Roku vs Fire TV vs Chromecast vs Apple TV 4K: Here’s what you should really buy

Roku vs Fire TV vs Chromecast vs Apple TV 4K: Here’s what you should really buy
Roku vs Fire TV vs Chromecast vs Apple TV 4K: Here’s what you should really buy

There are streaming device Black Friday deals on Rokus, Fire TV Sticks, Chromecasts and even the Apple TV 4K, but that’s only half of the process. Some out there may still be trying to figure out which platform is best for their streaming.

So, I figured this was a good opportunity to leverage my expertise. I’ve tested (and often reviewed) every single streaming device that’s come across Tom’s Guide over the last few years. In that time I’ve gotten a good sense of how these devices differ, and who’s right for what. And I stay aware of the updates with a closet full of all the recently released models.

Below, you’ll find not only my advice on which streaming devices are right for which users, but — wait — that’s not it. I’m also throwing in our recommendations for each platform, and all of the top Black Friday deals on those streaming devices. All in a compact and easy to digest manner, so you can get back to streaming.

You should buy a Roku if you like to keep it simple

I recently debated giving my parents an Apple TV 4K for the holidays. It’s not a cheap gift, and it’s the fastest streaming device, but I ultimately settled against it. Why? Because the Apple TV’s remote is a touch-surface too sensitive, and they’re used to the Roku’s simplicity.

While other streaming devices offer a ton of recommendations (Chromecast with Google TV, I’m looking at you) or seem to perpetually live on discount (i.e. Fire Sticks), Rokus are almost the Switzerland of streaming: they’re quite neutral. The Roku remote has big blocky rubbery buttons, and they’re all clicky. If you can use a smart phone, you can use a Roku.

Which Roku should you buy?

We recommend the Roku Streaming Stick 4K for most people. It’s speedy enough, it’s got a good remote and it’s only $24 right now for Black Friday.

Two kinds of people buy Fire TV Sticks

The Fire TV Stick is best known for being amazingly affordable. So much so that one might call them cheap. That is less of an insult, and part of the charm. Especially for those who don’t need 4K, and are OK with the Fire TV interface (more on that below). With the rising cost of … everything, and the ever-increasing number of streaming services (which are having their own price hikes), Fire TV Sticks offer a salvation for price sensitive folk.

Then, there are the other Fire Stick users, the side-loaders. Once you know how to side-load (our guide on how to install Kodi on the Fire TV Stick can show you how), you can run all kinds of software on your stick, and some of it may help you watch stuff for free. The legality of these services (which may be why they’re not in the Amazon Fire TV app store), varies.

Both of these people have one thing in common: they’re OK with Amazon’s ad-heavy interface. This is the one bar that not all may want to cross, but it’s probably not a line in the sand to many more.

Which Fire TV Stick should you buy?

We recommend the Fire TV Stick 4K Max for most people. It’s the fastest Fire Stick (fixing a speed problem than annoys many). That said, if you’re fine with waiting a little in exchange for saving cash up front, the Fire TV Stick 4K is probably a good call.

Who should buy a Chromecast with Google TV?

If you love to ‘cast your streams — sending a stream from your phone or laptop to your TV — your fate is cast. But you’re not alone.

The Chromecast with Google TV 4K is one of our favorite streaming devices for a few different kinds of people. Those who want an all-around good streaming device with an excellent remote — Google’s the only streaming device maker whose remote has an input-switch button, something many of us appreciate — have no reason not to get the Chromecast.

Also, those who want recommendations on what to watch will probably be well off with the Chromecast with Google TV, as it uses Google smarts to figure out what you’d probably like to watch.

Cord cutters? You’re also going to want to pay attention, as the Chromecast’s “live” section and home screen offer solid integrations with Sling TV, YouTube TV, Pluto TV and Philo.

Which Chromecast should you buy?

This is going to be the first and only time we even think about recommending an HD streaming device, as both the 4K Chromecast and Chromecast with Google TV HD are pretty darn good. Choose your streamer based around the TV you’re going to plug it into. 

The Apple TV 4K is for Apple users and those with a need for speed

The Apple TV 4K is my favorite streaming device, but it’s not for everyone, especially when the new Apple TV 4K starts at $129. But as my Apple TV 4K (2022) review explained, it’s the fast streaming device around — so you kinda get what you pay for.Not only does the Apple TV 4K have the cleanest interface around, but its A12 Bionic (2021 model) and A15 Bionic processors open most apps faster than any other platform. Just look at the results I did from timing them all.

Which Apple TV 4K should you buy?

Honestly, most people should buy the Apple TV 4K (2021), at least on Black Friday. We’ve seen it as low as $79 — $100 off its MSRP. 

If you want the fastest Apple TV 4K, or care about the Matter smart home standard, there’s a case to be made for the Apple TV 4K (2022), though it costs $70 more for the model with the Thread modem for Matter, and an Ethernet port for more-stable streaming.

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