This Amazon Fire TV Stick is the second generation of its inexpensive video streaming device. You can stream from Amazon Video, as well as Netflix and the full roster of the UK’s catch-up services. There are sufficiently more apps as well, including Prime Music and Spotify, plus access to Amazon’s growing games library.
So, what’s new? For a start, the interface has had an overhaul to make it look a lot prettier and easier to use. The Amazon Fire TV Stick only goes up to Full HD 1080p resolution, and goes up against the aging (but still excellent) Chromecast, or the platform-agnostic Roku Express.
If you want 4K Ultra HD or HDR video, check out the full-size Amazon Fire TV, the Apple TV 4K, the Google Chromecast Ultra or the Roku Streaming Stick Plus.
Amazon Fire TV Stick – Design and build
The Amazon Fire TV Stick appearances a little like a memory stick on steroids and is designed to plug straight into an HDMI port on your TV. It’s a neat all-in-one design housed in plastic. It will creak a little if squeezed, but feels tough enough for purpose.
At 3.5inches long and around 1.1 inches deep, it will need a bit of room on your TV back panel, though, particularly when you consider making room for its Micro USB cable power supply. Thankfully, if this is too much of a squeeze, Amazon includes an HDMI extender in the box to free up some space.
The additional remote is the similar one that you’ll find involved with the pricier Amazon Fire TV box. It’s pretty simple, offering a D-pad for navigation, a handful of playback controls and the all-important voice input key. It’s good that this is contained within now, although the iOS and Android app does an equally good job and can activate the same Alexa commands.
Amazon Fire TV Stick – Set up and interface
Setting it up is actually simple. Just socket it into a spare HDMI slot on your TV, and its USB cable into a power source. Some on-screen instructions will get your Alexa remote paired and the Fire TV Stick hooked up to your home network. As soon as you sign up into your Amazon account, you’re ready to use.
If you’re familiar with the previous Fire TV Stick, you’ll notice immediately that the interface has been redesigned. The navigation has relocated from the side to the top, and a new picture-led container with suggested content dominates the top half of the screen. The idea is that the Fire TV Stick will learn your viewing habits over time and tailor this to you, with video teasers to draw you in. In testing, the range it surfaced better to include programmes and films I’d be more likely to choose, including content from other providers like Netflix.
Detail pages have been improved too, with a large picture backdrop and more in-depth programme information. When you are ready to watch, get on upwards on the remote will open up Amazon’s X-Ray IMDb feature, for finding about more about the cast.
Besides downloading apps, I found the homepage was the only place I needed to be. In a side menu underneath the carousel, you’ll find your current shows and apps for quick access. Beneath that, you can surf and arrange your downloaded apps, scroll through several menus of Prime suggested content, and even one for Netflix.
That’s what’s particularly refreshing about this version of the Fire TV Stick. While Amazon Prime content is still its bread and butter it’s not as difficult to find content from other providers as it was before.
Amazon Fire TV Stick – Features
Along with its new interface, the Amazon Fire TV Stick has seen some hardware advancements too, including a new quad-core processor and improved Wi-Fi.
The new chipset promises to be 30% quicker, while the 802.11ac Wi-Fi ensures more stable streaming quicker downloads and faster buffering. You’ll certainly find out the improvement if your Fire TV Stick is a little further away from your router too, thanks to a better performance range.
There’s still 8GB of on-board storage for apps and games and the same 1GB RAM as its predecessor, which is enough.
Amazon Fire TV Stick – Performance
Scrolling over the list of options, it’s perfect that the new quad-core processor has given the Fire TV Stick a welcome boost of power. It certainly feels slicker to browse and faster to load, as you flick in and out of menus and search for content.
Voice commands work really well for this too. Somewhat better than using the Alexa wake command as you would on the Amazon Echo, you press a button on the remote, hold it in and speak.
While I’ve seen voice remotes before, with the likes of the Fire TV Box, this is the first time that Alexa has been built into a Fire TV product. She’s cleverer than your normal voice command system, so there’s now much more you can do.
The results are fast and for the most part accurate. You can search by actor, genre or film name, and during my tests, Alexa hasn’t misunderstood a single command.
That said some of the returned suggestions aren’t always as helpful as they could be. A search for Brad Pitt offers up five TV shows and movies that don’t feature the actor at all, before bringing up movies like Seven and Inglorious Basters. Likewise, a search for Jeremy Clarkson submits a number of separate films and shows earlier it surfaces Amazon’s own The Grand Tour series.
Specific movie or TV show searches fare much better though, and offer up similar titles as well direct matches. Searching for The Outstanding Tour this way carries up Top Gear as recommended watching, which makes much more sense.
Alexa’s talents don’t stop there though. You can also ask her about the weather, sports scores, check in on the news or get her to set a timer. New functionality you can also ask her to fast forward or rewind during Amazon shows, which works seamlessly.
The language you use to control her is also pretty easy. She’ll respond to “fast forward five minutes” in the same way she does “skip ahead five minutes”, which makes using it feel much more natural than previous voice control systems.
No matter what you’re watching, playback is stable and buffering is fast – you’ll only have to make do with a fuzzy picture for a second or two before the full resolution kicks in and pictures look crisp. By comparison, Chrome cast takes a little longer to even out its picture and isn’t quite as fast to load content.
Why buy the Fire TV Stick?
The new Amazon Fire TV Stick doesn’t do whatever thing innovative, but it ensures make a good product even better.
The Alexa voice commands are a great way to navigate, and the extra speed from the new processor and improved Wi-Fi makes using it a breeze.
With this new interface fixed to come to previous devices later down the line, and Alexa support too, owners of the original Fire TV Stick might not find the upgrade immediately necessary.