June 5, 2014 — The Amazon Fire TV burst onto the HDTV streaming video scene and muscled its way in between the aging Apple TV and Roku set-top boxes. The Google Chromecast streaming stick is an option, too, but requires a smartphone or tablet to use.
For the rest of us, the Amazon Fire TV comes straight from the provider of Netflix’s biggest streaming competitor, Amazon Prime. With an Amazon Prime membership, you get fast shipping on Amazon products plus the added bonus of streaming Prime content, which is a handful of blockbuster movies, a bunch of B and C movies, and gobs of television shows and seasons.
If you buy all sorts of products online from Amazon, Prime membership is a pretty sweet package.
As for the Amazon Fire TV itself, should you buy one? The short answer is this: If you’re a big fan of Amazon’s Prime membership for “free” streaming video . . . or you buy or rent movies and TV shows from Amazon, stop reading now and just go get an Amazon Fire TV.
Enter the Amazon Fire TV Review
I’ve been using the Amazon Fire TV since day one, and the overall experience is downright excellent. When you buy from Amazon, the Fire TV comes preloaded with your Prime membership details, so logging in is fast and efficient. (Amazon does this with Kindle Fire tablets, too, and it’s a sweet customer service play for sure.)
The unit itself is a small, flat black box. The fit and finish is fantastic, a bit of matte black fused with glossy black. The remote is a perfect size. While the Apple TV remote is tiny and spartan, the Fire TV remote is small enough to be handy but large enough to be comfortable. I like it a lot.
Better still is a key feature: Voice search. A dedicated microphone button at the top of the remote lets you simply say search terms and boom, you get results. There’s a fantastic Gary Busey ad about this feature that I still enjoy watching.
Back to search. For anything that’s available on Amazon Prime, Voice Search works fantastic. It doesn’t yet search through everything on the web that’s available through streaming — through other streaming apps on the Amazon Fire TV, like Netflix, but Amazon says its working on this functionality (which takes coordination with the databases that run other web streaming services).
In the meantime, if you say “The Walking Dead,” boom, you’ll get “The Walking Dead” results. Love it.
The Amazon Fire TV Is Fast
In addition to a handy voice search, the Amazon Fire TV packs a fast processor with plenty of memory, giving the interface a snappy feel. There’s more, though: the Amazon Fire TV has a predictive feature called “ASAP” that predicts what you might want to start streaming next, so it starts downloading the content behind the scenes just in case you want it. The result? When you actually select a TV show and start streaming it, it launches nearly instantly with little-to-no buffering. It’s an impressive feature.
In case you’re wondering about quality, you can’t get around a poor Internet connection, but the Amazon Fire TV can deliver 1080p HD video and Dolby Digital Plus surround sound.
As for apps that deliver content from specific channels, the Amazon Fire TV has most of the major options like Netflix, YouTube, HuluPlus, Pandora, WatchESPN, Bloomberg, NBA Game Time, and more. Disney and PBS Kids are coming later this year, and Amazon is working on adding more. While Amazon just signed a deal with HBO to deliver a lot of great older content, it hasn’t yet included the HBO GO app for subscribers — but likely will soon.
If you have kids, Amazon is bringing Amazon FreeTime to the Fire TV sometime soon. The idea is that FreeTime lets parents create custom profiles for their kids, choosing what content they can access. Plus, you can set up daily screen limits. As for kid-friendly navigation, the interface changes the background color and fonts to a more kid-friendly design. With Amazon FreeTime Unlimited, a $2.99 per month subscription, you can get unlimited access to content from Nickelodeon, Sesame Street, PBS Kids, and the like.
As you might expect, you can upload your own photos to your Amazon Cloud Drive and view them on your HDTV. Or listen to music. But what is unexpected — and a nice feature — is games.
The Amazon Fire TV runs on a version of Android, which means hundreds of Android smartphone and tablet games can also run on the Fire TV. Obviously there’s some interface changes required for many of these games to control them, so not every game is available now. And how many are available? A few hundred or so. Titles like Minecraft Pocket Edition, Asphalt 8, and Despicable Me: Minion Rush. Amazon Game Studios also created its own alien shoot ’em up thriller, Sev Zero. The game is regularly $6.99, but it’s free when you buy an Amazon Game Controller.
Speaking of controllers, some games will let you use the include Fire TV remote — for instance, Asphalt 8 lets you drive by tapping left or right on the remote’s round button. Works surprisingly well. But it’s hard to beat a dedicated, console-style game controller, so Amazon built one, too.
The point is, the Amazon Fire TV takes casual smartphone and tablet gaming and brings it to your HDTV — plus it ups the quality and future gaming options to a new level that fits somewhere between tablets and console gaming. (The Amazon Fire TV can’t compete with the expensive and powerful Xbox One or Playstation 4, but that’s not the point, of course — think extra, think casual, think another option for rainy-day diversions.)
Excellent Option, No-Brainer for Prime Customers
All-in-all, the Amazon Fire TV is a well-made, thought-out set-top streaming box that will let you quickly and easily stream Prime and purchase content from Amazon. If you’re a happy Amazon customer, the Fire TV is a no-brainer purchase. Of course, if you’re also an iPhone and iPad-using consumer, the buy decision gets a bit murkier. For instance, while the Apple TV does not have an Amazon Prime app — and may never get such an app, due to competitive reasons between Apple and Amazon — you can stream Amazon Prime content from your iPhone’s Amazon Prime app to your Apple TV via Apple’s AirPlay feature. It works — I do it all the time — but it’s somewhat cumbersome and it drains your iPhone battery.
Similarly, if you’re heavily invested in iTunes and the Apple ecosystem, I would have to recommend an Apple TV. (As for me, I’m a fan of both Amazon and Apple, so I have both. Call me crazy.)
Get the Amazon Fire TV on Amazon: