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Amazon Fire TV Stick First Look Review

Amazon's new lower-priced stick-style streaming player will give Chromecast and the Roku Streaming Stick a run for their money

Published: December 01, 2014 10:30 PM
Amazon's new Fire TV Stick has many of the features found in the pricier Fire TV player.

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It hasn’t even been a year since Amazon jumped into the streaming media player market with its noteworthy Amazon Fire TV ($99) set-top box. Now the company is entering the stick-style player market, dominated by Google’s Chromecast ($35) and the Roku Streaming Stick ($50), with the Fire TV Stick ($39), a small plug-in device about the size of a pack of gum that offers most, but not all, of what the original Fire TV provides.

Like the other streaming sticks, the player plugs directly into an HDMI port on your TV. While it can draw power from a TV’s USB port, Amazon says that for best performance, you should use the provided AC adapter, though it doesn't specify why.

The Fire TV Stick is easy to use. Once the device is powered on, the Bluetooth remote will automatically sync to the player. Then, you’ll be asked to select your home Wi-Fi network and enter the password; once you connect, you'll be treated to a nice video tutorial that demonstrates how you can use the different features of the player. Like the Fire TV set-top box, the Fire TV Stick offers an added convenience: If you have an Amazon Prime account, that information gets automatically loaded into the player when you buy it, so you won’t have to manually enter your e-mail and password using the remote.

Once setup is completed, you’ll see the easy-to-use menu system, identical to the one on the Fire TV. Recently viewed and recommended Amazon content is prominently displayed on top, along with several subcategories, including Movies, Games, and Photos.

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The Fire Stick has the same interface as the bigger Amazon Fire TV player.

While there are many similarities between the two Amazon players, there is one immediately noticeable difference—speed. While not annoyingly sluggish, the Fire TV Stick is definitely slower and less responsive than the Fire TV set-top player, which has a faster processor. This also causes videos and other content to load a bit slower, including videos that make use of Amazon’s ASAP feature, which load almost instantaneously on the original Fire TV. Also, while the Fire TV will respond to voice searches spoken into the remote control’s embedded microphone, the Fire TV Stick's remote doesn’t have a mic; instead, you’ll have to use a phone or tablet to take advantage of the voice-search feature.

In terms of content, the Fire TV Stick has access to all the same streaming services you get with the regular Fire TV, including Amazon (Prime and Instant Video), Netflix, Hulu Plus, Spotify, Pandora, and YouTube. You can also link directly to your Prime Music and Cloud Drive accounts, which let you play music and display personal photos on your TV. But the Stick does not support the advanced gaming platform found on the pricier Fire TV player. Although you can use Amazon’s optional game controller ($40) on some games, the game-play experience is still far removed from what you'd get with a console.

To complement the Fire TV Stick, Amazon offers a free Fire TV remote app, which lets you use Android and Fire OS devices to control the Stick. Support for the original Fire TV and Apple devices is coming soon. As mentioned earlier, this allows you to use a portable device for the voice-search feature with the Stick; otherwise, you'd have to buy the optional ($30) voice-enabled remote control. Like the original player, the Stick allows you to “fling” Amazon content from a Fire OS device to your TV. It also supports Amazon’s “X-Ray” feature, which provides extra info in real time for the content you’re watching. The Fire TV Stick also supports screen mirroring with Miracast on Android and Fire OS devices. (The Fire TV player, which initially supported mirroring only on Fire OS devices, was recently updated to support Android.)

CR’s Take

So, what’s our initial impression of Amazon’s new stick-style player? Based on our early First Look, we think it can hold its own against the Chromecast and Roku streaming sticks. It’s well priced, offers a good amount of content along with screen mirroring, and you can use it to play casual games. But like its pricier sibling, it is optimized for Amazon content and those who already have an Amazon Prime account. The original Fire TV does offer faster performance, a remote with a built-in mic for voice search, and the advanced gaming platform, but many will find the Fire TV Stick's trade-offs acceptable given that it costs $60 less.

We'll be adding the Fire TV Stick to our streaming media player Ratings (available to subscribers) in the near future once the player has been fully evaluated. Keep checking back for our all our latest updates.

—Chris Andrade

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