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Lifewire / Emily Ramirez
Fast hexacore processor for flawless 4K streaming
Alexa has great range
Supports IoT devices
Has Dolby Vision encoding support
Thousands of free and paid programs available
A little expensive for a streaming device at $120
Looks can be polarizing
Runs on Amazon’s bloated software
The new Amazon Fire TV Cube is a capable, well-featured streaming device for the most discerning 4K streamers and for those invested in the Amazon ecosystem with other IoT devices.
Updated for 2019, the Amazon Fire TV Cube brings powerful hardware that can stream thousands of channels and apps in full 4K HDR with Dolby Vision encoding. The glowing cube also takes voice commands, basically making it an Echo speaker, but is Alexa’s brainpower and its beefy hexacore processor enough to justify its relatively hefty price tag? I spent 15 hours putting it to the test, read on to see how I liked it.
The Fire TV Cube is a cute, futuristic-looking block that will stand out on your home console despite its 4-inch sides. On the outside, it’s virtually unchanged from the first-generation model. Across the top, there’s a blue LED bar that lights up whenever the Cube takes action. The sides of the cube have a glossy black finish that’s a fingerprint magnet. There’s volume and menu buttons on the top, as well, but we don’t foresee a lot of use for them considering that the Cube comes with a remote. In the back, there’s an HDMI connector, a power adapter port, and a micro USB port.
In order to give users flexibility in how they set up their streaming system, Amazon’s built in eight directional microphones into the Fire TV Cube, and another into the remote. As long as the Cube is at least a foot away from any audio output sources (i.e. speakers), it should have no problem hearing your voice commands from ten or more feet away.
The Cube’s voice commands are probably its most distinguishing feature. Unlike the Fire TV Sticks, the Fire TV Cube also functions as an Alexa speaker, meaning it will respond to any voice commands, and more importantly, it has the same capabilities as an Amazon Echo. In other words, it can control your Internet of Things devices, such as smart bulbs, thermostats, and Ring doorbells.
You will also receive an Alexa-enabled remote with your Cube. It has buttons to navigate the UI, but it also has volume and power buttons that will work with your TV. It’s small, about the size of your palm, and it has a matte black finish that will make it easy to grip. The relatively large buttons make it simple to navigate the Cube without looking at the remote, as well.
The Amazon Fire TV Cube is a fantastic streamer for those committed to the Alexa ecosystem.
My biggest pet peeve with the Cube’s design and features is its accessory bundle. For $120, Amazon could have afforded to throw in an HDMI cable—the $30 Roku Express has one, for instance. If you end up purchasing a Cube, remember to also get an HDMI cable. I’ve found Blue Rigger strikes a great balance between affordability and quality, if you need a recommendation.
Compared to the Fire TV Stick, the Cube is a little harder to set up— it doesn’t automatically boot like the Stick, and you need to take into consideration its IR receivers. It must have a clear line of sight to your remote, so place it somewhere you can see it. Additionally, if you want to take advantage of its 4K capabilities, you’ll likely want to use the included Ethernet adapter (and you’ll need to acquire an Ethernet cable).
Once you have your cables connected and power flowing to the Cube, you now need to go through the software side of setup. It’ll ask you to connect to Internet, pick out some apps/channels, and log into your Amazon account.
With a hexa-core processor and an ARM Mali G52-MP2 GPU, the Fire TV Cube is blazing fast. Any trouble streaming 4K content is going to come from your internet connection. When I tested it, content loaded instantly, with little to no buffer time and instant thumbnail loading.
Video looks vivid, and audio sounds great thanks to HDCP support and Dolby Vision encoding. I had no trouble getting my content in surround sound and in HDR, without any additional setup from my audio system or 4K projector. Video would consistently stream at 4K 60fps.
If a show was particularly loud, Alexa had some trouble hearing me, but it was a quick fix by lowering or muting the volume. Alexa never confused the content audio for a command. However, while I didn’t have a problem with having Alexa understand my commands, I would be a little warier if your accent deviates strongly from standard American English. Google’s language recognition protocols tend to be better with understanding other languages and accents.
Software is simultaneously Fire TV’s strongest and weakest point. On the one hand, the quantity of content available on the Fire TV platform is astounding—there’s over 5,000 apps to choose from, as well as a meager library of simple games to play. If you’re looking for something, you will find it.
However, you will have to find it in a sea of Amazon content. Fire TV’s interface heavily favors content from Prime Video, and this becomes doubly apparent the further you scroll on the home screen. I happen to love quite a few of the Emmy-winning originals on Prime, so it doesn’t bother me so much, but I can see it becoming infuriating if you just want neutral recommendations (Roku’s software is much better at feeling impartial).
The home screen isn’t particularly well-organized. Your apps make up the top row, and the rest are suggested content (usually Amazon content). Searching for shows on the search bar will show Amazon results first, and other apps second. Once you’re within an app’s menu, it’s not so bad. Netflix, for instance, works the same as it would on any other streaming device.
There’s a lot of excellent apps on the platform, from YouTube to IMDb to Crackle TV. There’s weather apps, news apps, and sports apps for all tastes. There’s even a few music streaming apps, including Spotify and Amazon Music.
If you want an Echo that’s also a media player, the Cube is your best option. It comes with excellent performance, control for IoT devices, built-in speaker and mic, and svelte looks.
If you’re interested in a Cube because you love Amazon products and content, you’ll be pleased with Prime’s selection of video. There are many, many shows included with your Prime subscription, a lot of them with a stellar production team. Almost all Amazon originals are filmed in 4K, so you can get the most out of your Cube’s performance capabilities. If you haven’t already, you should watch The Expanse and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
The Fire TV Cube costs $120, which is frankly a little expensive compared to the Fire TV Stick 4K or an Amazon Echo. However, if you want an Echo that’s also a media player, the Cube is your best option. It comes with excellent performance, control for IoT devices, built-in speaker and mic, and svelte looks. While it’s not the best value streaming device, it’s certainly a versatile and well-featured one.
There’s a lot to consider if you’re choosing between the Roku Ultra and the Fire TV Cube. Specs-wise, the Fire TV Cube is undoubtedly more powerful and supports more codecs. However, the Roku Ultra has more than enough power to handle 4K content, and it supports HDR, so only the pickiest film lovers would even notice the difference.
Roku has the advantage when it comes to software, with the biggest and most varied library of any streaming platform. Both its menus and its search function are platform agnostic, meaning it’s simply interested in presenting you the most relevant and cost-effective results. For those that like quiet listening, you can also sync audio to your phone or the remote and listen with your headphones. Meanwhile, the Fire TV Cube has IoT integration.
A powerful streaming device with lots of added functionality.
The Amazon Fire TV Cube is a fantastic streamer for those committed to the Alexa ecosystem. However, it’s a little expensive if you only want reliable 4K streaming, in which case you may be better served by the Fire TV Stick 4K or the Roku Streaming Stick+ for $50.