First Impression: Amazon Fire TV Stick


My wife and I decided to pre-order an Amazon Fire TV Stick for her parents, which we gave to them for Christmas. While visiting with them I had the opportunity to setup the device and use it for an extended period. Overall, I’m impressed. The cost is relatively low, performance and stability seemed good (at least during the time I was using it) and the interface was easy to use.

We were both impressed enough that we decided to order one for ourselves, though they’re currently on back-order so it may not be until the end of January before ours ships to us. I was able to pre-order the Stick for my in-laws for $19, but it regularly retails for only $39.

We own a Roku, though I found the interface slow and clunky and it’s rarely used as it has been relegated to our guest room. Perhaps the performance and unimpressive experience can be attributed to the version of the Roku I purchased, which was not the most expensive version. A very positive characteristic of the Roku is that it has far more channels (think apps) available than most other devices.

I’ve been pleased with our Apple TVs, though recently our 3rd generation device has performed poorly since the iOS 8 update while our 2nd generation Apple TV works without issue. For some time I’ve preferred the Apple TV interface for Netflix and Hulu. While this still holds true for moving around within those apps, I found the overall home screen of the Fire TV Stick navigation to work better than that of the home screen on the Apple TV.

I enjoy using the Apple TVs and they fit our situation well because we have purchased a considerable amount of music, TV shows, and movies via iTunes over several years. It’s also our preferred movie rental service.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t support Amazon Prime Video. Our consoles do so there’s no problem using Amazon Prime in our living room but to use it in the bedroom I must use AirPlay to send Amazon Prime from an iOS device, which isn’t very convenient (I know, First World Problems).

Being required to stream from a separate device, rather than directly from a device connected to a TV, is also why I’m not fond of the Google Chromecast. It seems to work well for what it does, but it requires that media be streamed from a different device, and thus it requires the involvement of another device, I rarely ever use it. Users that aren’t bothered by this requirement may find that the Google Chromecast fits their needs.

However, I prefer to not have two devices tied up to watch something on my TV. I was also impressed by the form factor of the Stick, which is similar to the Google Chromecast.

Some TVs may not be able to provide enough power via a USB port and as a result must use the power adapter that is included. This was not a problem with my in-laws TV so all of the cabling stayed directly behind the TV. The device did provide a notice suggesting that I use the power adapter instead, so it can update automatically and remain powered at all times, but I didn’t think that was actually necessary.

It didn’t take long to adjust to the remote, which is well designed and easy to learn in a way that felt as simple as the Apple TV remote (unlike the Xbox One Media Remote, which is strangely shaped on its bottom and has a tendency to move oddly within one’s hands).

My in-laws have the standard remote but we also used the Fire TV app for iOS, which also worked great. The voice command feature was so easy to use in the app that when I ordered a second one for us I decided to spend the additional $29 for the Fire TV Stick remote that supports voice commands.

Of course, when you purchase an Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV Stick, or a Google Chromecast you have to accept certain limitations that come with each environment. The Fire TV Stick does not support iTunes nor does the Apple TV support Amazon Prime. It’s unfortunate that I must have two devices to access all of the streaming services that we can use, but it’s also an acceptable compromise.

Those that aren’t interested in different services will have a simpler choice.

Personally, if you aren’t locked into iTunes (as we are) or Google Play and already have Amazon Prime then I highly recommend that you consider purchasing the Fire TV Stick. It’s inexpensive, easy to use, and doesn’t take up much space. One can also purchase a gaming controller that can be used with games available for purchase from within the Stick.

I didn’t test the ability to ‘fling’ or mirror content from another device to the Stick (similar to AirPlay or Casting) so I don’t know how well that features works (though again that isn’t my primary use for these types of devices).

After using this device I’m convinced that Apple will make plans to release an updated Apple TV using a similar form factor as well as Siri-based voice command support. If Apple does not go this route then I hope this decision is attributed to patent issues rather than an inability to admit that a competitor has done something that should be copied.

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