There is a lot of competition in the set-top streaming device market, so a product needs to stand out in order to get noticed. The Amazon Fire TV attempts to do this through a combination of excellent hardware, voice search and gaming capabilities.
It succeeds in these areas, but the biggest flaw with the Fire TV right now lies with the fact that it is still a very new device. It has a ton of potential and, with the introduction of a lot of new apps and games, could easily become the primary entertainment device for a lot of families.
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The Amazon Fire TV arrives in the small box pictured above. It features graphics that represent many of the movies and TV shows that you can stream with the device, as well as many of the compatible apps that are currently available.
Once you open the box, you will find the Fire TV, a remote control, informational materials, batteries and a power cable. The device immediately reminded me of the Apple TV, simply because of its’ finish and coloring. The remote control is small and comfortable, but is large enough that it won’t be easily lost, which is one of the most common complaints about the Apple TV remote.
The setup is quick and simple, like the rest of the more popular set-top streaming products. The complete process is:
- Turn it on and wait for the Fire TV to pair with the remote control.
- Select your wireless network.
- Enter your wireless password.
- Download and install the system update.
- Watch an instructional walkthrough.
- Select your parental controls.
As you might expect from the steps above, you will need to know the name of your wireless network, as well as your password, to complete the process. Once all of these steps are complete, you will be taken to the Amazon Fire TV main menu, where you are free to start watching videos and downloading new apps.
If you ordered the Amazon Fire TV directly from Amazon, then it will already be set up with your account information. This means that you can make purchases with the payment information on your Amazon account, and you will be able to watch Prime videos if you already have an Amazon Prime account.
The icons are large, and not many of them fit on the screen. You will need to do a lot of scrolling to find videos to watch.
But one of the best parts about the Fire TV is the voice search, which will help to eliminate much of this searching, provided that you know what you want to watch. Simply hold down the microphone button at the top of the remote, speak the name of what you want to watch, release the microphone button and select the correct search result.
The voice search worked flawlessly with the 10 videos that I searched, and this could definitely be a feature that pushes me toward using the Fire TV as my primary streaming device. It is worth noting, however, that it is only currently compatible with Amazon content, so it has a lot more value for Prime members or people that want to rent or purchase videos from Amazon.
This is one of the selling points of the Fire TV, and the performance of the Fire TV blows all of its’ competitors out of the water. Menu navigation is instant, videos start very quickly (especially Amazon videos) and the video and sound quality are excellent.
The main competitors for the Fire TV at this price point are the Roku 3 and the Apple TV, and the Fire TV certainly outclasses them in terms of performance and hardware specs. Amazon claims that the Fire TV has 3x the processing power of the Apple TV or Roku 3, 4x the amount of RAM and a dedicated graphics engine. If you haven’t already, you should definitely check out Amazon’s Fire TV page, where they provide a complete rundown of the device’s hardware and capabilities in relation to other similar products.
Viewing options are the big drawback of the Fire TV right now. There are a very limited number of channels available, and some of the more popular ones (HBO Go, Vudu, Spotify) are not there yet. This is certainly something that will be fixed down the line, but it is worth noting if you plan to be an early adopter of this product.
It does contain some popular channels, though, such as Netflix, Pandora, Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime and YouTube. You can see a complete listing of available content channels on Amazon here.
If you use the Amazon Cloud app to store your photos in the cloud, you will also be able to view them on the Fire TV.
– Gaming is likely to be one of the big draws of this device, once the gaming library has been expanded a bit. There is a dedicated controller for Fire TV gaming on Amazon, although some of the game apps will work with the included remote. You can check out the gaming controller on Amazon here.
– The fast forward and rewind features are incredible. It is very easy to quickly rewind or fast forward completely through a long movie, which is something that I always dreaded doing on other streaming devices. This is due to the video pre-loading function of the Fire TV, which helps to reduce buffering time, as well as decrease the transition time between videos.
– It is very easy to purchase content from Amazon, especially if you elected not to set up parental controls. You simply search for a video, select it, then click the Buy button. You do not need to enter any payment or confirmation information, meaning that you can basically search for, purchase and start watching a video within seconds. This is a level of convenience that I am sure will have me purchasing more content than I previously had been, which has to be one of Amazon’s focal points with this product.
– The inclusion of a wired Ethernet port is helpful for individuals that are placing the device far from a wireless router, or who prefer to avoid wireless connections when possible. The wireless performance is excellent, however, and is easily capable of streaming HD content to your TV.
– The Fire TV includes a USB port as well, which should hopefully allow for local content streaming from a USB hard drive or flash drive. The Plex app is already available on the Fire TV, which is good news for people that have already created a Plex environment in their household.
I’m very happy with the Fire TV, and I’m excited for its’ potential. Having the best hardware in its’ class opens the door for many options, and it could be a realistic choice for the casual gamer. It will not be replacing anyone’s Xbox One or PS4, but as the library grows, there are sure to be some titles that will gain some popularity.
People that are already invested in the Amazon ecosystem (click to view on Amazon) will be very happy with this device, as will anyone that is looking for an easy way to rent and buy movies. Individuals with a large iTunes library will want to think twice about the Fire TV, as there is not a way to watch that content on this device. The Apple TV (click to view on Amazon) is likely better in that situation. Additionally, if you know which channels you will be watching, it is definitely worth investigating this list to see if they are available on the Fire TV. If not, then the Roku 3’s (click to view on Amazon) larger channel library could be the better choice for you.
There is no “best” choice when selecting a streaming set-top box, and your own usage will dictate whether the Apple TV, Roku 3 or Amazon Fire TV is the right option. But the Fire TV is a worthy competitor, and is definitely deserving of your consideration.
Read some more Fire TV reviews on Amazon here.
Buy the Fire TV from Amazon here.
Matthew Burleigh has been writing tech tutorials since 2008. His writing has appeared on dozens of different websites and been read over 50 million times.
After receiving his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Computer Science he spent several years working in IT management for small businesses. However, he now works full time writing content online and creating websites.
His main writing topics include iPhones, Microsoft Office, Google Apps, Android, and Photoshop, but he has also written about many other tech topics as well.