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Apple TV vs. Fire TV: Which Streaming Media Player Should You Buy?

If you're not in either ecosystem yet, it comes down to details like price and gaming ability.
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The way we watch TV has really changed in the last few years. The availability of high speed internet and a wealth of streaming content has sparked a flurry of cord-cutting. But, as you leave those expensive cable and satellite contracts behind, which set-top box should claim a place under your TV?

Both Apple and Amazon released new models for their Apple TV and Fire TV streaming media players recently. In this comparison, the two heavyweight titans of the streaming world go head-to-head in various categories. Who will emerge victorious as we pit Fire TV vs. Apple TV? Let's take a look.

Design

Amazon and Apple seem to agree that what people want is an unobtrusive, black box. The Apple TV is slightly smaller at about 4x4", but a lot thicker at 1.4" and heavier at 15 oz. The Fire TV is 4.5x4.5", .7" thick, and weighs in at 9.5 oz.

You'll find a matte black finish with gloss logos on the top of both boxes. The Apple TV has rounded edges for a gentler look, while the Fire TV is a perfect square. There really isn't much to divide them here.

The Winner: Tie


remote
Apple

Remote Control

It could spend many a long hour nestling in your hand, so the remote control is important. Apple goes with its usual minimalist style, offering a simple remote with six buttons and a clickable touchpad that might remind you of the trackpad on a MacBook. What really sets the Apple TV remote apart is the inclusion of a gyroscope and an accelerometer, so it can be used for gaming, just like a Wii remote. It also has an IR blaster, so it can control your TV as well as the Apple box.

Amazon's remote looks much the same as previous releases, with seven different buttons and a round directional control pad. Both of them use Bluetooth to communicate with the box, so there's no need for line of sight, and they both have dedicated microphone buttons for issuing voice searches and commands.

The Winner: Apple TV


tvOS

Operating System

Apple has created a special version of iOS, called tvOS, for the Apple TV. It has Siri baked in for easy searching, and you can look for pretty specific things, such as "Bond films with Sean Connery". The results will include content from various apps, not just Apple's services. The interface looks like iOS, with app icons, but you can preview the content within without fully launching each app.

Amazon's Fire TV runs its own forked version of Android. The interface is slick and it's very easy to navigate in a hurry. You can access apps on the Fire TV too, and use your voice to search, but searches will default to Amazon content. If you're a Prime member, you'll also enjoy the tie-in with IMDb and the ability to pause the action and see detailed information on the actors in any given scene.

The Winner: Apple TV (by a nose, thanks to cross-app search)


Content: Apps

It's really all about the content when you go for a streaming TV box, and both the Apple TV and the Fire TV offer a great selection. You're going to find all the latest movies and TV shows through the iTunes Store, but that's an expensive way to buy content. If you've already invested in iTunes and you use Apple Music, it makes a lot of sense to go with Apple TV, and you won't find these options on the Fire TV. But if you're starting from scratch, buying movies and TV shows individually is going to cost a lot of money.

Both offer big players like Netflix, YouTube, HBO Go, and Hulu, but you can only get Amazon Instant Video on the Fire TV, and it offers free access to a lot of content as part of the competitively priced Prime membership at $99 per year. Fire TV also offers support for the popular Spotify and Pandora music services, and they're absent from Apple TV. You can also get other apps on both platforms, and the list is growing steadily.

The Winner: Tie


Clash of Clans

Content: Games

You'll find that the Apple TV and the Fire TV can double up as gaming consoles. Amazon claims that the Fire TV supports more than 800 games, including things like Minecraft and Lego Star Wars, but these are Android versions. Apple TV has a small group of launch titles, but you can bet a lot of popular iOS games will be quickly imported to tvOS.

Generally speaking, iOS games are better quality than their Android counterparts, and the Apple TV remote can also double up as a controller out of the box, whereas you'll need to buy the Fire TV gamepad separately if you really want to use it for gaming. You can also use an iPhone as a second gamepad for the Apple TV. It looks as though the Apple TV is going to be the winning choice for casual gamers, as it adopts a Nintendo Wii feel.

The Winner: Apple TV (for accessibility and casual gaming)


Processing and Storage

The Apple TV features the 64-bit, dual-core A8 chip, backed by 2GB of RAM. The Fire TV boasts a quad-core MediaTek processor, also with 2GB of RAM. Theoretically, the Fire TV should be faster. The fact that it can output 4K, which the Apple TV can't handle, backs that assertion.

You can get 32GB or 64GB versions of the Apple TV. The Fire TV only comes with 8GB of onboard storage, but it does have a microSD card slot that allows expansion by up to an additional 128GB.

The Winner: Fire TV


Connectivity

There really isn't a huge difference in terms of connectivity. Both boxes support the latest Wi-Fi standards with MIMO, which means a fast and stable connection for streaming. They also both sport an Ethernet port and an HDMI port. The Apple TV offers Bluetooth 4.0, while the Fire TV has Bluetooth 4.1, but the Apple TV also has USB-C, while the Fire TV has USB 2.0. You can pair Bluetooth headphones with both boxes.

The Winner: Tie


Availability and Pricing

The Fire TV will be released on October 5 and costs $99.99.

The Apple TV is expected sometime in October and it will cost $149 for the 32GB version or $199 for the 64GB version.

The Winner: Fire TV


Apple TV vs. Fire TV

Final Verdict

Whether you go for Apple TV or Fire TV, you're going to gain access to a world of entertainment. If you already have an iPhone, and you use iTunes and Apple Music, then it makes a lot of sense to go with the Apple TV. If you have an Android smartphone and you've signed up for Amazon Prime already, then the Fire TV is clearly the winning choice for you.

If you're in the unlikely position of making a choice without having a preference for Amazon or Apple, then you'll need to weigh up whether 4K support and attractive pricing for the Fire TV outweighs the better remote and out-of-the-box gaming credentials of the Apple TV. And ultimately, if you simply want to stream Netflix or Hulu to your TV, then the cheaper Fire TV might be your best bet.

Readers, are you planning on buying a new streaming set-top box? Are you leaning towards the Fire TV or the Apple TV? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!


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Contributing Writer

Simon is a technology journalist with a background in games development. He is fascinated by all things tech, particularly mobile and videogames, and he loves to share that passion with other tech fans.
DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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14 comments
Ardbeg
The reality is if you have an Android phone you should probably get a Fire and if you insist on an iPhone and use iTunes a lot the Apple TV may be a better option for you.

As someone else alluded, the ability to run Kodi on the Fire TV is a major advantage (yes it takes some fiddling to get it set up, but there are now guides and tools). Kodi then has tons of plugins that provide tons of content you can't get on Apple or Roku (much of it legal, though not all). And it lists other Android apps sideloaded on the Fire, which allows you to easily run tons of games (including emulators) and other apps (e.g., live sports mobile apps) where there isn't a Fire version.

I also have a Roku3, and it's good but the lack of Kodi has become annoying and the interface isn't as well designed as the Fire for many apps (esp. Netflix and Amazon Instant. I do like the headphone jack on the Roku remote for the bedroom (though it eats batteries), which gives you more/cheaper options than bluetooth.
Heyitsrick
Any article comparing streaming boxes that doesn't mention the most popular streaming box on the market is fatally flawed.

"According to the estimates of Parks Associates, Roku had the No.1 selling streaming devices in the US last year, with a 34% market share.

Based on the first quarter 2015 survey results for American broadband households that owned a streaming device, 37% actually had Roku gadgets with Google Chromecast at a distant second with 19%. Apple TV is at 17% share while Amazon Fire TV brings up the fourth spot at 14%."
Lindsay Sakraida (DealNews)
@schulzey Hi there, it's true that the Roku 3 is also worthy to compare to, although the main reason we compared Apple TV to the Fire TV was that they're both brand new, and the Roku 3 is actually pretty old at this point. It debuted in 2013, and there are rumors that it'll get an update soon. We were kind of holding out on a three-device comparison for that update, but we definitely should have made that all much more clear in the writeup.
schulzey
This article is a really narrow look at two new media boxes that don't do much beyond the aging Roku 3.

The absence of any Roku mention here is a bit odd as I'd take an open ROKU 3 over either of these closed media boxes. The Roku 3 has minor gaming too, but if people really want a media box that allows gaming, let's see if Roku adds it with the Roku 4. That being said, I don't see the rational of buying a $200 Apple TV for gaming when $300-350 can get you a far superior gaming machine (XB1 or PS4) that can also do the majority of the same streaming. Even an Xbox 360 or PS3 provides better gaming and excellent media streaming services for under $200. They aren't 4"x4" though.
vinaytampa
@rvpals: Doesn't look like a biased review to me. His final verdict clearly states to go for Fire TV if you have Amazon Prime and Apple TV if you own Apple devices and have invested in iTunes content. I have both devices (the ones before current gen).
therealpae
Fire TV Hands Down!
rvpals
Obviously the reviewer is an apple fanboy. The Apple remote is better because of why? oh, it can play games. WTF. I would think something like a tv stick, the most useful would be what amazon has. Very Biased.
LonnieMcClure
While the new Apple TV has a USB-C port, it is labeled "Service Only" while the Fire TV's USB port is supported for use by the consumer.
arosemena
If you want to play games on the Amazon Fire (it has a faster processor) , they have a version that comes with a game controler, at a lower price ($139.99) than the 32GB Apple TV ($149.99). Since I subscribe to prime that comes with a lot of free content, the Amazon Fire TV is a no brainer for me. Let's wait and see what Roku will come up with in order to include it in the comparison. Another comment: Both Apple and Amazon have excellent after sales support; Roku's support is terrible.
vinaytampa
Shield looks nice but for $250!!!
CreateAUsername
There's one that is never listed; Nvidia Shield. It's more expensive and not a mainstream brand. This is why I shelled out the extra money for it. It's a fair comparison.

http://shield.nvidia.com/...letv-vs-roku-vs-firetv
vinaytampa
@hsteinbe: Both will run Plex which is simpler and easier to use version of Kodi.
MNealon
When I was looking for a streaming device, the majority of the reviews I read recommended the Roku 3. This article would have been much better if you had included the Roku 3 in your comparison.

You mentioned that content was the major contributing factor to purchasing one of these devices, which is why the Roku 3 is amazing. Watch Netflix (of course), ESPN, NFL Sunday Ticket, Bloomberg, WSJ, you name it. If fellow readers are interested in one of these devices, I'd recommend checking out Roku 3 - or at least articles that compare all three of them.
hsteinbe
The Amazon Fire will run Kodi, AppleTV will not, but they are probably working on a jailbreak version of tvOS as I type this...
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