Amazon Fire TV with 4K Ultra HD (2017) review: a mighty fine streamer
In the streaming game, Amazon has been ahead of the curve for some time now; back in 2015, the company was the first of the big names to launch a 4K streamer – beating Apple, Google and even Roku to the punch – and it’s had the 4K streaming space to itself for much of that time.
Now, in 2017, the game has changed. Both Apple and Google now have 4K-capable products on the market and they do HDR as well. Amazon hasn’t been sitting on its hands, though, and its response is here: the “All-New” Amazon Fire TV with 4K Ultra HD.
Amazon Fire TV with 4K Ultra HD (2017) review: What’s new?
The key new feature is that the new Fire TV now supports HDR in addition to higher resolution 4K content (though only HDR10, not Dolby Vision), but that’s not all – Amazon’s new “premium” streamer has also had a redesign. It’s now a dongle instead of a set-top box, designed like the Chromecast Ultra to hang from one of your TV’s HDMI ports, so there’s less to clutter up the AV cabinet beneath your TV.[gallery:1]
It’s square in shape, so it looks different from the Chromecast Ultra, but otherwise, it’s a pretty familiar arrangement with a stubby HDMI cable sprouting from one corner of its box-shaped case, and a detachable micro-USB power cable emerging from the opposite side.
The advantage that the new Amazon Fire TV has over Google’s 4K streamer is that it comes supplied with a separate Alexa voice remote, which you can either use like a regular remote control via the buttons, or speak into like an Amazon Echo speaker, using your voice to control playback, search and even issue commands to your smart home devices.
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Amazon Fire TV with 4K Ultra HD (2017) review: Design and features[gallery:4]
Setup is straightforward. As with any 4K HDR device, you need to make sure you’re connecting it to the correct HDMI port on your TV – on many TVs, not all the inputs support 50/60Hz 4K HDR; even if you don’t, though, the Fire TV will detect what that port is capable of and set things up accordingly.
Just like the Chromecast Ultra, Amazon recommends you use the supplied mains adapter that comes in the box to power the device since TV USB ports often don’t supply enough power for 4K playback. Again, though, it’s worth trying your TV USB ports anyway. If the Fire TV with 4K detects there isn’t enough power, it’ll tell you to plug it into the mains instead.
Inside the stick, there are more changes: a faster 1.5GHz quad-core Amlogic S905Z processor backed by 2GB of RAM and 8GB of storage for installing apps and games, and the device is also kitted out with dual-antenna 2×2 MIMO 802.11ac Wi-Fi.
That’s a lot of confusing numbers and letters, but essentially it means the new Fire TV holds the strongest wireless connection possible. And even if you’re still having trouble, it’s good to know that the Fire TV can also be connected to your home network via Ethernet. You’ll need to purchase the optional £14 adapter, though.
Amazon Fire TV with 4K Ultra HD (2017): Content and usability[gallery:5]
Just like the regular Amazon Fire TV, the Fire TV 4K has lots of great content. The big-hitters, in terms of 4K content, are all in place, with support for Amazon Prime Video, YouTube and Netflix. There’s a good mix of other services available as well, with BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4 and My5 all on the menu.
Music services are well-supported. There’s Amazon Music, of course, as well as support for Spotify, Qobuz, Deezer, SoundCloud and TuneIn Radio. And you can install Plex if you intend to stream from a NAS or shared drive on a laptop or PC.
Notably, though, there are some names missing that would have made a great addition. For UK users, this includes Sky’s huge catalogue of media on Now TV. There’s also no Google Movies and TV, and fans of Tidal will be disappointed as well.
It might be possible to sideload some of these apps if you can find the right APK file, but it’s a hassle nonetheless. If those services are a necessity, you’d be better off purchasing a Roku Streaming Stick+ instead (Roku’s new 4K streaming stick), which will allow you to watch all of the above, plus Google Movies and TV and Now TV.
If you can cope without them, though, then you’ll get along just fine with the Fire TV with 4K, particularly the Alexa voice remote. You use this by holding down the microphone button on the remote and speaking. In this way, you can search across multiple services for TV and film titles, even actors and directors, and you can control play and pause functions while you’re watching, as well as skip forwards/backwards a set amount of time.[gallery:6]
That’s not all. The voice remote also gives access to other Alexa functions, such as smart home integration and simple internet queries. If you own Philips Hue lightbulbs, a Hive or Nest smart thermostat you’ll be able to control them through the voice remote just as you can through an Amazon Echo.
The Fire TV with 4K doesn’t provide access to the complete set of Alexa features. Among other things, it omits the ability to use Alexa’s ultra-useful Drop In function to call Echo and Echo Dot speakers around the house and connected Alexa apps.
However, it does provide voice control, effectively, for free. If you want to add voice control to a Chromecast Ultra, you need a Google Home Mini and that will set you back an extra £50.
Amazon Fire TV with 4K Ultra HD (2017): Verdict[gallery:7]
The Fire TV with 4K Ultra HD is a brilliant product, but tricky to assess nonetheless. On the one hand, it’s the market leader. For me, it’s the easiest TV streamer to use, giving you voice control features, an intuitive UI and a simple, effective remote control all in one box.
But deciding whether you should buy one isn’t that simple. On the one hand, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the Fire TV if you already pay for Amazon Prime or own an Echo or Echo Dot, especially if you’re dissatisfied with the performance of your 4K TV’s smart apps.
For others, on the other hand, it’s a less clear-cut recommendation. Fans of Now TV would do well to consider the Roku Streaming Stick+ instead and, if you already own other Google products, such as Home or Chromecast Audio, then the Chromecast Ultra makes more sense.
As an all-round good device, though, even considering its drawbacks, I’m a big fan of the Amazon Fire TV with 4K – it’s a mighty fine 4K streamer.