Up in the higher echelons of Amazon’s current streaming device offerings, the Fire TV Stick 4K Max packs a lot of power into a beefy new package. However, is it worth the $10 upgrade from the regular 4K variety?
If you’ve ever encountered a Fire TV Stick before, the premise is still simple—the device is a glorified dongle that plugs directly into your TV via an HDMI port, putting practically every legitimate streaming service in your region directly at your fingertips. What the Fire TV Stick 4K Max offers is a considerable upgrade from the standard 4K model, namely in its 4-core 1.8GHz CPU, GPU (750MHz), and onboard memory (a full 2 GB). It’s also Wi-Fi 6-enabled and supports live picture-in-picture.
One of these selling points is virtually null at the moment in Canada, where Wi-Fi 6 is still a long ways off. But if and when it ever becomes available, this streaming stick is future-proof, even if the rest of your house isn’t.
I’ve used an older, lesser model of the Fire stick before and was left wanting. The device is pretty simple to install and use, but the operating system on that model is aggravatingly slow—the kind that can be so laggy it leads to double inputs. I was pleased to find most of my issues addressed with the newest offering, but there are still flies in the ointment.
As advertised, the Fire TV Stick 4K Max touts much faster navigation. Amazon claims a 40% power increase over the standard 4K model, and that is a night-and-day difference from the 2019 model with which I’m familiar. The new remote is responsive, virtually without lag, and any delays in loading encountered within apps are about the same as I encountered in those same apps on PS4/PS5.
“As advertised, the Fire TV Stick 4K Max touts much faster navigation.”
The operating system is still clunky, however. I’ve never loved this bloated OS, and while it’s somewhat improved in the 4K Max, there’s still exponentially more advertisement boxes on my screen than I need. My PlayStation 5 is my go-to media device and I immediately missed it upon booting up Amazon’s stick—because for a device with a minimalist design, its software is certainly not streamlined.
Sony keeps the media screen relatively clear with a row of advertisements at the bottom, a row of apps at the top, and some relevant art in the background. By comparison, Amazon’s OS is a garbled mess. The home screen buries most of your app icons beneath slates of recommendations and such. I just want to find the app I’m looking for, not have two dozen other titles shoved in my face. There should be some way to disable this, or at least keep the ad tiles hidden until I move the cursor over an app.
In fact, my frustration led to me actually relying on the Alexa features accessed from the remote. It remains a button feature, where you need to press-to-speak your commands. (The future of having hands-free Alexa operation on this product line is still reserved for the Fire TV Cube, which is twice as much money, or the actual Fire TV itself.)
Once you do find your app of choice, the Fire TV Stick 4K Max delivers visually. With minimal software setup, I was promptly enjoying The Mandalorian in full, current-standard 4K. As a digital/streaming-only device, I have no qualms with its output. I was a little skeptical of the need for it, when Smart TVs are increasingly prevalent now, but there were actually a few apps on offer here that my Samsung TV lacked.
“Once you do find your app of choice, the Fire TV Stick 4K Max delivers visually.”
My biggest bugbear is probably the physical design of the actual Fire TV Stick 4K Max. This model is smaller than its own remote but a little wide for the back of the TV. I tried it on every monitor in my house and each was a struggle to some degree. In some, I’d have to unplug something else just to get the stick plugged into the HD port. It may be a little too wide compared to how much space TV manufacturers are giving us between our ports. It’s the kind of finicky little issue that you can’t really suss out until the device is in your hand.
Adding to the space issue is the need to plug in a power cable to the side. On some displays, I might have room to plug in the HDMI, but not room for the power cable. Any appeal of its simple plug-and-play design is weighed down somewhat by the need to plug in power to its side. The product line’s design and marketing want us to think of it as a magic USB thumb drive that can open almost any streaming platform, but it’s not quite so convenient.
So is the Fire TV Stick 4K Max worth it? For $75, it’s a powerful 4K streaming device, but whether it’s the right fit for you depends on a lot of variables. If you need a more robust library of apps than your Smart TV or game console has to offer—or don’t have a Smart TV or game console available—the newest Fire stick probably has you covered, and it will look fantastic to boot. But if you’re looking to declutter the hidden mess of cables behind your entertainment centre, you may find it too big to slot in. (For the record, the same would be true of the standard 4K model, which is the same size.)
It’s likely worth the $10 upgrade from the standard 4K model to the Max for its slightly beefier performance. Just don’t buy it for the Wi-Fi 6 service, unless you’re serious about future-proofing your electronics.