Amazon’s Fire TV is the Amazon Fire of set top boxes. I’m not saying that to sound like an idiot. I’m trying to emphasize how Amazon’s affinity for highly proprietary and basically functional hardware spans categories. The fancy new Fire TV is no exception.
What makes the new Fire TV fancy is simple: It supports 4K video and voice control at the same $100 price point as the old Fire TV. The perks of 4K support are, of course, limited by the amount of available streaming 4K content—basically Netflix and YouTube. Meanwhile, the voice control puts the power of Alexa, the personal assistant originally developed for the Amazon Echo, into a slightly heftier Fire TV remote. (The previous Fire TV only offered voice search.)
Are the new features neat? Sure. Are these upgrades enough to ditch your old Amazon Fire TV or Fire TV Stick? Less sure.
What Is It?
The new Fire TV is an upgraded set top box best enjoyed by Amazon Prime members.
Who’s It For?
Seriously, you should only consider buying this if you’re an Amazon Prime member. It’s also good for gamers—at least for a set-top box. But if you want something a little more complex than Crossy Road, opt for an Xbox.
It looks exactly like the old Amazon Fire TV: slim, lightweight, black, brick-shaped and easy to hide.
I’m an enthusiastic user of the original Amazon Fire TV Stick, so I was excited to try the new supercharged Fire TV. The experience felt virtually identical. The interface is the same. The movie selection is the same. And the apps—most of which I don’t use—are the same. This is fine with me, especially since I’m so used to my old Fire TV Stick.
The differences are not dumb. The Alexa-powered voice control works reasonably well, especially when you consider how much it sucks trying to type with the simplistic remote. You can even ask the Fire TV for the weather forecast or nuanced searches like “Johnny Depp movies.” In a whole week of testing, I think I used the voice features once. I’m just used to flipping through stuff with the remote like an old person.
The 4K capabilities sound cool, and 4K video definitely looks great. I don’t own a 4K TV, so I didn’t watch any 4K content. This feature is entirely lost on me, and I’d imagine it’s lost on a lot of people since we’re still in the ultra high-definition early days.
One thing that did stand out about the new Fire TV. With a quad-core processor and 2-gigabytes of RAM, it’s zippy. It definitely gets around faster than my old Fire TV Stick by comparison.
I like how zippy it is. It’s noticeably faster than my old Fire TV Stick. (I also like the bigger remote because it’s harder to lose.) It’s cool that you can ask it what the weather is, though I need more time to change my browsing habits before I really get used to talking to a remote. It’s also cool that you can use Bluetooth headphones.
As much as I enjoy the Amazon Fire TV experience, I must admit that it’s exceedingly mediocre. Compared to Apple TV, for instance, the interface feels clunky and confusing. I also feel like I’m constantly being pushed to buy or rent Amazon content which is fine. But I don’t, like, love using the thing. I do feel like I’m making good use of my Amazon Prime membership, though.
Should You Buy It?
At $100, the new Amazon Fire TV is the same price as a Roku 3, a more versatile set-top box that lacks 4K support. So if you want those features, it might be worth it. The Fire TV is slightly cheaper than the $130 Roku 4 which does have 4K support and voice controls. All of these devices are cheaper than the new Apple TV which goes for $150.
The real question you should ask yourself, though, is whether you can settle for the new Fire TV Stick. Its specs aren’t as good as the full-fledged Fire TV, but it does have the new Alexa-powered voice controls. It’s also just $50—or just $0 without the voice remote. The Fire TV Stick basically pays for itself if you want to take advantage of your Amazon Prime benefits. But the Roku family is still tough to beat.
Photos by Michael Hession