Over the past couple of weeks I’ve had the pleasure of using the Amazon Fire TV and I’ve been using it to feed my Hulu Plus and Netflix addictions. I consider myself a cable cutter, even though I’m technically not. So what is the Amazon Fire TV? It’s a set-top box for your television that gives access to video streaming service, music, and even gaming. The best past (for me at least) is that it’s powered by Android. That provides a set of flexibility you don’t find in options like the Roku. But since it does play games too, could it replace your gaming console too?
The Amazon Fire TV brings specifications to the table that make it a gaming machine. With a Quad-Core processor backed by an Adreno 320 GPU and 2GB of RAM, it can handle just about anything you throw at it from streaming video to playing graphically intense games. This also helps the interface to be very smooth and fluid with no stuttering no matter how quickly you move through it. I tested it capabilities with games like Riptide GP 2 and Asphalt 8. They played extremely well without any lag or stutter. They actually perform better on the Fire TV than they do on my 2013 Nexus 7. The box itself is actually extremely small taking up very little space in your entertainment center. It can fit underneath almost any TV, even if it is on a base. The unit also only requires a HDMI and power cord with saves you from cluttering your space with more cords. Now of course there is a remote to power this device, but I’ll get to that a bit later.
The interface the Fire TV provides is actually quite pleasant to use. Apps are organized in easy to understand sections. Your downloaded applications and recently watch Prime movies & TV shows are stored in your recents section which makes it easy to move from place to place. The interface is dark, but easy to use, even at a distance. Everything is easy to read from the couch or across the room. I would easily say it’s easier and more pleasant to navigate than for example the PlayStation 3. When surfing for movies, it’s easy to see where it’s coming from and whether or not it will cost you anything. Set up is also extremely easy since Amazon automatically inputs your account information upon purchase. All you need to do is input your WiFi credentials or hook up ethernet to get going. Anything you’ve purchased from Amazon Instant Video is also available out of the box.
Applications are core to any device in this day and age. While Amazon’s Kindle tablets feel somewhat restricted due to the lack of applications found in the Amazon appstore, the Fire TV does not feel the same. The device has access to just about every streaming service, unless the word Google is in the title. If you’re a heavy user of Google services, you’ll probably want to stay away from the Fire TV. However services like Hulu Plus, Netflix, and Amazon Prime Video are all available. For music you can get Pandora and a few other services. However you can even get Google Play Music working through some back doors. However, your Android phone/tablet will need to be rooted to get it to work. If you’re looking at the Fire TV for video and music streaming, you’re best off investing in Amazon’s content ecosystem.
Navigation & Searching
Moving around the Fire TV is a breeze. Everything is laid out logically and easy to move through. Everything is also very fluid thanks to the box’s specs. Out of the box you’ll receive a Bluetooth controller for your Fire TV that pairs automatically. The remote has a circular d-pad with a button in the center. Below that is a traditional Android button layout that includes home, back, and a menu button. Even further down is another trio of buttons, Play/Pause and skip buttons. These buttons make it easy to move around, but searching is usually a pain without a keyboard. However Amazon had a trick up it’s sleeve, a microphone. Hitting the voice button at the top center on the remote brings up a voice search on screen. Rather than having the microphone on the box, it’s on the remote which means you don’t have to yell to find your favorite Gary Busey film. Search even goes beyond Amazon’s services tying into apps like Hulu Plus. As time goes on, I hope that this voice search will continue on to other services too.
One of Amazon’s biggest selling points on the Fire TV is it’s ability to play games. While the competition can do the same, they are usually limited to games like Angry Birds. The Fire TV on the other hand plays games like Riptide GP 2, Asphalt 8, and even Minecraft. The biggest draw however, is that you can’t play them all out of the box. The Fire TV comes with the box itself and the remote, but you need a controller to play many games. The controller though costs an additional $40. I personally was not able to use the controller so I can’t speak on the experience gaming with it. Luckily though, the Fire TV can play games with just the remote alone. Some of those include games like Riptide GP 2 and Asphalt 8. They are still fun to play, but would be much better with a controller. Amazon really could have improved the experience gaming without a controller by adding some motion sensors into the standard remote.
So what’s the verdict? I’d easily recommend the Fire TV to anyone who’s looking for an inexpensive media streaming device for their television, who wants a bit more than a Chromecast delivers. Priced at $99 it’s a great deal. Even with the optional controller though, I don’t expect it to replace a standard console. For general media streaming and some casual gaming however, I don’t think there is anything better on the market, yet. Once Android TV hits market later this year however, I think that Amazon will have a run for their money.
You can pick up the Fire TV direct from Amazon right now for $99 with free shipping.