A couple weeks ago I ordered the Amazon Fire TV Stick for $20 as part of a special launch promotion for Amazon Prime members. (Regular price is $39.) As a cord cutter I’ve been curious about boxes like the Fire TV but after a less than stellar experience with the Roku last year I wasn’t interested in spending $99 to experiment with another box when I was happy with my Apple TV. But for $20, I figured I didn’t have much to lose.
The primary content draws to the Amazon Fire TV Stick for me were Amazon Prime streaming and Plex, two notable omissions from Apple TV. (There are hacks and AirPlay, but these are not as convenient as native experiences.) Earlier this year I upgraded my primary television to a Samsung Smart TV that included apps for both Amazon and Plex and I enjoyed having easy access to this content. I already have an Apple TV and a TiVo HD connected the television in my bedroom but I had a free HDMI port so for a minimal investment I was able to add Amazon Video, Plex and other channels the Fire TV Stick offers.
While this is by no means a comprehensive review (Dan Moren wrote a nice one on Jason Snell’s Six Colors) here are my first thoughts after an evening with the Fire TV Stick:
- Setup was very easy, literally plug and play. However in addition to plugging the Fire TV Stick into an unoccupied HDMI port you also have to provide it with power. A USB power adapter is included in the box, but as Dan reported in his review, I found I was able to power the Fire TV Stick off the USB port on my television. This was convenient because my access to power plugs was limited. Unfortunately, the Fire TV continued to nag me, really nag me, to plug it into a power supply though it appeared to function properly. A downside of the TV's USB port was every time the TV was powered off the Fire TV Stick would lose power and it would have to go through its boot up process before it was ready to use. Generally this was quick and wasn’t a problem, but then the idea occurred to me that I could perhaps plug the FireTV Stick into one of the unoccupied USB ports on my TiVo instead since it was always powered. So far, so good and no complaints from either the TiVo or the Fire TV Stick.
- The Fire TV Stick is Wi-Fi only, which is to be expected for a device of this size. It does support 802.11n and I haven’t noticed any problems in streaming content. Though one annoyance during setup was entering my complex passwords for my Wi-Fi network and various streaming services. The Apple TV has the remote App to help with this. Amazon says an iOS App for the Fire TV is in the works, but it’s not available yet. Because I ordered my Fire TV stick from Amazon it came pre-configured with my Amazon.com account information.
- While this is purely a personal preference, I found the UI was much cleaner and "less clunky" than the Roku though I did not like it as much as the Apple TV. While I think the Apple TV user interface still has much to be desired, I’ve yet to see a set top box with a better one. Clearly this is an area where there’s much room for advancment
- While Amazon promotes the Plex App for Fire TV, it is not one of the included apps. It’s available for a separate purchase of $2.49 in the Amazon App store and can be purchased and downloaded directly on the FireTV Stick. The Amazon App store does not have nearly the selection of the Roku store, but that really wasn't my concern since this was not my primary streaming device.
Overall, my first impressions of the Fire TV Stick are positive for my limited use and will likely only get better as Amazon continues to develop the platform and releases their iOS App. But I should note that this is only a secondary streaming device for me as Apple TV will likely continue to be my primary streaming device since most of my content comes from the Apple ecosystem.
As an Amazon Prime member, I find value in having native access to Amazon’s content, particularly the growing Prime Instant Video collection on my television valuable. But, if Apple TV included a native Amazon App (which it probably never will) and a native Plex App (maybe, one day) I would have little need for the Fire TV Stick. At $20 the Fire TV Stick was an easy decision, and I’d probably even still purchase it at the full price of $39. But I’m not sure there’s a place for a $99 Fire TV in my media center.