Android TV and Roku are two of the best smart TV platforms on the market, and this is a guide to help determine which is best for you.
Although a lot of our time is spent talking about phones, smartwatches, and tablets, the market for smart TVs is one that deserves plenty of attention as well. Smart televisions and streaming boxes will likely be at the top of your holiday shopping list, and choosing the product with the software that works best either for you or the person you’re shopping for is critical to getting the best gift possible.
Before we dive too far into the nooks and crannies of each platform, let’s first talk about the kind of hardware that’s available for each.
The NVIDIA Shield TV is one of the best ways to get Android TV in late 2017.
Streaming boxes are the best way to get access to everything Android TV and Roku have to offer without spending hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars on a new television set, and this is one area where Roku pulls an easy win. Roku currently offers a variety of streaming boxes and sticks that range in price from just $29 up to $99, each with their own set of features and limitations.
As for Android TV, your only real option is the NVIDIA Shield TV. The Shield TV is a phenomenal streaming box with support for 4K HDR content and a large collection of games, but the higher retail price of $199 (or $179 without the game controller) can be tough to swallow. There are some sales right now that lower the Shield TV to as little as $150, but even so, Roku still can’t be beaten with its larger catalog and much lower prices.
Moving over to televisions, the story is mostly the same. There’s a decent selection of Sony options to pick from that feature Android TV built-in, but they all err on the expensive side. One of the cheapest options is a 43-inch LED set with 4K HDR support that’s currently on sale for $599, but once again, Roku’s platform manages to stretch your dollar a lot further.
Roku has the upper-hand with streaming boxes and smart TVs.
Companies like TCL, Insignia, Sharp, HiSense, and others have adopted the Roku platform, and this has allowed for a variety of televisions with Roku for just about every buyer. The TCL 55S405 offers a 55-inch LED panel with 4K support for as little as $379, and spending that same $599 for the smaller Sony set will get you the TCL 55P605. This is the television I’ve been using for the past week, and even at its current price without any sales, it’s an absolute steal. The 55-inch screen size is plenty large, 4K HDR and Dolby Vision create for a picture that looks downright phenomenal for this price range, and the built-in speakers are also surprisingly nice.
Roku and Android TV both take very different approaches when it comes to their respective user interfaces, and considering that this is something you’ll interact with every single time you interact with your TV, it’s important you use one that works best for you.
When it comes to Roku, the big focus is on simplicity. Your main home screen shows a list of all the channels/apps you have installed, and you can navigate through other pages with the menu on the left.
- My Feed – Updates on any movies or TV shows you’re interested in, such as when they’re available for purchase or when they go on sale
- Movie/TV Store – Quick access for buying or renting movies and TV shows through Fandango
- News – News organized by various cateogires, powered by AOL Video
- Search – Universal search to find a certain title across all of your installed apps
- Streaming Channels – Library of paid and free apps you can download to your Roku
- Settings – Change your Roku’s theme, adjust the time, control accessibility options, etc.
Roku’s interface is extremely simple to navigate and understand, but it’s looking a bit dated these days.
In its current form, Android TV showcases videos at the very top of your screen based on your interests, what’s popular, and any recent purchases or rentals you’ve made. Below this is where you’ll find all of your installed apps, down even further showcases your games, and going down one more step will give you access to your settings.
The UI follows Google’s material desgin quite well, and it offers an aesthetic that looks and feels a lot more modern. Roku’s interface never feels slow, but the animations and layout for Android TV make it a more enjoyable experience when navigating through all your content.
Better yet, the update to Android 8.0 Oreo will make Android TV even better. It’s only hit the recently-discontinued Nexus Player so far, but the new interface and What’s Next section for helping you easily continue any shows you’re watching all look like solid updates. The only question that remains is when it’ll start arriving on Sony’s TVs and the Shield.
Winner: Android TV
Having a pretty UI to navigate sure is nice, but if there’s nothing to watch, it’s kind of pointless.
Both Roku and Android TV have all of the big names you’d expect (in the U.S.), such as Netflix, Hulu, Sling TV, Vudu, HBO NOW, Spotify, etc.
If you’re heavily invested in Google’s ecosystem, Android TV is unsurprisingly the better choice. The Google Play Movies app is much nicer-looking and more feature-rich on Android TV, and this is the only place you’ll find a Play Music app. Unfortunately, outside of these and the big streaming services, Android TV has a few annoying quirks that can make using it something of a pain.
For one example, while you can download and watch Hulu, the app is using an outdated design and doesn’t let you access Hulu’s live television service. Hulu hasn’t announced any plans for bringing this update to its Android TV app, and we wouldn’t hold our breath for it coming anytime soon.
Also, If you’re an Xfinity subscriber and want to use HBO GO, you’re out of luck. For whatever reason, Comcast doesn’t allow you to use your login credentials on Android TV for HBO GO, HGTV, Food Network, and a variety of other TV Everywhere apps. There’s a decent selection of content to be found on Android TV, but there are still issues here and there that can make it unusable depending on what you like to watch.
On the flip side, Roku has everything and the kitchen sink. I’ve never not been able to find something I wanted to watch on Roku (save for YouTube TV), and this is also the platform you’ll want to choose if you want to try out new services like Philo before anyone else. You can’t listen to tunes on Google Play Music, but I’d much rather put up with this than the myraid of content roadblocks I’ve often found myself hitting with Android TV.
Roku added voice controls back in 2015, but not every box/TV comes with a remote that supports this out of the box. Most premium options do, but Roku also sells its Enhanced Remote that supports voice search so you can upgrade your current system after the fact as well.
For the most part, Roku’s voice feature works just fine. You can use it to find specific titles you’re looking for, browse content from a certain actor or director, launch apps and search genres within them, and more. Plus, if you have a Roku TV, you can use your voice to change inputs, go through different broadcast channels, and launch Roku’s Smart Guide.
Roku’s voice controls work well, but Google Assistant on Android TV blows them out of the water.
However, as useful as these controls can be, they don’t hold a candle to what you can do with Android TV.
Voice controls are available with every Android TV device, and with the expanding launch of Google Assistant, they’re made even better. Along with the standard array of media playback controls, you can use the Assistant to check the weather, see live scores from your favorite game, browse through your pictures on Google Photos, and much, much more. Roku’s voice controls aren’t bad, but Google Assistant just blows them out of the water.
Winner: Android TV
With all that said, here’s how Android TV and Roku stack up to each other based on the categories we’ve covered:
- Hardware availability – Roku
- User interface – Android TV
- Content – Roku
- Voice control – Android TV
As you can see, both platforms are pretty much split down the board when it comes to their respective pros and cons. Roku has a broader selection of hardware and is the content king, but Android TV is the clear leader when it comes to its user interface and voice control features.
Because of this, the ultimate decision of which platform is best comes down to your personal preferences and use cases. If you want to have access to as many channels/apps as possible, like having a wide choice of compatible hardware, and prefer an interface that’s simple to use at the expense of looking flashy, Roku is a fantastic pick.
On the other hand, Android TV is still a great platform – especially if you’re invested in Google’s services and only rely on the most popular streaming apps.
No matter which one you choose, you can rest assured that you’ll end up with one of the best ways to smarten up your living room.
- Read our Shield Android TV review
- The latest Shield Android TV news
- Shield vs. Shield Pro: Which should I buy?
- Join the forum discussion
- Complete Shield Android TV specs