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Lifewire / Rachelle Janeczek
Great streaming quality
Few cords involved
4K and HDR
No YouTube app available
User interface can feel cluttered
Though there may be a few compromises, it’s possible to meet all your streaming desires with the Amazon Fire TV Stick—even without a 4K TV.
Streaming sticks offer the ultimate convenience—these USB-like devices plug into the back of your TV, allowing you to summon all you favorite entertainment while barely taking up any space. You can even take this power with you on vacation or simply move it between televisions in your house.
The Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K offers an elevated streaming experience in a small physical stick format. The device itself is rectangular and resembles a USB stick on steroids. We took a look at how plug-and-play the experience was, as well as the quality of the design and software.
Like other streaming sticks, the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K is small—it’s just under four inches long and weighs about two ounces. But that’s still larger than some of the tinier sticks out there. The Roku Streaming Stick, for example, is less than 0.5 inches long.
While it’s essentially just a small black rectangle, The Fire TV Stick 4K feels substantive. There’s a bit of weight to it in the hand, which makes it more convincing that it’s capable of doing everything it says it can do. Plus, it’s tiny enough to tuck away in a pocket or your luggage if you feel like taking it with you while traveling. That’s a definite perk of the format.
If you’re hoping to be a full-fledged cord-cutter in the literal sense, the Fire TV Stick doesn’t offer a completely cordless solution. But there’s really only one cord to deal with, and that’s the USB power cable. There is an HDMI extender cord provided, however, to offer increased Wi-Fi performance or help you achieve a better fit for the stick if necessary. Even if you use both, it’s easy to conceal the cords and the stick itself, which can be a plus if you appreciate fewer visual distractions near the TV or have a limited amount of space.
The other big component to the Fire TV Stick is the Alexa remote, which has volume and mute buttons, a power button, and two kinds of directional controls (a pad and buttons). The pad is a nice option that can be faster and more natural to use in some apps instead of the forward, backward, and play/pause buttons further down on the remote. And unlike other voice-assistant remotes, the microphone icon and speaker are located right at the top, which is an intuitive placement for it.
The remote is lightweight even with the provided batteries loaded in, and it has more of a plastic feel than the stick itself, but both offer a modern and streamlined look and feel. The slight quirk about the remote is the way the back cover opening is sort of concealed. There’s no arrow or grip point indicating where it opens. Instead, there’s a groove for your thumbs where you need to press down in order to slide the cover off. This is a simple detail, but incorporating it creates a sleeker and smoother-looking remote.
As far as equipment setup is concerned, it’s really just as simple as plugging the Fire Stick into your television’s HDMI port and then connecting that to the USB power cable and power adapter.
Once we did that, our TV immediately recognized it and prompted us to choose our preferred language. The main part of the setup involved connecting to Wi-Fi and downloading the initial software update. If you have an Amazon account, you can log in to register the device (which is what we did), or take the time to establish your account—this is a required step to move forward with the setup process.
We were able to dive right into the system in less than 10 minutes.
There were a few security-related items that were noteworthy during the setup process. For example, you do have the option of saving your Wi-Fi password in your Amazon account, which the system asks you about. This is something you can always change in the Settings portion of the Fire TV interface.
There’s also a parental control preference you can set that requires a PIN to be entered when viewing content.
After we made our choices about these items, the remote paired, which is the last step we encountered before we were up and running. When all was said and done, we were able to dive right into the system in less than 10 minutes from initial plug-in.
The Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K boasts 4K and HDR streaming capability. If you’re new to both concepts, 4K TVs fall into the Ultra HD category of televisions that have screen resolutions up to 2160p. That’s quite an increase from the standard HD display that features only 1080p.
HDR is another term you’ll hear bounced around along with 4K, so it may be easy to confuse the two. HDR stands for “high dynamic range,” and it relates less to a TV’s screen resolution and has everything to do with enhancing the color, brightness, and color contrast of content on your screen. A lot of HDR content also happens to be 4K.
Though we tested on an HDTV and not on a 4K-capable television, we were really impressed by the crisp picture quality and ultra-responsiveness when playing, stopping, and selecting new content to view. Even without a 4K TV, we felt like we were able to take advantage of the stick’s speed and picture quality strengths. And since this device does work on older TVs, it’s also an option for upgrading in the future to a 4K television, if you feel compelled to.
We were impressed by the crisp picture quality and responsiveness when playing, stopping, and selecting content.
This is an Android TV, but at its core, it’s an Amazon product, which means Prime content is prominently featured. And it’s where we went first. All the content we chose loaded instantaneously and the picture quality was very sharp. There was no trace of a lag with the remote or when moving through menus. We did notice that the Amazon Prime content did appear ever-so-slightly sharper than Netflix or Hulu content, but all of it was good—and lightning fast.
The swift performance likely has a lot to do with the quad-core processor, combined with 8GB of internal storage and 1.5GB of RAM. Streaming boxes, because they’re usually physically bigger, often pack in a lot more storage and memory power than stick formats.
The Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K, despite its smaller size, packs a punch when it comes to internal storage and memory. These are important for storing all the apps you download and maintaining fast performance, whether that’s opening and closing apps, playing certain media, deleting items, etc.
The Fire TV Stick also holds an 802.11ac wireless chip, which is the Wi-Fi standard that offers the fastest speeds.
It’s easy enough to search for content in the Amazon Fire TV interface, although there may be a bit of a learning curve unless you’re already used to using other Amazon devices or the Amazon Prime app.
The home screen features a mix of what the system recommends, featured content (usually Amazon Prime titles), and the apps you’ve downloaded. A lot of the content is from Prime, but you’ll notice other recommendations based on your viewing habits. After downloading Netflix and viewing some content there, we noticed Netflix recommendations based on our history.
Other content is organized by genre or media type. You’ll find a “Your Videos” page, which is a mix of TV and movie content, TV shows on one page, movies on another, and a catchall Apps page you can sort through by category.
Simply put, there’s a lot of room for overlap and redundancy, even if you’re looking at these different screens. At times, it can feel like you’re just bombarded with content that isn’t presented in the most organized fashion.
The redundancies don’t necessarily make it difficult to search for new content, which you can do using the search function or with voice commands. Once you see something you want to add, it’s as simple as clicking on it and selecting the “download” action. You’ll see the progress and completion of the download which, during our testing, happened in a blink of an eye.
Ideal for Amazon Prime subscribers and for anyone who wants a lot of content streaming options.
And of course, if you’d rather forgo typing or sifting through all the search menus, asking Alexa is a really easy way to find what you want.
We did notice a couple of shortcomings when we played around with the various apps and menus. For one thing, there is no dedicated YouTube app. Instead, you have the option of viewing YouTube.com videos through a browser app, which means you’ll need to download the YouTube.com app and a specific browser, too. Content there is slower to load, and the picture quality suffers a bit.
And contrary to the way you add apps, you actually need to go a separate route to delete them. This requires heading to the Settings menu under the Manage Installed Applications area. It’s not hugely inconvenient, and actually makes managing or deleting multiple apps at once a bit easier, but it’s not that clear that this is the only way to remove content.
Organizing content is also not as clean and intuitive as you might want it to be. Only Prime content can be added to a Watchlist menu, which can cut down on the sheer volume of programming to click through to get to what you want to watch.
Also, it’s not as easy as arranging your downloaded apps and channels with a click of a button, which means less personalization power. You can “pin” or “unpin” one to the front of the list, but unpinning doesn’t remove it from your apps list. Only uninstalling them will do that trick.
While it’s mostly straightforward to find, add, and play content, it does require a bit of work and wading through content.
The Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K retails for $49.99, which makes it one of the most appealing streaming options under $50.
Competing streaming sticks like the Roku Streaming Stick+, which costs $59.99 (MSRP), are more expensive but not necessarily better. Both offer the same Wi-Fi standard, operate on a similar processor, and offer 4K Ultra HD picture quality, but the Roku option has less memory and channel storage.
Cheaper streaming stick options like the Roku Streaming Stick, which retails for $49.99, doesn’t offer 4K HD picture quality or the same performance speed. This puts another point in the Fire Stick’s win column for overall value.
While they’re similar in price and streaming options, that $10 difference may actually work out to be huge savings based on what you’re looking for.
Going with the Roku Streaming Stick+, means you’ll enjoy the YouTube app, which may be important to you if you’re an avid YouTube user. But if you’re an Amazon Prime member, it probably makes more sense to save some money and get the most out of your streaming content with the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K.
The voice controls on the Roku Streaming Stick+ will probably work perfectly well for yo, and might even be your preference if you have a Google Home, which it’s compatible with. If you have an Alexa-powered home device, though, the Fire TV Stick 4K will offer a more seamless and integrated media experience, if that’s what you’re going for.
The Roku remote also doesn’t have a mute button. That might not be a dealbreaker, but the simplicity of something like that on the Fire Stick’s remote can add that extra touch of convenience. Plus, you can always ask Alexa to mute the sound for you, which is something the built-in Roku voice assistant doesn’t have the smarts to do quite yet.
Want to consider some other options? Check out our other picks for the best streaming devices.
An excellent streaming stick with universal appeal.
The Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K is ideal for Amazon Prime subscribers and for anyone who wants a lot of content streaming options—whether in 4K or just regular HD. Ultimately, it helps to be an Amazon or Alexa user to really get the most out of it. But for the price, quality, and speed, this is a good buy for anyone.
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