Amazon announced the Fire TV Stick back in October as the smaller version of its initial Fire TV streaming box. The small HDMI dongle officially launched last month and we took the chance to try it out for ourselves.
Just like Google’s Chromecast, which is the closest comparison to the Fire TV Stick, the device 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 Google’s streaming stick. 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.
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.
The best part about the remote is that it doesn’t use an IR signal for communication, which makes sense since the device is hidden away behind your TV, making it impossible for IR to even work in the first place.
Instead, the remote uses another form of wireless communication (most likely Bluetooth) in order to talk to the Fire TV Stick. This means that you don’t necessarily have to point the remote at your TV, but we know you will anyway since it’s purely habit.
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.” An Amazon rep did tell me, though, that using the wall adapter can help with latency and improve the wireless signal that the device receives.
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 rather than face downward like it should be. It’s a little awkward, but it’s hidden behind your TV anyway so it’s not a huge deal.
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. 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 (ugh!).
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.
Amazon’s Instant Video streaming service is experience is baked right into the Fire TV Stick and it takes up most of the user interface, which isn’t too surprising and something that I expected. However, you can still access other streaming apps, such as Netflix, Hulu Plus, Vimeo, YouTube, etc.
The Netflix app is actually a lot better than the Apple TV Netflix app in my experience. It’s still not ideal, since you need to navigate your way around a web of menus to start watching a TV show or movie on your queue list, but it’s still better than Netflix’s Apple TV app for sure.
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 regularly sells for $39, which still isn’t a bad price at all, especially considering that it comes included with a remote. The Chromecast was a huge turn-off because it didn’t come with a remote and I had to rely on my smartphone instead, which just wasn’t feasible.
Personally, I’d recommend the Fire TV Stick to anyone looking for a basic streaming device on the cheap. Even if they don’t have a Prime membership and don’t use any of Amazon’s other products, they can still access Netflix and other streaming apps on the device.