All the differences between the Fire TV Stick Lite, Fire TV Stick 3, and Fire TV Stick 4K

The Fire TV Stick Lite and the 3rd-generation Fire TV Stick (i.e., Fire TV Stick 3) have recently been released for 2020 and join the Fire TV Stick 4K from 2018 to round out Amazon’s budget-friendly lineup of streaming media players, which are colloquially referred to as Firesticks. The differences might seem straightforward when comparing their device specs, but there are several differences, particularly with the software and operating system of each device, that anyone comparison shopping should know about before determining which device is right for you. Here is a meticulous comparison of all of the differences and similarities between the three Amazon Fire TV Stick models.

A quick note about the 2nd-gen Amazon Fire TV Cube. I haven’t included it in this breakdown because it literally has every single advantage mentioned below, apart from price, and even more advantages that aren’t found on any Fire TV Stick model. So, if you’re just here wondering which Fire TV model is the best and aren’t deterred by the $89.99 to $119.99 price (depending on sale), save yourself the reading and just get the Fire TV Cube 2. You won’t regret it. It’s by far the best Fire TV model that Amazon has ever made. If you’re price-conscious, continue reading.

Remote


Advantage: Fire TV Stick 3 & Fire TV Stick 4K
The Fire TV Stick 3 and Fire TV Stick 4K come with Amazon’s best remote, the Alexa Voice Remote, seen on the left in the image above. The Fire TV Stick Lite comes with a slightly inferior remote called the Alexa Voice Remote Lite. Both remotes connect to the Fire TV via Bluetooth, both are physically the exact same size, and both have voice capabilities for searching and talking to Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant.

The key difference between the two remotes is that the better remote has power, volume, and mute buttons that can control your TV, soundbar, and/or A/V receiver. These buttons don’t have to be configured to control a single device. For example, you can configure the remote to power on both your TV and soundbar when you press the power button and to only control your soundbar’s volume when using the other buttons. The remote can also change inputs and control cable/satellite/OTA tuner channels through Alexa by speaking such commands as “Switch to Xbox” or “Tune to NBC.”

The one and only advantage of the mostly inferior Alexa Voice Remote Lite, seen above on the right, is the inclusion of the Live Channel Guide button at the bottom of the remote. Pressing this brings u the Fire TV’s traditional grid program guide where live channels through several different services are displayed for browsing.

One thing to note is that the Fire TV Stick Lite is fully compatible with the better remote. So, if you happen to have one from an older Fire TV device, like the Fire TV Stick 2, you can pair it with the Fire TV Stick Lite and have all the same remote capabilities as the Fire TV Stick 3 or Fire TV Stick 4K.

Video Resolution

Advantage: Fire TV Stick 4K
This one is pretty straight forward, but the Fire TV Stick Lite and the Fire TV Stick 3 have a maximum video resolution of 1080p (i.e., FHD) at 60 FPS, while the Fire TV Stick 4K can output 4K video (i.e., UHD 2160p) at 60 FPS. The Fire TV Stick 4K is fully compatible with a non-4K TV, but it will only output 1080p if connected to a 1080p TV.

Something worth noting is that not only can’t the Fire TV Stick Lite and the Fire TV Stick 3 output 4K video, but they can’t decode it or downscale it. This isn’t an issue with streaming services, since all 4K capable streaming services will serve 1080p video to the lower end devices. However, if you have your own 4K videos that you are trying to play through an app like Kodi, MrMC, VLC, or other similar media player, the Fire TV Stick Lite and the Fire TV Stick 3 will not be able to play them. You’ll have to either downconvert them yourself to 1080p first or use an app like Plex which can transcode them down to 1080p in real-time.

HDR Video

Advantage: Fire TV Stick 4K
All 3 Fire TV Stick models support High Dynamic Range (HDR) video in the formats HDR10, HDR10+, and HLG. Only the Fire TV Stick 4K supports the HDR format Dolby Vision, which many regard to be the best of the 4 formats. Of course, for any of these formats, you need a TV that is also capable of displaying the HDR format to take advantage of it.

Dolby Audio Decoding & Dolby Audio Passthrough

Advantage: Fire TV Stick 3 & Fire TV Stick 4K
All 3 Fire TV Stick models support Dolby Digital (DD), Dolby Digital Plus (DD+), Dolby Atmos, and DTS audio passthrough. Only the Fire TV Stick 3 and the Fire TV Stick 4K also support onboard Dolby decoding. There are only a few rare instances where this difference will matter.

One way this makes a difference is with how Alexa responses are handled while a video is currently playing. If a video is playing and you ask Alexa for a simple request, like “what is the time” or “what is the weather,” on the Fire TV Stick 3 or the Fire TV Stick 4K, the audio of the video will be lowered (a.k.a. “ducked”), the video will continue to play, and Alexa’s response will be heard at regular volume over the playing videos audio. This results in a more seamless Alexa experience, since the content’s video and audio don’t stop. On the Fire TV Stick Lite, not having onboard Dolby decoding means that Alexa’s response can’t be mixed in with the content’s audio, so asking for the time or weather while a video is playing results in the video pausing while Alexa responds and resuming when Alexa is done.

The other way not having onboard Dolby decoding might affect you is if you’re connecting the Fire TV Stick Lite to an old surround sound system AND if you’re somehow playing a video that doesn’t provide a fallback audio track. This is something that you won’t run into with any streaming service because they will all provide stereo audio if your equipment doesn’t support Dolby decoding, which the vast majority of soundbars and A/V receivers do.

Ultimately, if you’re connecting any of these Fire TV Sticks to just a TV or to a relatively modern soundbar/receiver, the only difference between not having onboard Dolby decoding, like with the Fire TV Stick Lite, versus having it, like with the Fire TV Stick 3 and the Fire TV Stick 4K, is that on the Fire TV Stick Lite you’ll see your ongoing video always pause when interacting with Alexa. All 3 devices will play DD, DD+, and Dolby Atmos via their passthrough capabilities.

Advanced Audio Options

Advantage: Fire TV Stick 3 & Fire TV Stick 4K

The Fire TV Stick 3 and the Fire TV Stick 4K both support two advanced audio options which are not available on the Fire TV Stick Lite. The two options are a Volume Leveler, which attempts to keep a consistent volume level so that things like loud commercials or explosions aren’t louder than everything else, and a Dialogue Enhancer, which attempts to boost speach in videos so that it is easier to hear what is being said, especially at night, when watching at lower volumes.

Performance


Advantage: Fire TV Stick 4K
All 3 Fire TV Sticks use nearly the same CPU and GPU. The Fire TV Stick 4K uses a MediaTek MT8695, while the Fire TV Stick Lite and the Fire TV Stick 3 use a 1080p variant of that same chip, the MediaTek MT8695D. All three are quad-core devices running at 1.7 GHz and all three use the same IMG PowerVR GE8300 GPU. In benchmarks, all three Fire TV Sticks perform nearly equally. The Fire TV Stick 4K performs a hair worse, but that’s likely because it is pushing out more pixels, thanks to its 4K support. In real-world use, you will not notice a difference between the three Fire TV Sticks with regard to their processing power.

The one performance aspect you might see a difference with is their memory/RAM. The Fire TV Stick 4K has 1.5GB of RAM, while the Fire TV Stick Lite and Fire TV Stick 3 have 1GB of RAM. Where this comes into play most is if you’re jumping in and out of multiple apps back-to-back. Having slightly more RAM on the Fire TV Stick 4K means that there is a slightly higher chance that the app that you recently left will still be stored in memory when you return to it, so it will launch a little bit faster. It also means that the Fire TV’s home screen has a chance to load faster when you go back home because it too will stay in memory longer on the Fire TV Stick 4K than on the other devices.

External Storage


Advantage: Fire TV Stick Lite & Fire TV Stick 3
This is the one area that the Fire TV Stick Lite and the Fire TV Stick 3 have an advantage over the Fire TV Stick 4K. Both the Fire TV Stick Lite and the Fire TV Stick 3 natively support external USB storage devices. This means that, with the use of an OTG cable, you can connect an external USB drive to increase the Fire TV Sticks space for storing apps. This is not possible on the Fire TV Stick 4K unless you’re willing and capable of performing advanced OS manipulation through ADB shell commands. All three Fire TV Sticks, including the Fire TV Stick 4K, will, by default, mount an external USB drive that is connected to it and make the files within that drive accessible to any app that supports external storage, but only the Fire TV Stick Lite and the Fire TV Stick 3 have the ability to move apps from internal storage to the external drive.

Operating System

Advantage: Fire TV Stick Lite & Fire TV Stick 3
The Fire TV Stick Lite and the Fire TV Stick 3 run Amazon’s latest operating system version, Fire OS 7 based on Android 9, while the Fire TV Stick 4K runs Fire OS 6 based on Android 7.1. Amazon does a good job at keeping features across Fire OS versions the same, since even devices that are still running Fire OS 5 pretty much have the same capabilities as the devices running the newer OS version. That said, for the longevity of the device, it’s always better to have the newest version of Android because some 3rd party apps base their support on what OS version is on the device. For example, Netflix only supports Dolby Atmos audio on Fire OS 7 devices, so the Fire TV Stick Lite and the Fire TV Stick 3 support Dolby Atmos audio through Netflix but the Fire TV Stick 4K does not. Amazon has upleveled the OS version on devices in the past, most notably when all Fire TV models at the time were upleveled from Fire OS 3 to Fire OS 5, so there is hope that the Fire TV Stick 4K will get Fire OS 7 in the future, but Amazon hasn’t upleveled the OS version of a Fire TV model since the Fire OS 3 to 5 transition.

Size

Advantage: Fire TV Stick Lite & Fire TV Stick 3
I told you I was going to be meticulous, didn’t I? The Fire TV Stick 4K is physically a longer device. All three Fire TV Sticks are the same width and height, but the Fire TV Stick 4K is about half an inch longer. It shouldn’t make a difference to most, but it may mean it sticks out of the side of your TV if the HDMI ports are close to the edge. Something else to consider is that the Fire TV Stick Lite and Fire TV Stick 3 come with a slightly smaller power adapter than the Fire TV Stick 4K, which means it will fit a bit better next to other plugs on a power strip/outlet.

Price and Deals

Advantage: Fire TV Stick Lite
The list price of the Fire TV Stick Lite, Fire TV Stick 3, and Fire TV Stick 4K are, respectively, $29.99, $39.99, and $49.99. The lowest price that the Fire TV Stick 4K has ever been was when it dropped to $24.99 during Prime Day 2019 and Black Friday 2019. It has also been available to select customers through an upgrade promotion for $24.99 with the promo code 4KFIRETV. A much more common sale price for the Fire TV Stick 4K is $34.99, which occurs fairly regularly. Being brand new devices at the time I am writing this, the Fire TV Stick Lite and Fire TV Stick 3 have never been on sale, but I’ll update this comparison when they inevitably do go on sale. The main takeaway is that, since the Fire TV Stick 4K is an older device, it might be more likely to be on sale than the newer Fire TV Stick Lite and Fire TV Stick 3.

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18 comments
  1. clocks says:

    It’s not the size of the stick that matters. It’s how you use it.

  2. hdmkv says:

    Assume expandable storage will come to the 4K Stick w/Fire TV OS7?

  3. Laju8 says:

    Amazon blew this opportunity to make a better streaming device, give the Firetv 4K 2 gigs of ram and 16 gb storage,add the tv guide button to the firetv 4k remote. How much more would it have cost the company to make that? I’m sure all of us would’ve preferred that.

  4. Bob says:

    Who is buying a non 4K device in Oct 2020?????

  5. Bob says:

    How much better/faster is the current 4K stick over the Pendent? I just can’t believe Amazon didn’t update a 2 year old 4K stick.

  6. David Fowler says:

    How do you jail break a fire stick 4 k?

  7. terrybracy says:

    What is the price of the fire stick cube by Amazon going for And is there any one out there has one

    • Anthony S says:

      Not sure on price, but I sent my cube 4k back and used firestick 4k untill I got an Nvidia shield. The cube kept locking up and apps wouldn’t open.

    • Adrian Kemp says:

      I had the 1st gen Cube and traded it in for a 2nd gen device. I hooked them up to a Recast. I expanded storage and USB device hookups with a USB3 hub.

      I stopped use of any paid TV services after a trial of PSVue, which had too many shows I wasn’t interested in to pay $50/ month. When I figured out how to tune everything it worked great for streaming. I have 4K in demand streaming using IPVanish, Real-Debrid and Kodi. Monthly fees are just ISP, VPN & RD.

      I also own a couple of FireTVStick4K devices. I like the streaming devices being from one manufacturer since it simplifies maintenance like upgrading or updating. The number of devices falls within the usage allowances of VPN & RD.

  8. Jim Ganninger says:

    Elias – I would love to see you put the new Google chromecast into a comparison with these fire sticks I’m really curious how it compares from a benchmark standpoint.

  9. Ariel Salvador says:

    Does the native usb storage supports both NTFS & FAT32 format?

  10. Harry Harper says:

    Thanks for the breakdown, Elias!
    From what I gather, the only significant upgrade from the FireTV Stick 4K is the 2nd Gen Cube.

    Bought the 1st and 2nd gen fire tv boxes, as well as first gen Fire TV Stick and Fire TV Stick 4K. Early adopter and fan – mostly for Kodi and personal media but also to stream shows on Amazon Prime as well as Netflix and PlutoTV.

    With your time @ Amazon doing Fire TV development, hoping you have some insight regarding customer usage and satifaction of Fire TV hardware & software as it relates to the interface.

    With everybody bingewatching due to the pandemic, is Amazon going to give users the option to make the interface and user experience less cluttered and more user friendly?

    Does Amazon have options on FireTV to:

    – hide watched shows/seasons so interface isn’t cluttered? Would make finding new content much easier. Currently, have to scroll through so many shows that have been watched and are irrelevant.

    – hide specific categories: ie sports, kid shows, murder shows.

    – hide shows you give a thumbs down to or bad rating.

    – hide all shows that cost extra money to watch. Amazon’s current “free” tab is misleading as they are trying to get you to do a free trial by subscribing to other streaming services which after 7 days end up costing $60-$120/year. Not FREE.
    Amazon might be making a killing during the pandemic, but the majority of customers need to economize and keep spending in check.

    – turn off all advertising and data collection per California Privacy Act.

    Kodi does all of the above very well for local media.

    Netflix has no ads, no added fees, and doesn’t try to push content that I am not interested in.

    AppleTV isn’t perfect, but in ways is more flexible. If I delete an app off the appleTV, Apple doesn’t bombard with ads trying to get me to buy things I don’t want or need. Lack of advertizing on AppleTV makes using their PrimeTV app and content much more satisfying and less intrusive.

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