The Apple TV was the king of the living room for many years, but the Amazon Fire TV is a faster, feature-packed competitor that’s unseated the Apple TV in my house.
Over the past year the Apple TV experience went downhill as apps like Hulu Plus and Netflix started to lag, so I jumped at the chance for an Amazon Fire TV review unit.
Both devices offer access to movie rentals and streaming TV shows and movies through services like Netflix and Hulu Plus, and the Fire TV includes the Amazon Instant Video library at no extra charge if you already pay an annual fee for Amazon Prime shipping.
The Amazon Fire TV lets users search by voice, with a small microphone button on the remote control, and it also supports games with a separate controller.
The two biggest concerns I had about trying the Amazon Fire TV were content choice and the overall user experience. Amazon surprised me in both areas, delivering almost all the same videos and a fast and easy to understand interface.
The only app I cannot use on the Fire TV is HBO Go, which is a problem during Game of Thrones season. Amazon promises HBO Go support is coming later this year, but until it arrives you can mirror HBO Go from a Kindle Fire HDX tablet to the Fire TV and your HDTV. The Apple TV HBO GO app may need reauthorized regularly, but it is still on the box, which is a better solution than mirroring and available to users who may not have a Kindle Fire tablet.
Aside from that missing app, I can still watch Hulu Plus, Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant video. Searching them is easier using the microphone and thanks to all the time I spend talking to Siri it felt pretty natural to use Fire TV voice search. The video quality for streaming services and rented movies is excellent in 1080P, beating out the 720P limitation on my older Apple TV.
Setting up the Fire TV is simple. You can connect wired or wirelessly and you only need to plug an HDMI cable into your HDTV to get up and running. The setup software walks you through account information, networking and also shows you how to use the voice search. There is an optical audio out if you need to connect to a home theater or sound bar.
There was no need to worry about the performance and software on the Fire TV. The Amazon Fire TV is fast: I did not have to wait for it to respond to button presses or voice searches like I do on my Apple TV. The layout of apps and videos took a few days to adjust to, but it makes sense now and is easy to use.
I don’t play games on the Amazon Fire TV. I use it as a streaming media box next to the PS4 and Xbox One, so there is absolutely no need to try to play games on it, but they are there and they do work if you want to use it as a gaming box. Definitely invest in the controller if you plan on playing a lot of games on this device.
With no kids at home I don’t need Amazon FreeTime, but the Fire TV parental controls are an easy way to limit screen time and content type for kids.
If you own a Kindle Fire HDX tablet you can mirror videos, games and the web to your Fire TV and your HDTV. I prefer to run apps on the Fire TV directly when possible, but this is a handy way to play games on the big screen. You can also use the Kindle Fire as a second screen to pull up information about the show, characters and other information. The second screen is a handy feature, but not something I use very often.
You can also put your photos up on Amazon cloud drive, which allows you to see photos that you take on basically any tablet or smartphone and set them as a screensaver if you want. The Fire TV can also play music through your home theater using apps like Pandora or Amazon Music.
Overall the Amazon Fire TV is a better way to stream movies and TV shows to the TV. It is faster than the older Apple TV I own and loads apps like Hulu quicker and more reliably.
At $99, this is in line with the Apple TV price and offers more value to me than Apple can at this point. It is much more expensive than the ChromeCast that I use on a bedroom TV, but it serves a different purpose, with more options and it also delivers gaming.
You can buy the Amazon Fire TV for $99 at Amazon, where there are often deals for the device when purchased with a Kindle Fire HDX.
Rumors may point to some magical revolution for the Apple TV in the future, but the Amazon Fire TV is the better choice for anyone who wants to watch TV and movies right now.