Amazon announced the Fire TV Stick late last month as the smaller version of its initial Fire TV streaming box. The small HDMI dongle officially launched today and we took the chance to try it out for ourselves.
Just like the Chromecast, the Fire TV Stick plugs into an HDMI port on your television, but it comes packing with faster performance than the Chromecast, boasting 4x the storage and 2x the memory than the Chromecast. Plus, the Fire TV Stick sports a dual-core processor, which should hopefully make browsing and navigating menus smooth and snappy.
However, where the Fire TV Stick really shines is the included remote that comes in the box. The Chromecast doesn’t come with a remote, but rather users use their smartphones as the remote, which many users actually don’t like over using an actual remote with physical buttons.
The Fire TV Stick, on the other hand, comes with a remote that allows you to easily navigate and find your favorite movies and TV shows without any hindrance of a mobile remote app. However, Amazon provides a remote app for the Fire TV Stick anyway if users prefer that, so you essentially can get the best of both worlds.
First thing’s first, though. The Fire TV Stick comes with a microUSB cable and a wall power adapter, because like the Chromecast, Amazon’s streaming stick requires external power since the HDMI port itself doesn’t have that ability. The setup booklet and the Fire TV Stick itself will recommend that you use the wall power adapter instead of the built-in USB port on your television, but I have yet to see how it makes a difference other than Amazon telling you that it provides a more “reliable power source, allows fast wake up, and enables automatic updates.”
On thing to be aware of, though, is that the microUSB power port on the stick is mounted on the side, meaning that depending on which way your HDMI ports are oriented on the back of your television, the microUSB cable might stick up from the stick rather than face downward like it should be. It’s a little awkward, but it’s hidden behind your TV anyway.
When you first power on the Fire TV Stick, you’ll be asked to connect to your home wireless network and then it will immediately start to download an update, and if you have really crappy WiFi like I do, the update will take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, so don’t get your hopes up if you expected this to be a plug-in-play experience right out of the box.
Once the update finished downloading, the Fire TV Stick restarted and I was prompted to enter in my WiFi password again (ugh!), but I finally made my way to an intro video that goes over the basics of the Fire TV Stick. It’s a few minutes long and it’s definitely a good place to start, but if you already know what you’re doing, that’s great, but you can’t skip forward, so you just have to watch the video until it’s over with.
Once you finally get to the home screen, you’re greeted by a user interface that looks very familiar if you’ve used any of Amazon’s hardware products before, and even if you’ve used other streaming boxes in the past, you’ll be pretty familiar with how to navigate your way around the Fire TV Stick.
Obviously, my first order of business was to fire up Netflix, so I went down to the Apps section where showed no apps that were currently installed, or at least it said that it was currently loading my apps library. However, I went ahead and proceeded to download Netflix anyway in the off chance that the app wasn’t downloaded by default.
However, going to download the Netflix app was an interesting experience on its own, as it said that I’ve already “purchased” the app and if it hasn’t already begun downloading, it will begin “shortly.” So I waited, but the status kept displaying “Refreshing…” and stayed that way for several minutes. Eventually I gave up and chalked it up to either my crappy WiFi or the Fire TV Stick itself is seeing a bit of a buggy launch. It said that it was “loading app library,” but I’m not sure when that will happen or if it will ever happen.
UPDATE: I checked back a few hours later and Netflix is finally displaying on the app list, as are several other apps that you can access like Vimeo, NFL Now, and more, and they work great. Amazon says this was an issue on their end and was merely just a hiccup. In other words, this isn’t something that Fire TV Stick owners should be experiencing anymore.
Fortunately, you’re not completely out of luck, as you can easily just watch some Prime Instant Video movies or shows. That experience is pretty flawless and seamless, which isn’t too surprising since it’s baked right into the Fire TV Stick.
However, something that really can’t be beat with the Fire TV Stick is its price. When it was first announced, the device sold for as low as $19, making it the cheapest streaming option we’ve seen yet. In order to take advantage of that price, though, you had to have an Amazon Prime membership and had to order the Fire TV Stick within the first two days of pre-orders, which ended on October 29.
The Fire TV Stick now sells for $39, which still isn’t a bad price at all, especially considering that it comes included with a remote, as the Chromecast was a huge turn-off for me simply because I had to rely on my smartphone as the remote, which just isn’t feasible.