fire TV vs. Apple TV: Which streaming player should you buy?" Why should I buy either of them?
  • Roku.
  • The only thing I see missing about the AppleTV description is that if you have other apple products ie phones,iPads etc you can actually download an app to use as a remote in lue of the originally tiny remote. Otherwise your article is very informative for me thank you!