I Found the Lazy Person's Dream TV Box

Does Amazon Have the Right Answer for Your Streaming Box Needs?

Illustration of a man reclining while talking to his TV

 Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

I do not need another Amazon Echo-like device or another Alexa-enabled gadget, or another streaming box. And yet, I just installed Amazon’s Fire TV Cube, which is basically all of those things.

My wife noticed the TV on yet another input and almost threw the remote at my head. “Why do we need this? I do not want another box.”

She’s right and I’m sure you’re overwhelmed by all the box/streaming options you have today. There’s the on-demand and app system that’s part of most home cable boxes, including my Altice One box, there’s Apple TV, Fire TV, Google’s Chromecast, Roku. Because I’m often testing out new gadgets, we tend to have at least two of these hooked up to our TVs at any given time.

And still, as my wife cursed me and tried to remember which input Apple TV is on, I smiled a little to myself. Not because I was annoying her, but because Amazon’s sharp little box had surprised me.

I had not planned on trying out Amazon’s latest streaming hardware, but then Amazon handed me one to test drive. For a week or so it sat, still boxed, on the floor of my living room, a bright orange challenge that I chose to ignore. Finally, I relented and set aside an evening for unpacking, set-up, and hands-on.

Amazon Fire TV Cube
The shiny, sharp Amazon Fire TV Cube. Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

Keep It Simple

Somewhere in Jeff Bezos’s office is a sign that says, “Sharpest corners in the business!” Amazon’s obsession with potentially flesh-rending edges and corners on its Fire TV products borders on the maniacal. As I unboxed the shiny, black, dust-magnet of a cube, I worried I might drop it on my foot and neatly sever a toe. It’s a clean look, but I’ve never seen consumer electronics with edges like this from any other manufacturer.

It’s called Fire TV Cube, but for the sake of argument, this is really "Echo TV." It has the familiar volume, mute, and action buttons on top and the signature LED bar that runs near the top edge and dances with blue light when you talk to Alexa. Round those corners and you have another Echo. What makes it a TV device though, is the addition of an HDMI-out port and the Fire TV software that front-loads Amazon Prime Video.

Amazon Fire TV Cube ports
Amazon Fire TV Cube ports. Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

Hook Me Up

Amazon's Fire TV Cube includes both a small speaker for playing back Alexa’s voice and whatever content you demand (music, news) when your TV is off (otherwise it uses your TV’s audio system). It's also got a far-field microphone array so it can hear your Alexa commands. If you look at promotional photos on Amazon’s site, you’ll notice the Fire TV Cube positioned within inches of the TV and a soundbar, but the directions told me to place the cube at least a foot away from my sound source. It took me a few minutes of repositioning things, even shifting my sound bar over a few inches, to make this work.

Otherwise, the setup is easy. I plugged the cube into power, connected it to an existing HMDI cable (the $119 box does not ship with one), and then connected it to my Wi-Fi (there’s an included ethernet adapter, but it’s easier to connect wirelessly). I then logged into my Amazon account using the included remote.

Inside the box is also an IR blaster, which you can use to let the Cube control your cable box. This only works if your remote and cable box use IR to communicate. Mine, sadly, uses Bluetooth, which means I could not use the Fire TV Cube to change standard cable channels.

I also installed Netflix and HBO NOW and then I turned off the TV. On the latter service I was pleasantly surprised to see that, even though I pay for HBO Now through my Apple account, I could sign in and access the HBO content on Amazon’s Fire TV Cube.

Talking to Alexa
Talking to Alexa.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

What I can do

Here’s why Amazon’s Fire TV Cube is exciting. It’s the first time I can use my voice to control my TV experience without picking up remote. Apple TV includes Siri, but I have to hold the remote and press the microphone button (I have to do the same thing with the Altice One Remote, but its voice system is basically terrible).

This is true hands-free control. I started by saying—actually whispering—“Alexa, play The Flash.” The Fire TV Cube turned on my TV and told me it was “Playing The Flash on Netflix,” as it launched Prime Video, then Netflix, and started playing the show.

As you might expect, I could control playback by talking. I told Alexa to “pause,” “play,” and “go back 20 seconds.” You can do all these things with Apple TV, but only while holding the remote. If I want to be really, truly lazy, I don’t want to hold or hunt for the remote. To be fair to Apple TV, I’m not a big fan of Amazon’s much larger and clunkier remote; it doesn’t even have a gesture-friendly touchpad.

Weather on Amazon Fire TV Cube
Weather on Amazon Fire TV Cube.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

Smarter TV

Amazon Fire TV Cube also effectively turns my HDTV (this box supports 4K, but my home still does not) into a giant Echo Show. When I asked Alexa about the weather, she told me it was gonna be a hot one in NYC the next day, but on my screen was a giant depiction of the weather forecast. When I asked to see my photos, Alexa accessed the photo library I have stored with Amazon and suddenly I could look at my pictures on the largest screen in the house.

I can also control any of my Alexa skill-enabled smart devices through Fire TV Cube. When I told Alexa to raise the upstairs temperature to 74, it knew I was talking about my second-story Nest thermostat. Obviously, Apple TV also lets you control smart devices and even enable full scenes (you say, “TV Mode” and the lights dim and the TV switches to a favorite streaming movie service), but, again, you have to hold the Siri Remote to do this.

Accessing images through Amazon Fire TV Cube
Accessing images through Amazon Fire TV Cube.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

Want Need

There are limits. Without the IR blaster, the Fire TV Cube can’t change my channels. Sometimes, Alexa’s listening capabilities were overwhelmed by the audio from my TV. In addition, voice controls can only take you so far when it comes to TV settings. Volume and power are easy but switching inputs dead ends at showing you a list of inputs without offering any way of using your voice to select the desired one.

Still, this is one big step closer to my ideal TV binging situation. Hands-free voice control of everything: from a movie I’m watching to a weepy slideshow of old family photos to the temperature of my home and the brightness of my lights, all without bringing another screen into my home or lifting a finger to touch a remote. So, no, I don’t need this extra box, but I might just want it.