The Fire TV Cube sits as a unique product in the Fire TV range. It objectively fills the role of three products for your living room: it is a powerful set-top streaming box, a stand-alone smart speaker when the TV is not on, and a universal remote.
The Cube for 2019 is positioned as the flagship of the Fire TV range, now with Dolby Vision HDR and more power overall. Amazon has improved the device making it the ideal choice for anyone looking to jump into the Alexa ecosystem.
For 2019, Amazon is bringing the Fire TV Cube to Canada (and other regions) along with improving the overall experience of the device. The first generation Cube was an interesting addition to the lineup, but once Amazon released the Fire TV Stick 4K, which included Dolby Vision HDR, whereas the Cube did not, it seemed a little less exciting. Now, Amazon has rectified this mistake, making a much more capable, compelling offering. While it still can do all the fun stuff the past iteration could do, it comes in tow with local voice commands, and a more snappy, user-friendly feel.
For anyone that currently owns, or has seen the 2018 Amazon Fire TV Cube, there is nothing new to see visually in this iteration. It features the same set of Echo controls on the top of the device and is glossy on all four sides. It is a utilitarian design that feels at home in the “living room of the future”, even if it can feel a tad dystopian at times in aesthetic.
Around the back, you will find the HDMI, power, Micro-USB and IR Extender ports. There is also the option to add an ethernet adapter that is included in the box, should you need it. As with anything IR based, the IR extender is very useful for anything hidden away that you want the cube to control. While not ideal, it is nice to see Amazon include the extender in the box should you require it.
With this year's Fire TV Cube featuring more robust HDR, including both HDR10+ and Dolby Vision, it is objectively a more exciting option for streaming. With more TV’s supporting it, and more streaming platforms such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime pushing HDR as a feature, it is something that is not only expected, but required should you want to experience the content as intended. With our test TCL Roku 4K TV, all the features worked as advertised. We tested a selection of shows, and all displayed the correct colour gambit and even displayed the fact HDR was working as intended. All things considered, while it may seem like an incremental improvement, it is great to see its inclusion, especially on a device positioned on the pinnacle of its range.
The IR features of the Fire TV Cube work as one would expect, but are still not an ideal way to control modern electronics. With so many TVs and devices requiring many inputs from a remote to achieve a result, simple IR commands do not cut it as much as we would like. While commands such as ON, OFF, or selecting an input work, anything more complex could be tedious or leave you needing to grab the remote anyways to sort out inconsistencies. Granted, this is not a problem unique to Amazon, and simply an issue with IR in general, but I am personally thankful for new systems that are slowly making IR less important in today's living setup.
Alexa, on the other hand, is much faster this time around. It was a smart move on Amazon's part to make a selection of commands processed locally. Things such as navigating the UI or selecting a show to watch just worked with little to no delay. This is not true of all apps, but the ones it does work with, feel like a more natural experience. It should be noted, even unsupported apps do feel generally faster overall when compared to other products in the Fire TV range.
The Fire TV Cube does have a built-in speaker, but this should be viewed as an Alexa device and not a speaker for much else. Should you want to play music, or do anything that needs good audio, the Cube will play the audio through your TV or connected audio device. And while it can be added to a multi-room setup, this is first and foremost an interface device and not a music device in its own right. The Cube will use the included speaker for commands, Alexa, and not much else.
I have never found the Fire TV interface slow, but it has been reported in the past that it can get laggy, especially over time. While it is hard to test this degradation over the course of the review period, I can say that the Fire TV Cube feels like the fastest Fire TV-based device I have ever used. While the Fire TV Stick 4K felt quick for most needs, this manages to feel a bit faster for every basic task it archives. From navigating to playing media, I noticed no slowdown throughout my time with the device. The new Hexa Core processor should be able to handle all your media needs, whether it be Netflix or browsing your Plex library with ease.
The Fire TV OS interface feels relatively consistent if you have ever used a past Fire TV device. It is good to see Amazon has fixed the hole left by YouTube and has done work to make voice commands function in a more natural way. That being said, Amazon needs to find a way to promote their originals without it feeling like a bombardment of ads. They are slowly improving what apps will show within the main interface, making it feel more like a streamlined experience, but they have a little ways to go to catch up to Android TV, Apple TV or even Roku on pure app integration.
The Fire TV Cube feels like the flagship device the range needed. It is powerful, packed with features, and offers it all in a unique, although slightly dystopian, design. I am happy with the strides Amazon has made with the lineup, and the interface and Alexa integration are improving in large strides each year. The biggest issues I have with the device rest at the feet of IR and the internal speaker, and these are minor at best. If you are looking to jump into the Echo ecosystem, and need a new streaming set-top-box, look no further then the Fire TV Cube. For everyone else who already has Alexa in their living room, the Fire TV Stick 4K should tackle most of your needs and be a tad less obtrusive.