Amazon's $39 Fire TV Stick and where to buy a $100 Fire TV player

Amazon may have Chromecast and the Roku Streaming Stick in its sights, but will it cannibalize Fire TV sales?

Published: October 27, 2014 04:30 PM
Will this new streaming media player stick it to the competition?

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If you're an Amazon Prime subscriber looking for a stick-style streaming media player, you now have a new option: The Amazon Fire TV Stick, a $39 player that's priced between Google's $35 Chromecast and Roku's $50 Streaming Stick. And if you're a new or current Amazon Prime subscriber who's willing to act quickly, you can get it for just $19 today or tomorrow.

That seems to be such a good deal that we're scratching our heads and asking, If you can get a Fire TV Stick for so little money, why the heck would you pay $99 for the company's Fire TV player, which we tested in the spring?

We hope to get a definitive answer when we get a Fire TV Stick into our labs for testing; it can be preordered now, but doesn't ship until Nov. 19. But based on what's been announced, it seems that some features will remain exclusive to the Fire TV settop box. At least on paper, Fire TV should be faster. Also, it's not clear if the Stick has the Fire TV's Free Time, a password-protected area for younger kids that lets parents choose what their kids can see, and set time limits for how long they can watch shows. In addition, while the Fire TV Stick has casual games, it lacks the more robust gaming capabilities of the Fire TV. And while the Fire TV Stick can respond to voice commands for searches, you have to use a mobile device—such a phone or tablet—with a built-in microphone, since the included remote control lacks the embedded mic found on the Fire TV remote. The Fire TV remote with the built-in mic will work with the Stick, but you'll have to buy it as a $30 option.

Find the right model for you with our Streaming Media Player Buying Guide and Ratings.

Like other stick-style players, Fire TV plugs into an HDMI input on the back of your TV. The player seems surprisingly robust for its size, according to the specs, with a dual-core processor, 1GB of RAM, 8GB of built-in storage, and dual-band, dual-antenna Wi-Fi. It shouldn't be quite as fast as Fire TV, which has a quad-core processor, but faster than other stick-style players we've tested.

Like its larger sibling, Fire TV Stick has access to a several streaming video services, including Amazon (Prime and Instant), Hulu Plus, Netflix, Showtime Anytime, and YouTube, plus WatchESPN for sports, and PBS Kids and Watch Disney Channel for kids. Music fans can get streaming songs from Amazon Prime, Pandora, and Spotify.

Like Fire TV, the Stick ships to you preregistered, which simplifies setup, and it uses the same interface as Fire TV. You can download a free app on your phone or tablet to use your mobile device as a remote control or to search using voice commands. And like Fire TV, the Stick has a feature called ASAP that monitors your choices to make predictions about shows and movies you'd like to watch, and buffers them for faster playback.

Also like Fire TV, the Stick is optimized for those already living within Amazon's ecosystem. (When we tested Fire TV, it performed best with Amazon's services.) For example, you can send content from a Fire tablet or phone to your TV, or wirelessly mirror content on them—and some other Miracast-enabled—portable devices. It also supports X-ray, a second-screen feature that will display additional information about the shows or movies you're watching on a Fire phone or tablet.

We're looking forward to getting a Fire TV Stick into our labs sometime next month and seeing how it compares not just to Chromecast and the Roku Streaming Stick, but also to the pricier Fire TV. We'll let you know if it's worth considering.

—James K. Willcox

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