Comparing Amazon's Fire TV Cube and the Apple TV 4K

Posted:
in iPod + iTunes + AppleTV edited June 2018
Amazon's Fire TV Cube has just made its way onto the market, close to one year after the Apple TV 4K shipped, but which media streaming device is superior? Or, more importantly, which of the two is right for you?



Externals and Specifications

Right off the bat, I have to admit the Apple TV 4K is more aesthetically pleasing than the Cube. Where Apple decided to use rounded corners to create a discrete device, Amazon has opted for a sharp-edged cube with a light strip on the top.

On the bottom of the Apple TV is a fan for better cooling, a place where Amazon decided to place a speaker for its built-in Alexa to speak through. On the top, the Fire TV Cube has eight microphones for voice control, and four physical buttons including a mute button, whereas Apple added black-on-black branding.




Around the back of the Fire TV Cube is a plug for the included infrared blaster, which is used for controlling third-party devices with just your voice. There is also a micro-USB port that can be used with the included Ethernet adapter, but it's connectivity is limited to 100 Mbps compared to the Apple TV 4K's built-in Gigabit Ethernet port.

Amazon is currently offering the Cube for $120, or in a bundle with Amazon's Cloud Cam for an extra 80 bucks. The pair sync automatically, with the security screen displaying on the television after just a brief wait.

This feature, unfortunately, isn't available on the Apple TV 4K.




The Apple TV 4K starts at a higher $180, but it is supplied with twice as much storage as the Cube, as well as an extra gigabyte of RAM. Pay just $20 more for another 32GB of storage on top.

So, what makes up the difference in price?

For starters, the Fire TV Cube is simply last year's Fire TV combined with an Echo Dot. When bought separately, the two devices total a similar $120, however Amazon is currently selling the pair for $95 if you buy them together.

The Fire TV has the exact same internals as the Cube, other than the storage. It can also do pretty much everything the Cube can do if you've got an Echo, but it can't turn on your TV and control devices like your cable box.

The Apple TV 4K's price tag is justified by its A10X Fusion processor, the same chip used in Apple's latest iPad Pro models. The A10X is so fast that it matches the performance of some of Apple's new MacBooks, especially when you look at graphics performance.

The Cube has a chipset that's made with architecture dating from 2012. You get the same processor that comes in the Raspberry Pi 3, except clocked at a slightly faster 1.5Ghz speed, while the graphics chip is an ultra-low power GPU meant for entry-level phones and wearables.

No wonder Amazon's selling the Fire TV Cube for $120.




The Apple TV 4K has 3GB of RAM, 50 percent more than the 2GB used in the Cube.

Both devices support 4K video at 60 frames per second and HDR, except the Cube only supports HDR10 whereas the Apple TV 4K also supports Dolby Vision, a better version of HDR.

The Cube already supports Dolby Atmos surround sound, and the Apple TV 4K will catch up when tvOS 12 gets released this September. Apple will also automatically upgrade supported iTunes movie purchases to Atmos versions for free, just like it did when Apple introduced 4K movies to the store.

There's also a bunch of new features being added with tvOS 12, including third-party Siri Remote support, Password autofill, zero-sign-on cable and more.

The Cube will soon support sleep timers, Alexa Calling & Messaging, multi-room music, and Bluetooth connections to mobile phones.

How they Function

The Siri remote's metal and glass construction tops the Alexa Voice Remote's plastic handset. It's also got a built-in battery that fast-charges via Lightning, versus a couple of batteries on the Alexa Remote that many reviewers say drain too quickly.

Amazon's remote also lacks volume controls, so you'll have to resort to finding the TV remote or asking Alexa to turn up the volume. The issue with using Alexa for this is that you can't specify a specific volume, and the volume increments max out at 10 units, so users will have to ask Alexa multiple times to get to their desired volume.




Thankfully, the Siri remote has volume controls and a touchpad, making navigation a lot quicker than using the buttons on the Cube's remote.

We love that you can ask the Cube to turn on your TV or other connected devices like an Xbox, Playstation, or cable box, but while Alexa is a lot smarter than Siri, searching for movies and shows is a pretty bad experience.

A search for newly-released rentals brings up a list consisting mostly of Prime movies. TV shows are offered when searching for action movies, while a request for "top-rated movies" gave a general movies list. The Prime movie results were very limiting compared to what Amazon offers overall, and if you search for a certain category of Prime movies, you end up with a bunch of non-prime content.

Luckily, searching for movies by actor or for films made by a certain director works well. You can also use your voice to scroll through the results, but it takes forever compared to using the remote.

The worst part about Alexa is that you can't search specifically for 4K or 4K HDR movies. Alexa will simply search for movies in general, regardless of resolution.

On the Apple TV 4K, every search result is completely accurate. From searching for 4K movies to 4K HDR movies, to action movies and action shows, you get exactly the results you want every single time.




The best part is that every 4K HDR movie available for rent is available to rent in 4K HDR, whereas on the Cube, there's a lot of movies that you can purchase in 4K HD but can only rent in regular HD quality. On top of that, there's more new releases on Apple's iTunes that allow rentals compared to Amazon Prime, like "Black Panther," "Peter Rabbit," and "Passengers."

Interestingly, the Cube has a 4K movie only available as a $25 purchase, even though it's available to stream on Netflix. The Apple TV 4K instead takes you straight into Netflix to watch the film.

Searching is also incredibly quick on the Apple TV compared the Cube. It happens instantly, and you can get more search results by scrolling right, whereas the Cube limits you to a maximum of 99 results.

The Apple TV 4K's user interface is also smoother than the Cube, which will sometimes lag and take time to load certain apps or initiate search results.




One plus for the Cube is that you can watch 4K content on YouTube, which won't work on the Apple TV since it doesn't support YouTube's VP9 codec.

Both devices work well within their own ecosystems, like movies, photos, and music. Whichever ecosystem you've invested more into may be the better option for you.

The nice thing about the Apple TV is that you can AirPlay content to it straight from another device, such as to show others photos and videos. The Cube can't currently do that without third-party software.

Apple TV also has podcasts, which works very well and is convenient for home listening.

When it comes to games, you get a better selection of titles with higher quality graphics on the Apple TV, thanks to its powerful processor. You get mostly basic Android mobile games on the Cube, and when using voice to search for them, you get hundreds more results on Apple TV.

When you're not using your devices, you also get better screensavers on the Apple TV as well.


In Conclusion

Overall, the Apple TV 4K is the superior streaming device, except for the fact that it lacks hands-free voice controls. However, the Alexa voice controls on the Cube are so bad that you'll have to resort to using your remote for many activities.

The Cube does gain some pluses for being able to turn the TV on and control other devices, but it's not that big of a deal for a lot of people.

Lastly, if you're looking for the best 4K HDR experience, the Apple TV 4K has a lot more content to offer for the moment.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 20
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 6,564member
    The Cube does gain some pluses for being able to turn the TV on”

    The ATV can turn on the TV as well. As soon as I push a button on its remote the TV turns on. 
    edited June 2018 Cesar Battistini MazierochasmGabywatto_cobrawillcropoint
  • Reply 2 of 20
    Apple TV will turn on your tv and sound system.  You can control all and even automatically turn all off by putting Apple TV to sleep.  Additionally, you can play the sound wirelessly through the HomePod.
    Cesar Battistini MazierochasmGabywatto_cobrawillcropoint
  • Reply 3 of 20
    Cesar Battistini MazieroCesar Battistini Maziero Posts: 148unconfirmed, member
    Apple TV can turn tvs on as well! So the only plus on the Amazon Cube is actually an equal hauuhahuahua
    chasmwatto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 20
    mavemufcmavemufc Posts: 326member
    I imagine most people on here will either already have an Apple TV or if not they’d probably rather one, but nice comparison video.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 20
    chyang888chyang888 Posts: 8unconfirmed, member
    The Cube does gain some pluses for being able to turn the TV on”

    The ATV can turn on the TV as well. As soon as I push a button on its remote the TV turns on. 
    I think the reviewer wasn't specific. about the feature. With the Cube, you can turn on the TV, sound bar, and/or home theater system by "VOICE" (without touching the remote) . You can voice control basic functions of the TV (on / off / mute) even if you are streaming with a different box such as Apple TV. If you momentarily can not find your remote, at least you can bark out commands to the Cube. When streaming Amazon content, i found voice control play/pause/forward/backward of a video is quite useful. I have both Apple TV and Amazon Cube hooked up to my TV. Still testing, but I can see useful aspects of the Cube that Apple TV can learn from. If Apple TV can respond to voice command without talking into the remote, it would be great.
  • Reply 6 of 20
    chasmchasm Posts: 1,100member
    Amazon's remote is as cheap and tacky as it's FireTV/Cube, but I will say you can at least tell which end is up in a darkened room ... just sayin', Sir Jony ...
    muthuk_vanalingamwatto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 20
    SoliSoli Posts: 8,492member
    “The Cube does gain some pluses for being able to turn the TV on”

    The ATV can turn on the TV as well. As soon as I push a button on its remote the TV turns on. 
    I assume they mean via Alexa. I'd like to see Siri added to the Apple TV as an always-on option. The Apple TV's HDMI-CEC has been excellent in my experience. If they offer a 6th generation with always-on Siri (or even linking to their HomePod line) I'd probably jump on that.

    Can they put it in the Apple TV itself or would it still have to reside in the remote? For me, with my Apple tucked away in a cabinet it's not very useful to have Siri always-on on the main device, and I wonder what kind of power requirements, size, and cost would come from putting, say, an Apple T3 chip in a Siri Remote, but I'd love to be able to voice commands without having to locate and use the physical remote. Sooner or later that will come to pass.
    muthuk_vanalingamwatto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 20
    nunzynunzy Posts: 662member
     the the most important thing to know is that Amazon will sell your data to the highest bidder.


    watto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 20
    MacProMacPro Posts: 17,905member
    Now if only Gatorguy worked for Amazon products as hard as he does for Google's we'd have a ton of links to prove the Apple TV 4K was rubbish compared to  Amazon offering.
    kuduRayz2016Gabywatto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 20
    JosephAUJosephAU Posts: 14member
    “The Cube does gain some pluses for being able to turn the TV on”

    The ATV can turn on the TV as well. As soon as I push a button on its remote the TV turns on and Siri can turn the Tv on too by saying play on Apple TV
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 20
    k2kwk2kw Posts: 1,626member
    nunzy said:
     the the most important thing to know is that Amazon will sell your data to the highest bidder.


    Do you have proof of that?  I assume Amazon uses my viewing habit to sell more stuff to me.
    im ok with that?
    muthuk_vanalingamnunzy
  • Reply 12 of 20
    Rayz2016Rayz2016 Posts: 4,556member
    “The Cube does gain some pluses for being able to turn the TV on”

    The ATV can turn on the TV as well. As soon as I push a button on its remote the TV turns on. 
    Yeah, does the same on mine. Perhaps it depends on the TV.  

    If I hit a button on the remote it will switch to the right HDMI output, which none of my other gadgets can do. 
    edited June 2018 watto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 20
    Rayz2016Rayz2016 Posts: 4,556member

    MacPro said:
    Now if only Gatorguy worked for Amazon products as hard as he does for Google's we'd have a ton of links to prove the Apple TV 4K was rubbish compared to  Amazon offering.
    Or he’ll say you need to enter a password every time you want to watch a TV show, even though he’s never used one. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 20
    mbenz1962mbenz1962 Posts: 116member
    chyang888 said:
    “The Cube does gain some pluses for being able to turn the TV on”

    The ATV can turn on the TV as well. As soon as I push a button on its remote the TV turns on. 
    I think the reviewer wasn't specific. about the feature. With the Cube, you can turn on the TV, sound bar, and/or home theater system by "VOICE" (without touching the remote) . 

    I'm also pretty sure this is was the intention from the author.  I will say though that my AppleTV will not turn on the TV.  It will turn off the HT system and TV, but thru some quirk of poorly implemented CEC on my Panasonic HT system, it will not turn on the TV.  I'm looking to upgrade my HT in the next 9 months to an Atmos enabled soundbar, so I hope this eventually is also eliminated.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 20
    GeorgeBMacGeorgeBMac Posts: 3,641member
    For me, the question is:    Does either have anything that I want to watch? 
    (And, no, I'm not going to rent a $6.00 movie every night...)
    muthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 16 of 20
    JosephAU said:
    “The Cube does gain some pluses for being able to turn the TV on”

    The ATV can turn on the TV as well. As soon as I push a button on its remote the TV turns on and Siri can turn the Tv on too by saying play on Apple TV
    That's because of HDMI-CEC which isn't the same thing. A Fire TV can do the same thing. So can a PS4, Xbox One, or just about any other HDMI connected device.

    The difference is a person could choose to disable HDMI-CEC on their TV set (say they don't want the TV coming on in the bedroom just because they bumped the remote in the middle of the night), but could still ask Alexa to turn on the TV using it's IR blaster. While I agree with the article that it's not a huge deal, it is nice to have more options.
  • Reply 17 of 20
    I own a Fire TV paired with an Echo Dot, so I basically have the same feature set as the Cube minus the IR blaster stuff.

    I also own an Apple TV 4K 32 GB.

    Some of this article is just harping on preferences, but some parts show a lack of understanding of how the Fire TV interface works. For example, if you search for a movie on the Fire TV, it often brings up the movie with the option to stream/rent/buy from Amazon. But there's an option right on the screen though that says (going off memory here) "More Ways to Watch." If you click that, it shows you all of the different apps that you can use to stream the movie. You can click one of the choices and off you go, streaming that movie on that app. In some cases, the movie isn't available on Amazon so when you search for that movie, it will say on the main movie area "Watch on Netflix" or "Watch on Hulu" or "Watch on Tubi" or whatever. So it's actually not hard to search for a movie on the Fire TV and watch it where you want.

    I do agree that Apple TV has more 4K movie options available through iTunes. That's definitely true, no doubt about that one.

    I disagree the Apple TV remote makes it easier to scroll. Truthfully, the Apple TV remote is horrendous. What were they thinking? In some cases, the touchpad on the remote makes FF/RW through a movie nicer, but in apps like PS Vue or DirecTV Now, trying to fast forward through commercials is an exercise in futility on the Apple TV. I know I'm not the only one that feels that way.

    One thing that's great about Fire TV and Alexa integration is being able to say things like "Alexa, play AP Bio on Hulu." The Hulu app launches and starts playing the next episode of AP Bio. Or to say "Alexa, watch ESPN on Playstation Vue" and yep, launches PS Vue and tunes to ESPN.

    At the end of the day, they're both good devices, each with pros/cons, and it really comes down to which ecosystem you're into. If you're heavily into iTunes, then getting an Apple TV is a no-brainer. If you're into watching Twitch, then a Fire TV is your best option. Etc., etc., etc.
  • Reply 18 of 20
    Dsumm1Dsumm1 Posts: 1member
    I’ve been an Apple TV user since version 1, and have always loved it, connected through my home theater system.  I’ve now replaced it (at least for the time being) with the Cube.  Here’s why:  the Cube’s ability to seamlessly switch between my audio components, change my cable TV channels, my favoritr streaming apps (Netflix, Spotify, etc), all using my voice (Alexa, switch to cable, play CNN, play Netflix, play my rock playlist on Spotify, etc), all integrated into my home theater system with Alexa via HDMI.  Not to mention the other Alexa skills integrated and how well it’s implemented.  Example -  “Alexa, dim living room lights” -  Alexa muted my audio volume through my home theater while I give the voice command so she can hear me clearly - nice.  It all works natively and does much better than the Harmony Hub skills I was using before.  I love controlling everything with voice, particularly switching between sources.  The Apple TV simply doesn’t do this.  I do miss the Apple Movies interface, and Cube does not have a native YouTube app, also missed.  But the tight integration with my home theater components and Alexa skills almost feels like magic. I have a whole Apple ecosystem, but I love Alexa tied to my home theater.  
    Soli
  • Reply 19 of 20
    People in the comments seem to be suggesting my Apple TV 4K should be able to turn things on and off and control the volume just like the cube (forget voice control for now) but I’m not sure how this is supposed to work. 

    For example, I’ve got a Visio sound bar a year or so old. Does that mean the Apple TV may be able to turn on and off the sound bar as well as the TV because of HDMI-CEC?

    I’m not sure if this is related, but the learning remote feature of the Apple TV has never seemed to work quite right, when trying to use it to learn the volume controls of the sound bar..  not sure if these attempts could be conflicting with CEC in some way.

    It would be great if there were a way to configure the Apple TV, sound bar, TV and volume and on and off all to work together without buying anything else.

     If this is all possible does it mean there would not be a reason for anyone to buy one of those army base station blasters if they had an Apple TV  and HDMI – CEC components ?
    edited June 2018
  • Reply 20 of 20

    Do you think maybe you could be bothered to proofread the article? Reading a product review with a bunch of grammatical errors is very distracting and it's not a very good look for your publication.

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