Amazon Fire TV Review

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Forget everything you think you know about Smart TVs and the awful software that powers them. Samsung, LG, Sony — every major TV producer sells smart TVs. But they’re all really dumb; that is the software is slow, the interface are terrible, and the content selection limited. It’s terribly sad that nobody has figured out how to make a Smart TV that’s actually intuitive and has an interface you don’t want to throw a remote through.

Set-top boxes (also called media streaming boxes), on the other hand, are aplenty. You’ve got Roku, Apple TV, the WD TV Live, and countless lesser-known brands that all essentially do the same thing. While set-top boxes are another device to plug into your TV, they offer vastly simpler controls, interfaces, speed and access to lots and lots of content.

It’s a crowded market and Amazon wanted in. And so it did. Its media streaming box is the Fire TV.

After Kindle e-readers and Kindle Fire tablets, it’s clear Amazon wants to become a tech titan, and compete with Apple, Google and Microsoft. The Fire Phone and the Fire TV are two of its latest product additions, and I won’t be surprised if the company decides to enter more product categories in the future.

In the media streaming world, there are two current favorites: Roku 3 ($89) and the Apple TV ($99). I picked up an Apple TV (third-generation) in 2012 for $90 on eBay and never looked back. Over the years, Apple’s slowly added more and more content channels. The little squircle-shaped (square circle) box is no longer a mere “hobby” product, having generated over $1 billion in sales and shifted 20 million units worldwide.

Simple Design and Setup

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Design is not Amazon’s forte. (Remember what the original Kindle e-reader looked like?) While Amazon’s design chops have improved over the years, the industrial design for its products have remained stuck in the “meh” to “good-enough” zone.

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The Fire TV isn’t ugly, but it’s certainly not sexy. The set-top box itself is a 4.5″ x 4.5″ x 0.7″ flat box with the Amazon logo emblazoned on the top; its corners sharp enough to give you a cut if you’re not careful. The top is matte black plastic and its sides are high-gloss.

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On the rear are the essential ports: a power port, HDMI port, optical audio port, Ethernet port and a full-sized USB port.

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The Fire TV Voice Remote isn’t quite as elegant as the minimalist aluminum Apple TV remote or the Roku 3′s remote which has a built-in headphone jack, but this one is special in its own way, too. The Voice Remote is part soft matte and gloss (buttons and top IR blaster). It has a circular directional pad with a clickable center button, as well as six buttons located below it, and a Voice Search button and microphone above it.

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I’ve got mixed feelings on the remote. The buttons are responsive, but they make such an audible click that it almost cheapens the entire product. The design is also a stark contrast to the sharp edges on the set-top box itself. It’s almost as if two separate teams designed these two parts, but never consulted one another. Maybe it’s just me being a tad harsh, but some unity would have been nice.

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Along with the Fire TV and Remote, the box includes 2 AAA batteries (for the remote) and a power adapter. There’s no HDMI cable, though. But it shouldn’t be difficult to find a cheap one (never buy the overpriced/gold-plated ones — they’re all the same) on Amazon.

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Hooking up the Fire TV is also incredibly easy. You plug in the power adapter, connect an HDMI cable and that’s it. You don’t even need to press a power button. A quick video tutorial featuring a cartoony character walks you through the Fire TV’s features and services, it asks you if you want to turn on parental controls, and then it’s connecting to the Wi-Fi. It’s this kind of simplicity that Amazon truly understands customers want.

Fire TV vs. Apple TV size comparison.

Fire TV vs. Apple TV size comparison.




Fire TV Voice Search remote vs. Apple TV remote.

Fire TV Voice Search remote vs. Apple TV remote.



The Fire TV remote is pretty "fat" compared to the Apple TV remote.

The Fire TV remote is pretty “fat” compared to the Apple TV remote.




The Fire TV's remote uses two AA batteries, while the Apple TV remote uses CR2032 or BR2032 lithium 3.0 V coin batteries.

The Fire TV’s remote uses two AA batteries, while the Apple TV remote uses CR2032 or BR2032 lithium 3.0 V coin batteries.


Power Under the Hood

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The Fire TV isn’t some dinky piece of kit. If the Apple TV is a Mercedes-Benz and the the Roku 3 is a Jaguar, then the Fire TV is a Bugatti — in terms of internal hardware.

In order to make media streaming incredibly fast, Amazon armed the Fire TV with a 1.7GHz quad-core processor and 2GB of RAM so that there is virtually no lag or slowdown throughout the experience. Comparatively, the Roku 3 and Apple TV only have a dual-core and single-core processor and 512MB of RAM, respectively.

A Qualcomm Adreno 330 chip gives the Fire TV mid-range graphics performance and 8GB of internal storage allow for a minimal amount of space to store apps and media.

The powerful processor is also necessary to decode voice searches and commands, as well as making the Fire TV a decent micro console for gaming (more on that below).

Content Galore

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A set-top box is nothing without content. Amazon is a content goldmine. Its Instant Video and Prime Instant video service provides over 200,000 movies and TV episodes to watch. On top of Amazon’s own services, you can install Netflix, Showtime Anytime, Bloomberg, Vimeo, Aol On, Watch ESPN, Hulu Plus, MLB.TV Premium, Twitch, NBA Game Time, YouTube, Disney Channel, WWE Network, Flixter, and more — the list goes on and on.

And if movies and games aren’t enough, the Fire TV has access to Amazon Music, Pandora, iHeartRadio, TuneIn and Vevo for your music needs. I wish it had Spotify, though.

You can’t accuse the Fire TV for lacking content, that’s for sure.

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Overall, the user interface is also quite nice. Navigation is straightforward, and all of your content is neatly organized (and synced) into their own sections. I never got confused where I was. The only improvement I’d like to see is the yellow border that indicates a box or button is selected be made darker or a different color. Sometimes it was hard to tell if I had selected a button or not.

It also helps greatly the UI is fast — really fast, especially within Amazon’s own content services. There’s little to no visible lag, and movies and TV shows play almost instantly — exactly how a set-top box should work.

Voice Search

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The Fire TV’s marquee feature is not its generic hardware or access to tons of content, but the magical Voice Search feature. The Voice Remote comes with a microphone and accompanying mic button.

Amazon touts the Fire TV’s Voice Search as robot-free, meaning you don’t need to utter specific commands like you do with the Xbox One and Kinect or with Google Now, where you have to say “Xbox…” and “OK Google…”.

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Press and hold the mic button and you’ll be able to, well, perform searches with your voice. You can say the names of movies, TV shows, and apps. Alternatively, you can also search for specific actors and directors. In most cases, the Voice Search is spot on. A search for Jon Hamm brought up all the films he’s been in and Mad Men. Leonardo DiCaprio did the same. My search for Anne Hathaway turned up “And Hathaway” but it still correctly displayed her filmography.

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The only complaint I have with Voice Search is that it only works within Amazon’s content services and Hulu Plus, which is too bad. I really wanted to voice search my way through Netflix and Crackle, but it’s ultimately up to those third-parties to work with Amazon to get voice search in. And my gut feeling is Netflix is not in any rush to build specific voice search for its Fire TV app unless other set-top boxes follow suit with a similar feature.

Android Gaming

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Competing set-top boxes have yet to do gaming right and Android-powered micro-console boxes have all been duds. The Ouya, GameStick, Mad Catz M.O.J.O — they were all great ideas on paper, but once the PS4 and Xbox One arrived, it became clear nobody really wanted them.

The Roku 3 has under 100 games and the Apple TV doesn’t do native gaming (you can only mirror an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch to it). The Fire TV, however, was designed with gaming as one of its content pillars.

Flappy Bird Family is a Fire TV exclusive.

Flappy Bird Family is a Fire TV exclusive.




There are over 300 games available on Fire TV — 156 (as of this writing) of which are playable with the Amazon Fire Game Controller ($40).

The majority of games for the Fire TV are ports of existing Android smartphone and tablet games, but there are some nice gems. Games range from free to 9.99, which is pretty darn affordable. Just don’t expect real console-level gameplay and graphics and you won’t be super disappointed when a game falls short.

Here are my favorites games that work with the Fire game controller:

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The AA-battery-powered controller itself is quite standard. It’s about the same size as an Xbox 360 controller. Its dual-analog sticks are even positioned in the exact same spot with four little dimples to rest your thumbs on. The D-pad is solid, if not plasticky, and the ABXY buttons are quite good. Up top are L1/R1 and L2/L2 shoulder triggers.

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Additionally, the Fire game controller has media playback buttons below the D-pad and right analog, as well as three Fire OS navigation buttons (back, home, menu) and a dedicated GameCircle button.

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It’s nowhere near as ergonomic and precise as the Wii U Pro controller or Xbox 360/Xbox One controller or DualShock 3/DualShock 4 controller, but it’s good enough for the Android-powered games available on the Fire TV.

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Living Room Worthy

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There’s a lot to love about the Fire TV. It’s one of the best set-top boxes I’ve ever used. The only thing that would really make the Fire TV a killer product is if it had HBO GO (come on Amazon!) and its Voice Search wasn’t limited to Amazon’s own content services. Otherwise, the Fire TV is a feature-packed device with great content and decent controller-ready games that’s worth $99.

Price: $99 (Buy on Amazon)

Source: Amazon

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