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‘Tis the season for new streaming boxes, and we’ve seen our fair share of big updates from the streaming giants in the fall of 2017. But perhaps no update was as surprising as the one Amazon’s Fire TV got, which completely transformed the product’s form factor and joined a price point revolution that is bringing 4K streaming boxes within reach of more and more people. Let’s take a look at Amazon’s device. This is our review of the new Fire TV.

Amazon Fire TV Review

The Device

Amazon's new Fire TV is sporting a totally different look from the old one. Once a set-top box like the Roku Ultra or Apple TV, the Fire TV now dangles from the back of your TV like a Chromecast Ultra. A bit of flexible HDMI cable helps make sure that it fits in whatever weird place your TV's HDMI port is hiding, and a power cable connects to the opposite tip of the diamond-shaped device. Here's what everything looks like once you have it out of the box:

Amazon Fire TV (2017) review
That's the new Fire TV on the left, of course, followed by (clockwise) the power cable, the remote, batteries for the remote, and the power adapter.

There's no need for a separate HDMI cable, since it's built into the device itself.

For reference, here's a family portrait of the new Fire TV with its last-generation counterpart:

Amazon Fire TV (2017) review
Aw. They shrink down so fast.

The Fire TV remote looks pretty much the same. The Alexa remote allows you to – you guessed it – speak to Alexa, who can answer questions and control your Fire TV for you. You press a button on the remote when you want to chat to her, so you don't have to say “Alexa.” You can also use other devices to control the Fire TV, but we're starting to encroach on the next section's territory, so let's make the jump.

User Experience

Amazon's Fire TV runs Android-based operating system. It's clean and easy to navigate. And, you'll never guess this, but: it has a passion for Amazon services.

On first boot, a friendly how-to video runs through the features of the Fire TV and how to use them – and then sings the praises of Alexa and Amazon Prime, complete with little animations showing Alexa dimming the lights for movie night and a Prime delivery being made at the front stoop. Then the intro was over and it was on to the “Home” tab, where I found Amazon pushing its Thursday Night Football stream, some “Featured Apps & Games,” and Amazon Channels that I had not yet signed up for.

Amazon Fire TV: home screen
Amazon Fire TV's home screen would like some of your money, please.

Fire TV's operating system is easy to use, but it always feels like it's selling you something. Across the top navigation (it's no longer on the side) the menu reads: Home, Your Videos, Movies, TV Shows, Apps, and Settings. Home, Movies, and TV Shows all push Amazon content you have not yet paid for. Your Videos is where Amazon stashes the Amazon content that you already own or could access for free. Apps is the only tab on which you can access content from all of the other services you might use, like Netflix or Sling TV.

Amazon Fire TV: movies tab
A representative sample of Fire TV's “Movies” tab: a banner ad, a list of Amazon channels I do not yet subscribe to, and a list of movies I do not own and have not yet rented. Content discovery, meet monetization.

Amazon's operating system works fine, and it's less obnoxious if you have Prime and a lot of stuff in your Amazon media library. But for folks who aren't Amazon power users, there's really only one useful tab (Apps) and a bunch of ads. It doesn't hold a candle to the user experiences offered by Roku and Apple.

With that said, there's one key part of the user experience that does shine, and that's Alexa. She can do more than just find your next movie – she can answer questions and even order pizzas (you probably won't actually order a pizza with your Fire TV, but you could, and that's kind of cool, right?). You can also use other Alexa-enabled devices in tandem with your Fire TV. I tried that out with an Echo Dot, and it was kind of cool, even though it most likely also ends up in the “neat features you're unlikely to use” file for most of us.

In short, Amazon power users who already have Alexa devices around, subscribe to Prime, and have big Amazon media libraries will probably find it easy to look past the shortcomings of Fire TV's OS. Others may not.

Streaming Quality

Out of the box, the new Fire TV is a Wi-Fi-only device. But I had pretty much no problems getting it to stream well on WiFi – it worked at least as well as the comparably priced WiFi-only devices in Roku's lineup (the Stick and Stick+, which will get reviews from us very soon). Amazon loaned us an Ethernet adapter for the purposes of this review, but, for the most part, I didn't find that I needed it.

The Fire TV did a great job streaming both on-demand and live content. Breaks in skinny bundle live streams were brief and far between. In my trials, the Fire TV appeared to be the best at smooth, HD streaming of any device in its price range.

And, of course, the Fire TV delivers 4K and HDR streaming. It's tied with the Roku Stick+ and the Chromecast Ultra as the cheapest streaming device offering 4K and HDR.

Price

The new Fire TV is at a great price point: $49.99. That's a better value than the Chromecast Ultra ($69) and Roku Stick+ ($69.99). The Fire TV is also cheaper than the Roku Ultra ($99.99) and way cheaper than the new Apple TV 4K (which debuted at $179 in a year that Amazon and Roku both dropped their prices below $100, so please keep Apple in your prayers).

Why choose Amazon Fire TV Stick?

Watch the best of Netflix, Prime Video, Hulu, HBO Max, STARZ, SHOWTIME, and others in brilliant 4K Ultra HD.

Buy on Amazon

Verdict

On a technical level, the Fire TV is one of the best devices of its type on the market. Price-wise, it's doing great (at $69.99, the Fire TV is priced below the top options from Roku and Apple TV). But the Fire TV as a platform can feel gaudy and greedy, always pushing you to turn family movie night into a financial win for Amazon. The Fire TV undeniably offers a special experience for those with big Amazon media libraries, but the degree to which it promotes Amazon is a little over-the-top.

The typical line on the Fire TV is that it's best for Amazon power-users. That's a bit of an over-simplification, but there's a lot of truth to it. Non-Amazon users will find very little to compel them to opt for the Fire TV over something in the Roku lineup, or (if price is no object) an Apple TV, or (if on-screen content discovery is a non-issue) a Chromecast Ultra. Power users have a tougher decision to make. The more you use Amazon services, the more sense the Fire TV makes. Right now, though, I have a hard time making a case for it over a Roku for most users.

8 thoughts on “Amazon Fire TV Review

  1. Richard J Vedder says:

    With cord cutting suppliers, does one merely get entertainment or are the news, sports, local stations, etc. available? Can I watch the same programming that I see on my present Xfinity?

  2. chwryl says:

    can any of these devices be used with a laptop

    1. Stephen Lovely says:

      The point of a device like a Fire TV is to make it easy to watch streaming content on a TV. You can already watch services like Netflix in your browser on a laptop, so you won’t need a Fire TV to use your laptop. As for services like Netflix, all of the big famous ones can be used on both a laptop and on a Fire TV device. Hope this helps!

    2. Tianny1440@gmail.com says:

      Will I be able to get the NFL station

  3. Chris Reynolds says:

    The fire Tv has so far been a farce.
    Purchased a full line from echo to fire tv..
    So far 50% failure rate…3 of 4 out of warranty.. Garbage….
    Cheaper to stay with regular tv…
    Such a disappointment…but amazon stockholders will be pleased with my loss..
    Chris Reynolds

  4. Chris Reynolds says:

    The fire Tv has so far been a farce.
    Purchased a full line from echo to fire tv..
    So far 50% failure rate…3 of 4 out of warranty.. Garbage….
    Cheaper to stay with regular tv…
    Such a disappointment…but amazon stockholders will be pleased with my loss..
    Oops duplicate comment…
    apparentently I cannot be overly disappointed.
    Chris Reynolds

  5. Cindy Bienz says:

    Probably the worst of the “add-on” streaming gadgets out there and build it into a TV well there is 3 strikes on a 2 Strike count.
    Its just like the Amazon catalog has become….”too much” like all of amazon when you were not inundated with so much information much of which not necessary.
    But back to Fire-TV. Too many steps, too much knowledge of streaming, tooooo much Amazon. I really do not care that Alexa can attempt to control my life but she does a poor job on watching television.
    Roku has all the technical features and far more easy to operate and certainly not as many “steps” to find or view what you want.
    I have pitched a Fire TV and a Fire Stick. Staying with Roku!!

  6. Tianny1440@gmail.com says:

    Will I be able to get the NFL station

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