This isn't a fair right. Just like when we put the Amazon Fire TV Cube up against NVIDIA Shield TV, we're talking about two classes of device here. Both stream video. Both run apps. One is more expensive and built with more overhead for performance. The other is also built for hands-free control.
Such is the story of the Fire TV Cube and Apple TV. The new hotness from Amazon versus the best streaming box a cord-cutter can buy.
That doesn't mean there's nothing to talk about, though.
Fire TV Cube vs. Apple TV 4K — specs and hardware
|Category||Fire TV Cube||Apple TV 4K|
|Max resolution||2160p (4K)||2160p (4K)|
|Operating system||Fire OS 6 (Android 7.1)||tvOS 12|
|Processor||Amlogic S905Z||Apple A10X Fusion|
|GPU||Mali-450 MP3||Apple A10X Fusion|
|Ethernet||Adapter included||Ethernet port|
|Apple Siri||No||Via Siri Remote|
|See at Amazon||$119||$179/$199|
The specs are pretty clear — Apple TV 4K has more oomph under the hood than Fire TV Cube. And that's before you take into account that the A10X Fusion processor is tailored made for Apple TV. (Which makes sense. Apple built it.) And it's not every day that we see an Apple device with more RAM than newer competition, but here we are.
The bigger difference here is that Apple TV 4K has a lot more onboard storage, even if you opt for the smaller 32-gigabyte model. (Though for our money, we'd just pony up the extra $20 for 64 gigabytes of space.) Do you need that much storage? Depends on what all you're downloading. Offline movies? Games? That'll all vary from person to person, but there's no denying that the 16 gigabytes of storage on the Fire TV Cube is at least half that of Apple TV 4K.
Apple TV has hardware for days. You'll never call this thing "slow."
That Apple TV 4K has support for Dolby Vision is a big deal, too. Ask anyone who has to worry about such things, and they'll tell you that Dolby Vision simply looks better than HDR 10, hands down.
Where things get a little weird is with support for Dolby Atmos audio. Fire TV Cube has it now, but there's not really any content from Amazon for Atmos. Apple TV is getting it with an update this fall. (It's currently in betas.) None of that matters, of course, unless you have a Dolby Atmos-capable audio system, though.
I'd be remiss if I didn't complain about remote controls for a few words. I'm no fan of the Amazon Voice remote, because it's worthless for turning on a TV and controlling volume. And I'm no fan of the Apple Siri Remote because it's as far from economical as you can get, and confusing to use. But at least it'll power on the system and let you control volume. So there's that.
Fire TV Cube vs. Apple TV 4K — the software
Apple TV's user interface bores me to tears. Pretty much like Apple's phone and tablet UIs, too. It's just icons. There's not a whole lot of shiny there. Amazon, on the other hand, is all about the sex appeal. Big, bright photos. I like it. Others don't. That's fine, but you can't say that it's boring.
You have pretty much every streaming service (and Apple's AirPlay) at your disposal.
But Apple's software — while not looking like much — is fast, and stable. Apps are quick to load, and fast to run. The same can't be said for Amazon's Fire TV OS. (Ask anyone who's used PlayStation Vue or DirecTV Now and they'll tell you the same.)
Apple's "TV" app attempts to aggregate multiple sources, but I've found that it's easier just to digest things individually, especially since major players like Netflix don't use it.
I'm not a big Siri person, but she's integrated nicely into tvOS. And I'm not a huge Alexa person, but obviously she's a big deal with Fire TV Cube. That's a push, in my book.
But Apple TV definitely gets a leg up with extras if you use an iPhone or iPad or Mac. There's the automatic prompt to use your iPhone or iPad as a text input device. (Amazon requires you to manually install and fire up the Fire TV Remote app.) And setup is a breeze if everything's in an iCloud account. Plus there's AirPlay, which is Apple's version of Chromecast and makes it easy to put just about anything up on the big screen.
Fire TV Cube and Apple TV 4K — which should you buy?
For my money, I think Apple TV 4K is a better device. It's more powerful, and more stable, and generally just runs better. When I'm watching TV I want to spend as little time as necessary with the hardware software, and more time with the content. Apple TV 4K accomplishes that.
Amazon Fire TV Cube brings hands-free Alexa into an integrated package. And if that's what you want, go get it. Fire TV Cube will work very well for you.
Amazon Fire TV Cube is a mashup of an Amazon Fire TV 4K and an Amazon Echo. It's a full smart TV system, with the ability to do all sorts of things hands-free thanks to Amazon Alexa being built into the box itself.
That's not to say you'll never need the remote control — or have to grab another remote to control things like volume and power. But it's a really cool iteration of both the Fire TV and Echo lines.Amazon Fire TV Cube
Apple TV is currently our pick for the best streaming box you can buy — regardless of whether you're an iPhone person or an Android person. It's got the best mix of performance and storage options (you can get it with either 32 or 64 gigabytes of space for apps and movies and music and stuff), and it has nearly every service you could think of at its disposal. (Google Play Movies & TV is the notable exception, though it's not like you can't get that content elsewhere.)
The one low mark is for the Siri remote — it's just not fun to use, and it's small and easy to lose.
Regardless, if you want something that just works, and works really well, this is what you want to look at.
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