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Lifewire / Yoona Wagener
Sharp picture quality
No HDMI cord included
Voice commands not always intuitive
The Amazon Fire TV Cube is for the Amazon Prime customer, the person with a smart-home sensibility, or someone who wants to go hands-free with Alexa.
Cutting the cord to cable is one thing, but having the ability to interact with an all-in-one entertainment center/smart hub at the touch of a button or with a voice prompt is another.
That’s what the Amazon Fire TV Cube strives for and certainly achieves in many respects. You may be able to cut ties with the cable box and trade it in for a device that streamlines all your media in one place—and with the benefit of simple voice commands to shape your experience.
We tested just how easy the hands-free streaming capability is and how it stacks up against the competition.
While it’s not a traditional set-top box, the Amazon Fire TV Cube still falls into that category. Set-top streaming players tend to be smaller than traditional cable boxes but larger than streaming sticks.
Diminutive dimensions make streaming sticks an appealing option for people who want to cut the cord and take all their media on the go. But the portability you get with a streaming stick can come at the expense of the memory and faster performance you’d see in a set-top box. So while bigger isn’t always better, in the case of the Amazon Fire TV Cube, size does equal more storage and speed.
Out of the box, we could sense that Amazon wanted to deliver a white-glove kind of unveiling. From the exterior plastic packaging to the wrapper around the Cube itself, you’ll find tabs for neat and fuss-free removal. It’s a small detail, but it also previews what’s to come when you’re all set up: a streamlined, contemporary media experience.
At 3.4 x 3.4 x 3.0 inches, the Cube itself is compact enough that it would take up a minimal amount of space in your home entertainment setup. It’s black, sleek, and features four reflective sides with the signature light panel that illuminates with Alexa prompts. On the top of the unit, there’s a set of volume, mute, and power buttons that either raise and lower the built-in speaker, prevent Alexa from listening, or wake her up. There are also ports on the bottom of the back of the device, and they’re all clearly labeled.
Alexa was able to understand us better when we used the built-in remote microphone.
It’s not huge, and because of the attractive design, you won’t mind leaving it out in the open (which you’ll have to do in order to interact with it). The Fire TV Cube isn’t an extension of the remote that also comes included in the box. It’s basically another remote that’s intended for hands-free use.
For the connected customer or the smart-home guru, this is a plus. If you want to keep it out of sight–and still want to be able to use it to control your other smart devices—then you can use the enclosed IR (infrared) extender cable to still get a signal through a cabinet or media console doors.
The remote also matches the sleek and modern aesthetic of the Cube. It’s made from the same material, has a slim profile, and comes with power, volume, and two sets of directional controls—plus a built-in microphone. Even the back of the remote offers a refined touch to a commonplace item. There’s no arrow or visible compartment for the batteries. There is, however, an indent for your thumbs, and that’s where you’ll press to slide off the backing of the remote and reveal the battery bank.
Other cables to note out of the box include an ethernet adapter cable and power adapter. The ethernet adapter can be used with an Ethernet cable (not included) if you’d rather plug in directly to your network. The power adapter is a single unit as opposed to the adapter block and USB power cable.
One cable that is glaringly missing, though, is an HDMI cord. We thought this was a little odd given all the other cables the unit came with. It’s worth making sure you have one on hand before you begin setting it up.
Setting up the Amazon Fire TV Cube is a streamlined and easy process. We were all set up and in the system in under 10 minutes.
We started by plugging in our HDMI cord to the Cube and then into the TV, along with plugging the power cable into a wall outlet. The TV immediately detected the Amazon Fire TV Cube and prompted us to connect to our Wi-Fi network.
Once we did that, we logged in to our Amazon Prime account and then registered the device. Note that if you don’t already have an Amazon account, you’ll need to create one at this time. You’ll also be asked if you want to save your Wi-Fi credentials to your Amazon account. This is a preference you can return to later in the Settings menu, along with features like parental controls.
We were also asked to set up Alexa controls, which is something we skipped initially. It may be worth taking the time to do this during the initial setup to ensure you have a better experience when you do start poking around in the system. It essentially involves downloading the Alexa app through a web browser or on your smartphone, and it’s where you can control aspects like voice purchasing, smart devices, and calendar reminders. If you do this at the outset, this will probably take you some time to get up and running, but it’s always something you could revisit later.
One sticking point in the setup process was remote pairing. The remote had already been working when we inserted the batteries and finished the setup, but the volume buttons didn’t work. This wasn’t a huge deal since the Cube is, after all, a remote all on its own. But we were able to repair the remote by going to the Settings menu.
All of this was quick and painless, allowing us to dive straight into the content.
The Amazon Fire TV Cube runs on Android, on the Fire OS, and contains a quad-core processor. A quad-core processor is a type of chip that you’ll see in computers. As the name suggests, this processor can do four things at once—think of it as a device’s ability to multitask.
This is a pretty standard processor across streaming devices, both streaming stick and set-top varieties, but the Fire TV Cube does stand out when it comes to internal memory and storage. You’ll find 16GB of internal storage and 2GB of memory. While those numbers may not mean much at first glance, to put it in context, the smaller Roku Streaming Stick has only 256 MB of internal storage and 512 MB of memory. The extra storage and memory inside the Amazon Fire TV Cube promises less lag and faster media loading and transitioning between apps.
That’s what we found with the Amazon Fire TV Cube. Toggling through the menus and opening and exiting apps happened instantaneously. Selected shows or movies across different apps played seamlessly. It also turned out lightning-fast responsiveness moving from one app and show to another and back to the home screen in just a few seconds.
Content also always looks incredibly crisp. The Cube supports 4K HDR picture for a maximum screen resolution of 2160p. That’s another distinguishing factor of this device. There are some streaming options with 4K and 4K HDR capability, but they might not have voice assistants. The Fire TV Cube is kind of in a class of its own when it comes to maximum screen resolution, the amount of internal memory, and the streaming quality. We couldn’t test the 4K or 4K HDR performance directly with the HDTV we were using, but we were very impressed with the ultra-sharp picture quality on our 1080p HDTV.
It offers the smart speaker qualities of an Amazon Echo while also serving as a free-standing remote.
Another important complement to the streaming experience is Amazon Alexa. While other streaming devices come with voice-command settings, this is usually something that’s bound to a remote control included with the device. Not so with the Cube.
This device does offer a built-in remote microphone, but the Cube itself is rare in that it offers the smart speaker qualities of an Amazon Echo or Amazon Dot while also serving as a freestanding remote. Essentially, you have access to Alexa two ways—speaking directly to the Cube or speaking into the remote—which is a unique set of options in the streaming device landscape.
There are over 500,000 available movies and TV shows through the Amazon Fire TV Cube, including the usual suspects like Netflix, Hulu, and Showtime, plus some music streaming services. But make no mistake: Amazon Prime content is definitely front and center.
Finding what you want is relatively easy. There’s a search icon in the upper lefthand corner, but you can also toggle over to the right category page. This is where the experience can get a little muddy. While the content menus are visually appealing, it’s difficult to tell the difference between the home page—which features all of your apps and channels, some recommendations within apps, and a lot of Prime titles—and the “Your Videos” page, which also combines your media in one place.
If you’d rather just search for TV content, there’s a separate page for that, and a different page for movies too. The problem is that everything looks pretty similar and there’s a lot of duplicate information, which can make the browsing experience slightly redundant and overwhelming. You may be able to find a happy middle ground by adding content to your watchlist, which you’ll find near the top of the home page. The caveat is that only Amazon Prime content can be added to that list.
Once you do find what you want, it’s easy to download an app with a simple click of the “Download” button. You’ll see the downloading progress, and we experienced almost no wait with downloading times.
For the price, it’s as comprehensive as you would expect it to be.
Removing content isn’t as simple. You have to visit the Settings area and manually delete the app from the “Manage Installed Applications” area. It’s also worth noting that if you see an app still sticking around somewhere on your home page or another menu after you deleted it, you’ll have to actually click on it and select the option to remove it from your cloud. That’s the only way to stop seeing it prominently featured.
And though it’s easy to use the remote, Alexa is there to help you out with faster navigating, searching for content, downloading, and playing it.
But Alexa has her limits, and that’s something we ran up against in our testing. Even sitting just five feet away without any potential interferences near the Fire TV Cube, a simple request to raise and lower the volume had spotty results. Sometimes it understood exactly what we wanted, but a few commands took some finessing to get them to work. (For the volume issue, specifying an increase or decrease in volume increments is what ended up working the best.)
Maybe it was a combination of learning an unfamiliar system and being relatively new to Alexa in general, but it was a bit of a battle to make requests that Alexa could understand. Sometimes there was a considerable delay, or Alexa would open a channel that was completely different from what we requested. In these instances, reaching for the remote just seemed more intuitive and easier—for some reason, it was able to understand us better when we used the built-in remote microphone.
We didn’t test it with a smart home setup, but this begs the question of how much work it would take to get that up and working. Again, it might just be a matter of spending time with the Amazon Alexa app to alleviate those pain points.
Amazon sells the Fire TV Cube for $119.99. For the price, it’s as comprehensive as you would expect it to be. It’s not exactly a bargain, but if you’re looking for some of the same impressive performance for less, there are alternatives.
You may find purchasing the cheaper Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K (retailing for $49.99) satisfies your streaming criteria. It comes with most of the same performance strengths and is a good option if you don’t need the smart-home assistant capabilities. You still get the benefit of Alexa, the same content library, great picture quality, and rapid streaming speeds for less than half the price.
The Roku Ultra is another comparable product that sells for about $20 less than the Fire TV Cube. Just like Amazon, Roku promises a library of over 500,000 movies and TV episodes, including a number of free channels. The two stand pretty much toe-to-toe in terms of content availability, but there is one big difference we noticed: the Roku Ultra comes with access to a YouTube app, which the Amazon Fire interface lacks.
You can download the Youtube.com app on the Cube, but that simply directs you to web content that’s been optimized for viewing on a TV, and that also requires downloading a separate browser app. If this isn’t a huge inconvenience for you, you may find the hands-free, remote-free experience the Fire TV Cube offers worth the extra price.
While the Roku Ultra offers much of the same performance power as the Fire TV Cube, it only has 1GB of memory compared to the 2GB the Cube offers. But the Roku does cost a bit less, and you’ll enjoy a few extra perks like the YouTube app, built-in voice commands, and private listening through the remote’s headphone jack. It also offers the fastest wireless performance of any of the current Roku devices.
If you want an all-inclusive entertainment solution, the NVIDIA SHIELD TV may be a worthy alternative. You’ll get a lot more memory (14GB more), 4K and 4K HDR support, and voice control. The downside is that it’s considerably more expensive—it retails for $179, and is even pricier if you splurge for the gaming edition.
Your decision may also depend on your system preference or loyalty. Both the NVIDIA SHIELD TV and Fire TV Cube are Android devices, but the NVIDIA features Google Assistant rather than Alexa. If you want Chromecast, a YouTube-forward experience, and gaming options (and you’re not afraid to spend more), then the NVIDIA may be more up your alley.
Neither competitor offers hands-free voice assistance, which is a hallmark of the Amazon Fire TV Cube.
If you’re interested in seeing some other options, take a look at our guide for the best streaming devices and the best Amazon products.
A perfect match for the Alexa-friendly smart home.
The Amazon Fire TV Cube offers an innovative, hands-free streaming and home entertainment experience, but not without some downsides. Ultimately, if you’re a fan of Alexa and want to use it to monitor and control your smart-home setup and stream media, this may be the solution you’re looking for. If you don’t care about the hands-free features, you may be better off with a cheaper but similarly-featured streaming device like the Amazon Fire TV Stick.
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