The Amazon Fire TV Stick was released yesterday into what is a busy marketplace, and we have taken the time to get to grips with all it has to offer. We will let you know whether or not we think it is worth picking one up or choose something else. The Fire Stick’s delayed UK launch sees it file in behind the Google Chromecast, Roku’s streaming stick and the crowdfunded Mozilla Matchstick, but was it worth the wait? Read on for our UK Amazon Fire TV Stick Review.
Out of the box
The Fire Stick comes in a nice square box, which is surprisingly bulky and inconvenient for shipping through letterboxes in the UK. Slipping off the sleeve and tearing into the box, you’ll find the Fire TV Stick itself, the slim remote control with some batteries, a 1m microUSB cable and a USB plug adapter. It is actually rather well packaged, unlike the majority of things you might order from Amazon, and is hardly likely to come out of the box broken.
The Fire Stick itself is packed full of useful tech. It includes a dual-band wifi receiver, 1GB RAM and 8GB of onboard memory – so you can save plenty of apps, games and even some local content. Its certainly a step up on the Google Chromecast in every way, build wise, although it does appear to be slightly bigger as a result.
The set up
Setting it up is as simple as plugging it all in and turning on the TV. Simple enough for almost anyone to handle.. almost anyone. When we were setting it up, we thought we could save some space and make it easier for ourselves by swapping out our Chromecast for Fire TV Stick, with the wild assumption that the USB cable, plugged into the TV, would work sufficiently. Oh how wrong we were, after several attempts, we figured out the Fire TV Stick requires the use of its power adapter and USB, and was not able to be powered by our TV alone – which means more unsightly wires hanging out the back of the set, on top of which there is no cable management included, like a Velcro tie, for example.
Once we got over our initial installation error, it was pretty much plain sailing!
Up and running
Turn everything on, connect to wireless, and get a brief video introduction on how to use the system and hey presto – you’ve got your Fire TV Stick working. The very first thing we did, and 100% recommend is discarding the cheap and tacky remote and downloading the Fire TV app to your phones and tablets. This is a handy little app that allows you to navigate the entire Fire TV UI easily, access voice search and use a keyboard to input usernames and passwords. The remote is hard to use to input log-ins and, unlike the Fire TV remote, doesn’t have the mic to use voice commands – if anything the remote is an entirely annoying addition to the package and serves to placate older customers not well attuned to using a second screen when utilising Smart TV functionality.
Apps & Control
The UI itself is very simple, with an up/down main menu, with choices scrolling from right to left. Amazon’s own Prime TV takes up most space, with its suggestions, recent additions and unique content taking front and centre. Also a part of the menu is dedicated to additional apps, such as adding Netflix or Spotify, plus the optional extras of games – Amazon gave us a quick whirl of Crossy Road, a rather fun little distraction. The range of apps is only available via the Amazon app store, and although this is a limiting factor, there are still a vast array you’ll find ready to download at launch, including our favourite local content streamer Plex. Miracast is also enabled on the Fire TV Stick, so you can share screens with devices, and although we would ideally like to be able to share with our laptops and PCs, this is not available like it is with the Chromecast – although Amazon’s site indicates this feature is incoming.
Our favourite feature of the Fire TV Stick is that, using the app, you can search for content by speaking. If you think about how frustrating it is to enter a title into a search bar, you realise it saves a lot of time and typos. It is also pretty accurate with accents. We aren’t the best at them, but it certainly copes well with a thick Brummie accent, a Scouser and even a heavy Scottish. Whilst we love this feature, it does only search Amazon content, and even then, doesn’t accurately distinguish between what’s readily available to stream through Prime and what requires a rental charge. It pales in comparison to Roku’s voice search too, as this will search all of your services, not just Prime (hence taking the pain of finding that movie you wanted, unsure if it was on Netflix, Prime or another service).
Once you’ve got what you want up and streaming away, for example, you’re now a few episodes in to Parks and Recreation, it’ll allow you to keep the series running, with almost no gap between episodes, until you tell it to stop. Handy for those lazy couch days when all you want is to binge on Pawnee’s Parks department. We haven’t encountered a patronising message yet either to check if we are still watching said show, although maybe we haven’t binged quiet enough?
Amazon’s latest Fire TV enhancement is possibly one of the most ingenius things in the history of home entertainment. OK, that’s a slight stretch, but let me explain. X-ray is a service that helps you figure out who THAT actor is that is currently on screen. Thanks to its database and viewer input, you can pause your stream and find out who those actors are, and what they were in. No longer will you struggle to figure out that its the shop keeper from Escape to Witch Mountain, or that it is Red Dwarf’s Cat in Blade 2. Hell, it’ll even tell you who the voice is on the other end of the phone in certain scenes.
Amazon Fire TV Stick Review Verdict
Is it worth it? Probably. Almost definitely. If you are an Amazon Prime streaming service user, definitely, if not, probably avoid it. Its got good content and app support from the get go, its easy to set up and use, even for the less tech savvy, and the companion app makes its wider functionality a doddle. If you haven’t got Prime, then you will lose most of the functionality, so either seriously debate getting it look at Roku or Chromecast instead. Since it is only £35, its a pretty good bet anyway, and a definite purchase once mircast is updated!