Amazon first launched the Fire TV Stick back in 2014. The small device gave users access to all the main features users expect from the Fire TV line of devices but in a smaller, cheaper, less powerful form factor. Now, four years later, the new Fire TV Stick comes packing a new quad-core processor and Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant, all for the low-cost $49.99 CAD. While it won’t compete against the 4K streaming abilities of Roku or the Apple TV, the Fire TV Stick makes a great low-cost 1080p streaming stick for most of your media consumption needs.
If you have used any previous version of the Fire TV Stick, there is almost nothing new visually between the previous models. The small rectangular stick has an HDMI plug, micro USB in for power on the side, and an Amazon logo for good measure. The device is about as nondescript as you can get, and for a device that sits hidden behind your TV constantly plugged in, that makes sense. It does not need to look impressive, it just needs to work.
The included voice remote takes the same design notes as the device its self. The simple 5.9 inch remote has all the needed buttons you would expect on a media consumption device, back, home, menu, along with a directional pad and voice button for use of the Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant. It is simple but it works.
Should you wish, you can forgo the included mode entirely, as Amazon has released a remote app that works on both Android and iOS. Personally, I am a person that likes tactile feedback, but the remote app gets the job done. It has all the basic features you would hope for an app, offering navigation, playback, and for searching or login entry, a handy onscreen keyboard. It should be noted that unlike the Roku app, there is no ability to stream the audio to the smartphone for private listening.
At the core of the Fire TV experience is the Fire TV OS. This heavily modified version of Android offers users a relatively painless way to consume media. While I personally find it is a bit more aggressive at selling you services or shows than other TV operating systems, it gets the job done with simple large icons and rows of apps for easy access.
Like all the Fire TV lineup of devices, there are a limited number of apps normally available on the Android platform, although it does include some that are not currently on Android TV. All your staples are present such as Netflix, Hulu, HBO Now, Sling, YouTube, and even Crunchy Roll and Funimation for the anime lovers out there. Everything runs fast with no noticeable slowdown, especially considering the size of the device.
If you are an Amazon Prime user you will also have access to all the prime benefits. There are a slew of movies included with the Prime account, and should you want anything beyond this selection, there are numerous new release movies for rent or purchase directly from Amazon. It should be noted that it is not always clear what is included in Prime and what is for rent/purchase, but this is a minor gripe. You will also have access to Amazon Music Unlimited if you subscribe, along with a selection of music that is included with Prime.
Since this is an Android-based device, the Fire TV Stick can use APK files for any app that currently is not in the standard app store. While this works, it can be to mixed results depending on the app. It is also not the easiest thing in the world to do, but there are many online tutorials should you wish to go down the road of side-loading a specific application that is currently missing from the store, and a feature that is currently missing on Apple TV and Roku.
With Amazon pushing Alexa and the Echo range of products, it is no wonder the voice assistant would be the outstanding feature of this year’s Fire TV Stick. The good news is that everything works as you would hope. Much like the Echo range of products, you can simply speak into the remote to pull up information on shows, actors networks etc. It is simple and easy to do, and more importantly, since it is connected to your TV screen, it can pull up visual information for your needs.
While I question the need for such integration in a simple TV stick, everything worked wonderfully. As with all Alexa products you can add skills to its toolset to fit all your needs. From smart home to a grocery list, if Alexa can do it, so can your Fire TV Stick and it does it with ease. It is something that sets the Fire TV Stick above what the similarly priced Roku stick can offer. In testing, it fared far better than what Android TV or Apple TV currently offers, and is without question one of the best voice assistants currently in TV devices.
Spec wise, the Fire TV Stick handles all tasks well. The quad-core CPU at the core of the unit manages the 1080p content with ease. While it may not be as fast as the more capable 4K boxes on the market, for most users the Fire TV Stick is more than capable to fit their needs.
On the Wi-Fi front, I never noticed any issues connecting to a hot spot, and it managed to maintain a solid signal throughout the Wi-Fi range. But as with any Wi-Fi based streaming device, signal quality will remain one of the biggest hurdles to overcome if you are experiencing low-quality video or slow buffering of content.
At the end of the day, the Fire TV Stick is a fantastic device for 1080p content. It is low cost, comes packed with a slew of features and streaming services, and the voice assistant is a fantastic addition. For anyone looking to stream on your new 4K TV, you may want to explore the more expensive and more capable options from Roku, Apple, and even Amazon.