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Amazon Fire TV Stick is the most affordable option available from the electronic commerce and computing giant. We had reviewed earlier this year its bigger 4K/HDR capable brother which left us very good impressions altogether.
This model goes “only” up to 1080p but it offers virtually the same feature list with the bigger model, while at the same time it costs almost half the price.
Packaging – Specifications
In a similar fashion to its 4K counterpart, the Fire TV Stick arrived in an orange-ish folded compact packaging. Inside, you will find all the contents in a well-designed layout. These are the Fire TV Stick itself in a HDMI dongle factor, the voice remote (2xAAA batteries included), the USB cable, the power adaptor and the HDMI extender cable alongside with Amazon promotional documentation.
The specifications list is upgraded compared to the previous Fire TV Stick generation.
This time there is a Media Tek Quad-Core 1.3GHz processor inside offering up to 30% better performance than its predecessor. 1GB of DDR3 RAM remained the same and the internal ROM is still 8GB in size. Wireless connectivity took a significant upgrade by implementing a 802.11ac dual-band MIMO Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.1 modules. You will still be able to get 5.1 surround sound but not Dolby ATMOS like its bigger brother.
All your content can only be streamed via Wi-Fi. Amazon provides as an extra accessory a wired LAN adaptor that supports Mbit speeds if you desperately need a wired connection.
As expected for an Amazon TV Box, its user interface is tailor made for its online services.
Media Player – Remote
The Fire TV Stick is just like a much larger … USB dongle (just 85.9mm long)! It is still small enough for you to carry it around with you on your trips. The wall-type charger is also compact, similar to the ones used for smartphones. The only existing (micro) USB port is for charging only, and you can use your device only for streaming. The HDMI cable extender is a mandatory accessory in order for you to avoid damaging either your Fire TV Stick or your TV/Receiver’s HDMI port. It is preferable to use it even in cases you think you don’t have to.
The remote is the exact one found on the Fire TV 4K model. Amazon should be praised for keeping the same model and not using a cheaper, “voice-less” one instead. It is Bluetooth based so you will not have to worry about pointing it directly to main unit that will probably be located behind your TV screen. The buttons are only the absolutely needed ones so no learning curve is required. We are missing only dedicated buttons for volume control. You could use a different remote, but you would omit the voice control/Alexa functionality. You do though have the option to control the device with your smartphone by just downloading the required application.
Menus – Settings
Booting sequence takes a minute, give or take. The newly designed (compared to its predecessor) user interface is tailor made for Amazon services but that is probably why someone will buy it anyway. The graphical user interface is very beautiful and quite similar to Apple TV OS and Google Android TV.
It consists of seven tabs (search, home, videos, movies, TV shows, apps and settings). Apps and settings aside, all the major ones are interactive and their content changes based on the selections and usage of your Amazon services. Any new application you install can be inserted to the Home tab for faster access.
The settings tab is easy to use and you will be able to setup your Amazon TV box according to your rest setup in no time. Make sure to enable the option to installed applications from external sources if you want to add an application that can’t be found on Amazon’s store. We did miss the option to zoom in/out the video frame since a seven year old plasma TV lacked such feature.
Advanced parental controls (PIN protected apps and purchases, content rated playback) and data monitoring options also exist in order for you to have a more tight control.
Aside from the 4K/HDR/ATMOS lack of support, the overall performance/feel is almost the same, compared to the 4K model.
All major streaming services like Amazon, Netflix, Spotify, Hulu, HBO etc. are available.
All of the above show very good performance with the Fire TV Stick. The integration with Amazon’s services is unique and watching movies and TV shows is only one click or one voice command away. A monthly subscription is required in order to do so. The maximum resolution supported is 1080p and should suffice for the majority of users looking for a cheap but fully licensed streamer . Dolby Digital+ is what you usually will get in terms of audio output.
Netflix also showed perfect 1080p performance. Dolby Digital+ is again the most you will get (and the only option Netflix has to offer besides stereo).
Amazon Music and Spotify once again had perfect performance. Fans of Tidal will be disappointed from the lack of the application inside the Amazon Store.
Playback of video files from your own library is not supported out of the box. But installing KODI (Google it, it is very easy, you will only need the download application) changed that. Instantly, all SMB shares were recognized and became available. Playback of all popular encodings was easy and almost lag-free. We say “almost” due to the restrictions of the Wi-Fi connection since extremely high bit-rate files (Blu Ray backups) suffered during demanding scenes. You shouldn’t worry that much because you will mostly have no issues with more down to earth releases (20-25 GB ones for example). Oddly, 24p frame switching is supported with KODI. You will just have to remember to enable the related setting in Video options.
As expected for an Amazon device, DRM license limitations allows only Dolby Digital (+) out. Files with DTS:X / ATMOS / DTS soundtracks allowed a 5.1 core LPCM output. Dolby Digital tracks must be downmixed to stereo.
Gaming is possible but you should better stick to 2D or light 3D titles. Note that many Bluetooth controllers are incompatible with the Amazon Fire TV Stick. You should search carefully before buying a new one for the purpose.
Wi-Fi Dual Band performance was amazing and comparable only to the best solutions out there (NVidia Shield, Apple TV 4K and Xiaomi Mi 4K). A wired connection will not be missed in normal conditions. As always, you will have to make sure that your access point can provide a strong 5GHz signal to Fire TV Stick’s position.
Operating system – Alexa
Fire OS is based on a heavily stripped down Android 5.1 version. There are no Google services to be found, especially Play Store, and there is no easy workaround to install them (so far). You will have to make do with what the Amazon Store has to offer. Fortunately, both in terms of applications and games, the Amazon Store is very rich in content (although not Play Store rich). Applications and games purchased from your Google account will not be transferred here so re-purchasing of the ones you really need is the only solution.
Amazon’s feud with Google expands to You-Tube performance as well. The dedicated app has nothing to do with the official (Google You-Tube) one and the interface is a result of web browser integration (you can choose between Silk browser and Firefox browser playback). The workaround is good and 1080p streaming is very good.
Fortunately there are workarounds to install .apk files via the downloader application. We installed KODI this way and you should be able to install more in the same manner.
Alexa is Amazon’s voice assistant and the Blue Tooth remote is your way of access. You can use Alexa with the Fire TV box without the use of the remote but you will have to use an Amazon Echo box. Alexa has still a long way to go to reach the precision of Google’s equivalent service but it is getting improved with every update. We wish that Alexa’s main results would also include options from other carriers. You can still use them but the option to do that requires more clicks. Since it is an Amazon product, such behavior is expected.
Browsing through the user interface and launching applications is fast due to the fast SoC and the light Fire OS launcher, but the limiting RAM size (1GB) will make multitasking more difficult and re-drawing of web pages or application re-launching is to be expected.
Amazon Fire TV Stick is super cheap and capable (39.99$, but can be found 10$ less during promotional seasons). It is rare to find such a combination these days when you are dealing with TV boxes/streamers, let alone carrying official licenses for Amazon Prime and Netflix. The lack of a USB port is expected for a streaming device, but the exceptional Wi-Fi performance will allow playback of high bit-rate content hassle free. Especially if you have an Amazon Prime subscription you will feel right at home with perfect integration for all services.
You will be able to purchase it from all Amazon online stores.
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