The new Amazon Fire TV Stick costs £35, and is up against the likes of the £30 Google Chromecast and the £49.99 Roku Streaming Stick. Chromecast is dominating the market in the UK at the moment – so can the new Amazon Fire TV Stick compete?
Well, firstly, it’s pretty clear that Amazon know who their competitor is. There’s a comparison table right on the Amazon product page:
Amazon Fire TV Stick vs. Google Chromecast
Realistically, most consumers aren’t going to care much about how many cores the processor on their TV streaming stick has. That’s just Amazon willy-waving. However, there’s also brief mention of some of the features that do make the Fire TV Stick stand out:
1. It’s got a remote control
2. You can search for content by voice when you’ve lost said remote control down the sofa, and
3. It can tell you who that actress on the screen is, and what else she’s been in.
Taking these one by one: the remote control is very worth having. It’s small and lightweight, but makes a lot of difference in how simple it is to navigate and find content. Typing in the WiFi code by going up-up-down-down-left-right-left-right-B-A-Enter is still a humongous pain when you’re getting it set up, mind you. Being confronted by an overly friendly, overly long animated intro video isn’t great, either, but you can fast-forward through it.
Voice search only works on the accompanying mobile app – not on the remote itself, unlike the Fire TV box. Nonetheless, it works very well and almost always returned what I asked for. The Amazon Fire TV Remote app is available free on iOS, Android, and inevitably, the Amazon AppStore.
Thirdly, the oddly-named X-Ray feature is basically Shazam for actors. Tap ‘up’ on the circular bit of the Fire TV Stick remote and the integrated IMDB database will tell you what else that person’s been in.
It can also give you background information on the show and characters, information about the music that’s playing, even trivia and bloopers.
It’s the kind of thing people usually use a second screen for, so it’s great to see it built-in like this. Hopefully X-Ray will mean fewer people on their phones while they’re watching a film (because let’s be honest, once you’ve looked up what else that gorgeous dude in Suits has been in, you’re going to have a quick check of Facebook and Twitter, too. And then you look up and something major’s happened and your significant other is glaring at you).
Things we like about the Amazon Fire TV Stick
The Fire TV Stick makes a great first impression. It’s beautifully packaged, premium-looking and unobtrusive. It includes little extras like an HDMI extender for people whose setup makes it tricky to have a stick poking out, and if you read the instructions you’ll find that the extender helps boost WiFi signal to the stick, too.
The menu system is intuitive and expansive, with more content than you could ever hope to get through. It’s got all the major apps:
Although of course for things like Netflix, you will need to have a subscription. Ditto Amazon Prime, which has a tremendous selection of content – so much so that without it, the Fire TV Stick would be a much poorer proposition. You get a 30-day free trial with your TV Stick if you don’t have it already, but believe us, you’re going to miss that when it’s gone. It’s intentionally baked right into the experience. (Amazon Prime costs £79 a year and includes unlimited next-day delivery on products from Amazon, as well as the 15,000 movies and TV episodes on Prime Instant Video).
There are games, too – and yes, Flappy Bird is in there. No Farmville though, thankfully.
Fire TV is a good mass-distribution platform for games: it’ll be very valuable for developers to get their titles on here.
The voice search and X-Ray features work flawlessly, and anything you buy on Amazon (like albums and films) show up automatically. The viewing experience is mostly seamless, too, with next episodes auto-playing just like Netflix, and the ‘ASAP’ service preloading content it thinks you’ll like so you don’t have to wait while it loads. Everything we tried started almost instantly, though that’s usually the case with Chromecast too.
Things we don’t like about the Amazon Fire TV Stick
We said the viewing experience is “mostly seamless” – that ‘mostly’ is because we had a frustrating issue with the Fire TV Stick within the first two days of use. It lost the WiFi connection, and even after it had reconnected, refused to display any content. Every single screen said “unavailable right now” because of a lack of WiFi, with a link to the connection settings. The connection settings showed that it had happily reconnected to WiFi and there were no problems. This persisted for some time, so eventually we had to yank the power cable from the stick (there is a reset option buried in the settings menu, but I couldn’t find it at the time) and begin again, at which point it was fine.
We’re also not keen on the degree of Amazon Prime integration – it’s a much less worthwhile device without a subscription.
The verdict: should you buy an Amazon Fire TV Stick?
The prices are too close to make much difference either way (though there are often offers on Chromecast, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see Amazon discount the Fire TV stick sometimes too), so it’s going to come down to one thing. How much of an Amazon fan are you?
If you’re not a Prime subscriber, Chromecast is the sensible option. It’s zippy, ridiculously easy to set up, inexpensive and packed with all the main apps that Fire TV Stick offers. Plus it’s £5 cheaper, though you don’t get a remote.
If you have Amazon Prime and sometimes buy films or music from them, go for the Fire TV Stick. It’s a seamless, enjoyable experience that puts all your Amazon content (and that enormous Prime Instant Video library) at your fingertips. The remote control is a useful bonus, as is voice search (though loading up the app so you can talk to it isn’t much less inconvenient than searching on the remote), and the X-Ray feature is nothing short of genius. It’s great value, looks good, performs well (except for our hiccup) and will keep you entertained basically forever.
The Amazon Fire TV Stick is released in the UK tomorrow, you can preorder it now for £35 from Amazon UK.