The Lazy Person's Dream TV Box - Amazon's Fire TV Cube

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

Illustration of a man reclining while talking to his TV

 Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

We do not need another Amazon Echo-like device or another Alexa-enabled gadget, or another streaming box. And yet, we 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. You’re already 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 the Altice One box, there’s Apple TV, Fire TV, Google’s Chromecast, Roku. Because we often test out new gadgets, we tend to have at least two of these hooked up to our TVs at any given time.

Still, as my wife cursed and tried to remember which input Apple TV is on, we smiled a little. Not because it was annoying her, but because Amazon’s sharp little box had surprised us.

We had not planned on trying out Amazon’s latest streaming hardware, but then Amazon handed us one to test drive. For a week or so it sat, still boxed, on the floor of the living room, a bright orange challenge that we chose to ignore. Finally, we 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 we unboxed the shiny, black, dust-magnet of a cube, we worried we might drop it on our foot and neatly sever a toe. It’s a clean look but we’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 a 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 Us 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 said to place the cube at least a foot away from the sound source. It took us a few minutes of repositioning things, even shifting the soundbar over a few inches, to make this work.

Otherwise, the setup is easy. We 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 our Wi-Fi (there’s an included ethernet adapter, but it’s easier to connect wirelessly). We then logged into our 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. Ours, sadly, uses Bluetooth, which means we could not use the Fire TV Cube to change standard cable channels.

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

Talking to Alexa
Talking to Alexa.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

What It Can Do

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

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

As you might expect, we could control playback by talking. We 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 you want to be really, truly lazy, you don’t want to hold or hunt for the remote. To be fair to Apple TV, we're 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 our HDTV (this box supports 4K, but our home still does not) into a giant Echo Show. When we asked Alexa about the weather, she said it was gonna be a hot one in NYC the next day, but on the screen was a giant depiction of the weather forecast. When we asked to see our photos, Alexa accessed the photo library we have stored with Amazon and suddenly we could look at our pictures on the largest screen in the house.

We can also control any of our Alexa skill-enabled smart devices through Fire TV Cube. When we told Alexa to raise the upstairs temperature to 74, it knew we were talking about the 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 or Need

There are limits. Without the IR blaster, the Fire TV Cube can’t change channels. Sometimes, Alexa’s listening capabilities were overwhelmed by the audio from the 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 the ideal TV bingeing situation. Hands-free voice control of everything: from a movie we're watching to a weepy slideshow of old family photos to the temperature of the home and the brightness of the lights, all without bringing another screen into the home or lifting a finger to touch a remote. So, no, we don’t need this extra box, but we might just want it.