Amazon Fire TV Stick review – first look
Amazon is no stranger to success, but with the launch of its new Fire TV Stick, can it actually knock Google’s Chromecast off the top spot?
It’s not an impossible task by any stretch. The Amazon Fire TV is, in our opinion, far better than Google’s Nexus Player, and it’s a potent adversary to the likes of the Apple TV and the Roku 3. It’s enough to make you wonder why it’s taken Amazon so long to bring the Fire TV Stick to Europe – it launched in the US nearly six months ago.
Now it’s here though, first impressions are promising, and it looks ready to give both Roku and Google a serious run for their money.
Amazon Fire TV Stick review: Design
While Amazon Fire TV was a rather innocuous set top box designed to sit next to your TV, the Fire TV Stick takes a leaf from Chromecast’s design manual. No bigger than Google’s own streaming dongle, Fire TV Stick has just one USB-B port on its side and plugs directly, and discreetly, into an HDMI socket.
In the box you’ll actually get a HDMI extension cable, which Amazon recommends you use to help boost your Fire TV Stick’s Wi-Fi signal – although it doesn’t actually clarify how an extra couple of inches could make much of a difference. You’ll also be given a USB power adapter, as Amazon stated that a TV’s USB port can’t deliver enough power to run the Stick. While that shouldn’t really be a problem for most people, it’s definitely a strike against it compared to Google’s low-powered Chromecast.
Aesthetically, Amazon has opted for a sleek and uncluttered design with matte plastic and soft curved edges. It feels somewhat more sophisticated than its rivals, and certainly doesn’t feel as cheap and plastic as Chromecast. However as you won’t be holding it in your hands, nor really ever seeing it, it doesn’t matter how it looks tucked away behind your TV.
On the other hand, the Fire TV Stick remote is on show, and it isn’t as well produced as its Fire TV counterpart. It’s small, with a similar form factor, but it does feel cheap. It doesn’t include a microphone for Voice Search functionality, and the circular navigation clicker is fine for moving through menus, but reveals itself as a simple 4-way directional pad, instead of the usual 8-way pad, when playing games.
Still, Amazon has managed to offer up a supprising amount in a small form factor, and bundle it with a remote at a reasonable price – a mere £35 – something which its rivals haven’t quite managed to do.
Amazon Fire TV Stick review: specifications
For a streaming stick the Fire TV Stick is packing quite the hardware punch. Comparing it directly to a Chromecast, the £5 difference in price certainly goes a long way. It comes with 8GB of internal storage allowing you to install a wide variety of apps and games onto it, and thanks to 5GB of extra cloud storage, the fact you can’t upgrade it with a microSD card isn’t too much of a worry.
In terms of Wi-Fi connectivity, Fire TV Stick has dual-band, dual-antenna Wi-Fi, and will connect to 802.11abgn networks. Compare that to the single-band capabilities of the Chromecast, and you’re potentially looking at a more stable connection for streaming films and TV shows.
One of the biggest draws of the Amazon’s dongle over others is its dual-core Broadcom Capri 28155 processor, which operates at ~1GHz. Because of this, and its 1GB of RAM, it’s more than capable of beaming some impressive Android games directly onto your TV. Compare this to the single-core CPU and 512MB RAM of the Chromecast or the Roku Streaming Stick, and you can quickly see that Fire TV Stick outperforms its closest rivals.
Games run surprisingly smoothly too, and even when played with the standard Fire TV remote they’re responsive and playable. You can always opt for a £35 wireless game controller if you want to have more of a home-console experience on your TV.
You aren’t just limited to using Amazon’s services with the Fire TV Stick. While games have to be purchased through the Amazon App store, you can watch content from the likes of Netflix, Plex, and BBC iPlayer. You can also use Spotify with it and access other music radio services if you so wish.
There are compromises, however. While the Fire TV Stick does support Voice Search via a downloadable app, the functionality isn’t part of the bundled in remote – like it is with the Fire TV box. While you can use the app as a complete replacement for the Fire TV remote, it isn’t as responsive as the dedicated remote.
It’s also worth noting that, as with almost all of Amazon’s products, the Fire TV Stick runs in a closed environment. While device mirroring can be done on any Android device, Amazon’s take on screencasting can only be done from Fire tablets. And one of Amazon Fire TV Stick’s most intriguing features, X-Ray, which provides detailed information about the show or film you’re watching, remains restricted to Fire devices.
Amazon Fire TV Stick review: early verdict
Amazon’s Fire TV Stick packs in a huge amount for the cash, but it remains to be seen whether Amazon has really put all that extra horsepower to good use. And, ultimately, Amazon’s closed ecosystem may allow the more flexible Chromecast to win out overall – only time will tell. We’ll be putting our review sample through its paces in the coming week.