Update: The Amazon Fire TV Stick is even better in 2016, with a more powerful internal processor for faster streaming and less time buffering, and an upgraded 802.11a/b/g/n Dual-Band Wi-Fi antenna.
It used to be that if you wanted a smart TV, you would have to pay out good money. Now, for a few pounds, anyone can have a smart TV. All they need is a spare HDMI and a device no bigger than a USB stick.
This is because the set-top box landscape is changing. Full-size goliaths such as the Roku 3, Amazon Fire TV and Apple TV used to duke it out for control of your television. But then came Google’s Chromecast, it’s David – a set-top box built into a thumb drive form factor and fits entirely behind a TV. The Fire Stick is Amazon’s answer to Google’s device and what an answer it is.
The Fire TV Stick is petite and powerful. It fits flush with most TV’s HDMI ports and, unlike its main competitor Chromecast, comes with a fairly decent remote. In terms of content, you’ll find just about everything here. Netflix, iPlayer, Sky News, Spotify, while Amazon’s Prime Instant Video basically sits at the head of the proverbial table.
Almost everything feels right about the Amazon Fire TV Stick, but most of all is its £35 price tag. It’s £5 more than Chromecast, but £15 less than the Roku Streaming Stick; it feels like a supremely good value for what you get in the box.
Where Amazon Fire TV Stick slightly stumbles, however, is its deep-rooted attachment to its mother service, Amazon Prime. Without Prime, the set-top stick feels devoid of personality.
Yes, you can still get those great aforementioned apps, yes you’ll zip around from one section of the interface to the next thanks to its powerful components, and yes you’ll even get a 30-day trial for free just for buying the streaming stick – but, after the trial runs out or you choose not to commit to Amazon’s service, the whole experience feels sterile without Prime.
Design, setup and performance
At this point in the game, a streaming stick is nothing new. It’s a plastic, thumb drive-sized device that plugs into any HDMI port (not just MHL-equipped ports) and draws power from a USB port on the TV or from a wall outlet via the included converter. The exterior itself isn’t all that exciting – it’s 84.9 x 25.0 x 11.5mm and has the Amazon logo on one side – but it’s the lack of any distinct features that help the Fire TV Stick blend into the back of any TV. It even comes with an HDMI extender cable in case you’ve got a wall-mounted setup and no additional space to spare in the back.
While these extras are something the Chromecast comes standard with, the more expensive Roku Streaming Stick does not. Sometimes, it’s the simple things in life that really count, and Amazon scores major points for putting the consumer first.
After you’ve got the stick firmly seated in an HDMI port you’ve got to provide a power solution. You’ll need to connect the micro-USB powered stick to either a USB port on the TV or, attach the adapter and plug it into the wall. If you choose the former, you’ll get a warning when you boot the system up for the first time. It’ll tell you that it can’t draw enough power from the USB port to provide the ideal experience. I opted for the power via a wall socket.