How to Use the Amazon Fire TV Stick [March 2021]
This is the age of streaming media. No matter where you look, it seems like every company is eager to take advantage of the new era we’ve found ourselves in. It can be a lot to navigate, especially if you’re just looking to ignore the noise coming from the media industry and just want to actually watch some quality entertainment.
If you’re looking for the easiest way to watch new media platforms like Netflix, Disney+, or Hulu, the Amazon Fire TV line of devices is a great place to start.
Though there are several different devices to choose from, it’s the Fire Stick 4K that many users opt to watch their favorite movies and TV shows. The Fire Stick 4K is easy to use, but if you just got one, you probably haven’t unlocked the device’s full potential yet. Whether you’re a beginner who just bought your first Fire Stick, or you’re ready to take your streaming options to the next level, here’s how to use your Amazon Fire TV Stick.
What Can You Do With an Amazon Fire TV Stick?
The Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K, known colloquially as a “Fire Stick,” is a small streaming device manufactured by Amazon that allows you to watch videos streamed over your internet connection to your television. Though it wasn’t the first Amazon Fire TV device, it’s by far the most popular, and it competes directly with the likes of Roku and Chromecast with Google TV in the budget streaming device market.
The device plugs into the back of your television through HDMI (either with the stick itself or using the bundled adapter for tight connections), and it connects to your home WiFi connection to deliver media straight to your television using apps, just like your smartphone. It gets powered through the included micro USB cable, plugged into the back of your television or an AC adapter, and it takes up very little space behind your television.
The remote was recently updated and can now control your television’s power and volume, in addition to the typical play/pause and navigation options on the remote. Also, you can use Alexa by pressing a button on the remote. She can guide you, assist you, and even make you laugh.
Which Fire TV Stick Should You Choose?
There are several models, including the Fire TV Stick (2nd Gen 2016), Fire TV Stick (3rd Gen 2021), and the Fire TV Stick 4K (2018). All Fire Sticks function in similar ways, except that each one carries different processing power, enhanced features, and resolutions.
There is only one Fire TV Stick 4K device, but there are two most recent Fire TV Sticks. The Fire TV 4K produces 4K resolution with streaming media and television broadcasts, where available, and it carries more processing power, mostly to push the extra pixels to your television. Fire TV Stick 4K also has faster response times and less buffering.
The Fire Stick (2nd gen 2016) features a 1.3GHz MediaTek processor, and the newer Fire TV Stick (3rd Gen 2021) boasts a Quad-core 1.7 GHz processor. Both Fire Sticks offer HD 1080p, but they don’t deliver 4K quality. With 2160p 4K resolution and because most HDTVs have moved to 4K by default, the 4K Fire Stick is still the best choice.
The only other Fire TV device that boasts the same, yet slightly more features than the Fire TV 4K Stick, is the Fire Cube with 16GB of storage and a Hexa-core processor versus 8GB and a quad-core CPU. For most users, the cost determines their decision. Both devices are relatively similar, including the same remote that allows you to control your television, but the Fire Cube does not need the remote to use Alexa. Yeah, the Cube is not a Stick, but we felt it was important to mention.
Setting up the Amazon Fire TV Stick
To use Amazon’s Fire Stick Devices, you’ll need to ensure you’re ready to power your device. You’ll need a relatively modern HDTV with an open HDMI port, along with a WiFi connection with internet speeds fast enough to stream video online. You’ll also need a power adapter to plug into the Fire Stick.
If you’re using the older Fire TV Stick (2nd Gen 2016) or, the newer Fire TV Stick (3rd Gen 2021), you can use the included USB port on your television to power the unit. If you’ve chosen to upgrade to the 4K model, you’ll need to plug your device into a wall outlet; a USB port isn’t powerful enough for that device.
Once you’ve unboxed your Fire Stick, it’s time to set it up.
- Connect the Amazon Fire TV Stick into an available HDMI port on your television. Plug the device into the HDMI port directly or use the included HDMI extender cable for tighter spaces.
- Connect the Micro USB power adapter to the Fire TV Stick and plug it into a wall outlet or your television’s USB plug.
- Turn your TV on and choose the HDMI input for your Fire Stick, then you’ll see the Fire TV Stick displayed on your TV.
- The Fire TV Stick searches for the remote, prompting you to hold the home button down for ten seconds to connect.
- Now you’ll press the Play/Pause button to proceed.
- On the screen that appears next, you’ll select your language.
- In the next screen on your TV, you’ll select your Wi-Fi network and get that set up to stream.
- Once the connection is successful, updates are downloaded and installed to the Fire TV Stick.
- Register your Amazon Fire TV Stick with your Amazon account, or create an Amazon account if you don’t already have one.
- You’ll get greeted by the name you have associated with your Amazon account and can proceed or select a different Amazon account if you have more than one.
- The loading video shows on the next screen.
- You can enable parental controls, if needed, on the next screen.
- The Amazon Fire Stick lets you know that it has added your videos to the main menu, and the final intro screen alerts you that Amazon Alexa is now available on Fire TV.
- Amazon Fire TV Stick set-up is now complete, and you’ll be on the Home screen of Amazon Fire TV.
You’ll be able to navigate between the Home screen, Your Videos, TV Shows, Movies, Games, Apps, Music, Photos, and Settings. You can use the Amazon Fire TV Stick remote or download the Amazon Fire TV Remote app from the Apple App Store or Google Play for your mobile device.
Can I Control Fire Stick from My Phone?
Yes, you can use your smartphone to control your Fire TV Stick, and in fact, you should—at least at first. When you begin setting up your Fire Stick, you’ll type in numerous passwords unless you opt for the apps’ phone installations. That is where you get a code on your smartphone for the app after logging in to your account. Type the displayed code into the Fire TV Stick, and the app is instant;y activated.
Aside from phone activations of Fire TV apps, signing into Netflix, Hulu, HBO, and others can become more efficient if you use your phone’s keyboard instead of the Fire device’s back and forth alpha-numeric controls. You can use the smartphone app (available for Android and iOS) to control your Fire Stick, making it an excellent replacement for a lost remote, along with setting up apps.
Fire TV Stick Setup
After setting up the Fire TV Stick, using it is pretty straightforward. The remote gets used to navigate the pages, moving the highlighted cursor around the various screens to select your options, and clicking on the center button opens the application you’ve chosen.
Several apps come preinstalled on the unit. Likewise, the “Apps” panel is available on the Fire TV homescreen where you can add apps of choice. You can also use the search option to directly find the app you want to install. Alexa lets you speed up the process by instructing her to do the task. Simply press the microphone button on the remote and ask her to install it.
Wait, Alexa’s in the Remote? Yes, except for on the Fire TV Cube. On the newer 2021 Fire TV Stick, they changed the microphone icon to the Alexa symbol.
Using Alexa on Your Fire TV Stick
If you look on the remote that is included with your Fire Stick, you’ll see that, near the top of the remote, there’s a small microphone button at the top of the remote. Pressing and holding the button at the top of the remote allows you to ask a voice command, prompt, question, and much more. It makes it easy to search for your favorite shows and movies, though using it to perform basic actions like pausing the show you’re watching is typically much slower than, say, just using the playback controls on the remote.
If you have an Echo device in your house, you can also use your Echo’s microphones and smart speakers to control your Fire Stick, regardless of whether the remote is in your hand. It’s a handy trick, and it makes buying into the Amazon Alexa ecosystem a whole lot smarter.
Things You Can Do with a Fire TV Stick
Most major streaming applications are here, though there is a pretty major exception that we’ll get to in a moment. But for most people, if there’s a service you want to watch on your Fire Stick, it’s probably available. From streaming Netflix originals to using your Fire Stick as an unofficial cable box, here are a handful of applications you can get through the Amazon Appstore for your Fire Stick:
Using Netflix on Fire TV Stick
You probably already have a Netflix subscription plugged into your Fire Stick. The app comes preinstalled on your device, and the service is almost universally beloved for leading the trend of streaming services that we now live in today. Netflix has spent the last few years moving away from gathering as much content as possible for your streaming pleasure, and now serves as home to a ton of exclusive content. Though much of their programming comes in the form of television series, Netflix has made some serious moves into acquiring all sorts of films. From major blockbusters like Bright, Bird Box, and The Cloverfield Paradox, to more indie, down-to-Earth fare like The Meyerowitz Stories, Roma, and Private Life, there’s plenty of time-worthy content on Netflix that makes it worth your monthly subscription.
If you need to be sold further, Netflix has a major 2019 on the horizon for films. New films from Noah Baumbach, the Duplass brothers, Adam Sandler, and two new films from Steven Soderbergh promises that 2019 will become the best year for exclusive programming on Netflix yet. Our pick for the most exciting film in 2019 on Netflix, however, is The Irishman, the new Martin Scorsese film that sees the acclaimed filmmaker reteaming with Robert De Niro, bringing Joe Pesci out of retirement for his first film role in twenty years, and the director’s first time working with Al Pacino.
Using Hulu on Fire TV Stick
Not to be outdone, Hulu has done a great job in expanding from a service primarily made for watching television to a service where you can pretty consistently watch some excellent films. Though Hulu no longer carries the Criterion Collection (a major loss, in our opinion), the platform still gets some excellent films that never seem to approach the more exclusive-minded Netflix, including new releases you may have missed in theaters. As we write this, acclaimed films like Annihilation, Sorry to Bother You, Support the Girls—all of which came out in 2018—Beetlejuice, Arrival, Winter’s Bone, and so many more. Hulu is also cheaper than Netflix by $6 per month, making it an easy choice for anyone looking for a solid premium streaming service at a low cost.
Using Amazon Prime on Fire TV Stick
You own a Fire Stick, so it only makes sense to get Amazon Prime Video to go along with your streaming device. Amazon Prime is somewhere in the middle between Hulu and Netflix, offering original television and films and a pretty solid amount of streaming movies, though the options you get are lesser than what you might see from Hulu or Netflix. Prime Video is included with an Amazon Prime subscription, though you can get it on its own for $8.99 per month if you’d rather skip the other Prime benefits. Films like You Were Never Really Here, The Big Sick, The Lost City of Z, and Manchester by the Sea are all Amazon productions, and they’ve been praised by critics for being groundbreaking works of art from the last several years.
Using HBO Now on Fire TV Stick
HBO is one of those companies that, even if you don’t subscribe to the service through cable or through their Now streaming service, you’ve likely heard of most of their shows just through cultural osmosis. From mega-hits currently airing on the channel, like the recently-finished Game of Thrones or Westworld, to their classic library of series like The Sopranos, Deadwood, and The Wire, there’s plenty of content on HBO Now to be worth grabbing the app. While HBO is definitely known for their television series, there’s plenty of exclusive and original film content on their platform as well, making it a must-have app for anyone who wants to watch original works of art like The Tale, Paterno, or the upcoming Deadwood film.
Using PlayStation Vue on Fire TV Stick
Don’t let the PlayStation branding fool you into thinking Vue has anything to do with gaming. Vue is an online cable replacement, similar to Hulu with Live TV or DirecTV Now. The service allows you to stream your favorite channels online from $45 to $80 per month, depending on which lineup of channels you want to add to your subscription, making it easy to watch your favorite channels on your Fire Stick with ease. Obviously, Vue is more television-oriented than other services on this list, but higher tier plans like Ultra include movie channels like HBO, Sundance TV, and Epix.
Using Kodi on Fire TV Stick
How could we start off this list without including the ultimate Fire Stick application, Kodi? Originally known as XBMC, Kodi is an open-source home theater suite that allows you to completely replace your normal Fire Stick interface within the application. Kodi is a powerful piece of software on its own, and entirely legal when used properly. Of course, and much to the detriment of the development team behind Kodi, plenty of users do not stick to the usual options for Kodi services. Instead, using add-ons and builds, Kodi can become a powerful piece of piracy software, using applications designed to automatically stream movies, television shows, and basically any other media you could possibly imagine.
Whatever you choose to use Kodi for, there’s plenty of opportunities to make your Fire Stick work the way you want. Whether you’re just looking to stream content over your local network (similar to Plex, originally a XMBC add-on that we’ll discuss below) or you want to go all out on installing add-ons, builds, and plenty of additional content through Kodi’s file browser, Kodi is basically a must-have utility for any media consumption device. Check out our favorite add-ons and builds for Kodi by following those links!
Using Crackle on Fire TV Stick
Crackle is currently one of the only studio-backed free streaming services left standing, ever since Hulu left their free tier behind to focus on their paid content. Crackle is owned by Sony Pictures, which means you’ll mostly see Sony-released films with a few other offerings alongside them. In our tests, Crackle had one of the better libraries of both original and non-original content available for free. Everything did include ads, unfortunately, but the inclusion of those pesky ads also meant that everything was above the board and completely legal. Crackle, like any other streaming service, changes their library every so often, so just because something is on there now doesn’t mean it will be there permanently. You’ll find content on the platform that is worth watching, like Alien and Aliens, A Few Good Men, and Superbad, next to content you can probably skip, like Spike Lee’s remake of Oldboy, Man of the Year, and That’s My Boy.
Using Plex on Fire TV Stick
Plex began its life as a spin-off, closed-source program that rivals Kodi in nearly every way, designed to stream your media over your home network or to computers across the internet around the world. Both Kodi and Plex are excellent ways to consume and stream media, and each have their advantages. If you’re looking to use Kodi to install add-ons and builds in order to stream content from around the world, Plex won’t do you much good. But if you’ve built a strong collection of digital media on your own library, you might want to consider using Plex to stream to your litany of devices, including your Fire Stick. Plex is a fairly simple program that allows you to stream your locally-hosted content to any Plex-enabled device. While you’ll need to run and manage the server on your own, it’s well worth using if you’re willing to put in the work (or if you have a friend build a server for you).
Other Apps on Fire TV Stick
There are plenty of other choices to pick from here on the Fire TV Stick devices, including but not limited to:
- The CW
- Fox Now
- Pluto TV
- Cartoon Network
The above apps ensure you have more than enough sources for video streaming and on-demand content.
Installing Apps From Outside the Amazon Appstore
Yes, you can install apps outside the app store by allowing development mode and/or unknown apps. The process involves sideloading, a complicated term that really means stepping around the Appstore on your device.
How to Sideload on Fire TV Stick
Sideloading comes from Android, where you can install any installation file on your device without having to mod or root your phone. This is a major difference between Android and its main rival, iOS, which can install applications outside the App Store but requires the difficult task of jailbreaking your device, which often gets patched out in future updates surrounding the platform.
On Android, installing files from unknown sources is technically turned off by default, but it’s effortless to turn it on in your security settings. Once the unknown sources setting is on, installing APK files (the file extension for Android apps) is ridiculously fast and easy.
So why would you want to sideload on Fire OS? Well, unlike Google, Amazon takes a more Apple-like approach with their app market, only allowing in certain applications once they’ve been approved for use. While you’ll find some apps like Kodi readily available on the Google Play Store, it’s nowhere to be found on Amazon’s platform, having been removed back in 2015 for concerns surrounding piracy. Since Android allows for applications to be installed outside of the app store, getting apps like Kodi, YouTube, or Tea TV is quick and easy on the Fire Stick.
The thing to remember about sideloading is that, in the wrong hands, it can be dangerous. If you happen to install a malicious APK, you could find yourself running software that can steal your personal data or take over your device. Even on a streaming box like the Fire Stick, it’s just important to remember to be careful when installing apps from shady sites. Using resources like Reddit communities to ensure you have a safe version of an app is the best idea we can recommend. The chances of any user installing an unsafe APK file is low, but it’s still always important to be careful.
Reasons to Sideload Apps on Fire TV
The Fire Stick is perfectly usable without ever delving into the world of sideloading, but sideloading is one of the biggest reasons the application is so popular. Almost any search you conduct online to read about the Fire Stick will mention the ability to sideload and use unofficial, third-party applications. You may want an app not available in the Amazon App Store that can work on your Fire Stick. You may want to use patches not available for a specific app. You may want full control over your app selection.
For some, sideloading apps onto the Fire Stick is the entire reason for buying the device, since it allows you to expand what’s possible with the unit. For others, sideloading isn’t even on their minds when they set the device up in their house.
What Are the Downsides to Sideloading?
The primary downside is security. Not every sideloaded application violates copyright law—to use the YouTube example again, sideloading Kodi and game emulators onto your Fire Stick is perfectly legal. Nothing stops you from legally installing a piece of software on your device, the same way you can install any program of your choice on a Windows device. No law states that you have to stick to the pre-installed Amazon Appstore for your software, just like Mac OS users don’t have to use the Mac App Store, and Windows users can turn away from the Windows Store for their applications.
The other side of this equation, of course, comes from the media you’re streaming through the software you sideload or the game ROMS you add to an emulator. It isn’t about the installation itself, but rather, what you’re watching or playing on your Fire Stick, along with the applicable copyright laws in your country. Most “free movie” applications on the Fire Stick break some degree of copyright laws (except Pluto TV with actual licensed content). Therefore, it’s crucial to secure your device’s streams over your network. We’ll cover that in more detail in just a second.
What Apps Should I Sideload?
There’s a whole guide on the best apps to sideload on Fire TV, but the short answer is simple: it depends on what you want to do with your device. Want to watch unlimited movies, regardless of their copyright statuses? Apps like Tea TV and Showbox exist for that very reason. Want to watch live sports and television right on your Fire Stick? It’s easy to grab an installation file for Mobdro. Want to replace the entire interface for your Fire Stick and use Kodi as your main source of entertainment on the platform? You can do that too, and it only takes a few minutes to set up.
Securing Your My Fire Stick
The best way to secure your Fire Stick when using programs that may contain infringing content is to use a VPN in the background of the OS. A VPN, or a Virtual Private Network, allows your Fire Stick (or any other device running the program) to connect to another server through a private tunnel secured on both ends of the device.
When your VPN is active, instead of using the standard route between your PC or smartphone to access an article, video, or anything else online, the VPN uses the private tunnel to reach its destination. That tunnel is only decrypted at the starting and ending points of the destination, a function known as end-to-end encryption, so your PC and the web page know you’re there, but your ISP can’t view the content your seeing beyond a generic “data” level. With the help of a VPN, your ISP can’t see any of your activity—and therefore, also can’t sell your data to advertisers.
Securing your Fire Stick isn’t necessarily a bad idea, though. It’s really only necessary if you plan on using your Fire Stick to stream pirated content. You can also stream pirated content over your network without a VPN enabled on your device, but you’re taking a massive chance and could be liable to a lawsuit from IP holders or receive threats from your service provider.
Using a VPN on Your Fire TV Stick
It’s really easy to get a VPN up and running on your Fire Stick device. Unlike Google’s Chromecast, which requires setting up your VPN using your router in order to protect your streaming content, the Fire Stick allows VPNs to run in the background, and for most major VPN companies, you can actually grab their supported application right from the Amazon Appstore.
There’s no settings menu to dive into, or difficult options to click from when setting up the VPN. Once your VPN of choice is installed on your Fire Stick and you’ve signed in to your account with the service, you can allow the VPN to run in the background and watch any media on your television, all with the added benefit of knowing you’ve protected your content.
Note: Content restrictions may still apply based on your current VPN location choice.
There are dozens of reputable VPN services in the Amazon App Store, obtainable on your Fire TV Stick, including:
- Private Internet Access
Note: Sometimes, a VPN affects Fire TV functionality, such as experiencing screen freezes in menus, slow loading times for apps, video restrictions, missing images, and more.
What Else Should I Know About my Fire Stick?
Your Amazon Fire Stick actually can do a few more neat tricks outside of just streaming the newest episodes of This is Us or the latest Netflix hit original. As hinted at by the Alexa integration discussed above, you can also use your Fire Stick as a proto-hub for your Internet-of-Things connected devices. There is a wide range of connectable products on the market, but many of them work with Alexa and, by association, can also be used with your Amazon Fire Stick.
For example, if you’ve bought into a smart home security camera, you can sync your camera with the Alexa app on your smartphone to add Alexa capabilities to your security camera. After your smart camera has been linked with your Amazon account, you can use either an Echo smart speaker or the Fire Stick remote to ask Alexa to show you your security camera, using commands like “Show me the front door.” Though this trick won’t be for everyone, it’s important to know that, when you’re buying into an Amazon Fire Stick, you aren’t just buying into an entertainment device, but another piece of the smart home puzzle you’re probably already building.
If you really enjoy your Fire TV Stick, you might be interested in the Fire TV Recast, a full-featured DVR that merges the Fire TV functionality with the power of a standalone media server.
At the end of the day, setting up your Fire Stick is as easy as plugging it into the wall, into your television, and following the steps on screen to update your remote, sync with your WiFi, and to install some well-known apps. When it comes to actually using the Fire Stick to watch your favorite movie, television show, or anything else you might be interested in, that’s where the hard work comes in. We’re hopeful our guide to setting up your Fire Stick came in handy, and make sure to check out all our Fire Stick guides here.
Do you need an Amazon account to use Fire TV Stick?
Yes. However, you don’t have to use your Amazon account. If you want to keep some privacy from the Bezos empire, there are ways to use a throwaway Amazon account to register your Fire TV Stick.