Hands-On: Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K

Posted on November 26, 2019 by Paul Thurrott in Amazon, Music + Videos, Smart Home with 28 Comments

With my three-year-old Roku Premiere+ exhibiting regular performance problems, I started looking around for a replacement. The Roku worked pretty well until fairly recently, and it provides both 4K and HDR support, so it paired well with our smart TV. And we like its normally-sized remote control far better than that of our Apple TV 4K, which has been coughing up its own problems lately, most notably its inability to download software updates.

My original plan was to buy the Roku’s modern successor, the Roku Ultra (yes, that’s an affiliate link), which normally costs $99.99 but will be on sale for Black Friday starting on Thursday for half off, or just $49.99. (By comparison, the Roku Premiere+ that I purchased in 2016 cost $129.99 at the time.) After all, we are familiar with the Roku and its interface, and it seemed like just swapping it out would solve some problems.

But then Amazon launched its own sale. This week, the online retailer is offering various Fire TV-based set-top boxes and devices at big discounts: The Fire TV Cube, normally $119.99, is just $89.99. And the Fire TV Stick 4K, normally $49.99, is half-off and costs just $24.99. Hm.

When I compared the two on Amazon, I found that each provides the same basic features, including 4K Ultra HD, HDR, HDR 10, HDR10+, HLG, and Dolby Vision support. And that the Fire TV Cube’s big differentiators—a built-in speaker, and far-field voice control of Fire TV and devices—were unimportant to me. The Fire TV Cube includes an Ethernet adapter, but you can purchase an external Ethernet adapter for the Fire TV Stick 4K for only $14.99. That brought the total cost of the smaller device to just $40 during this Black Friday sale. Sold.

The pair of devices arrived yesterday, and I was impressed by how much gear Amazon stuffs in the Fire TV Stick 4K’s tiny box: It contains the Stick itself, a micro-USB charging cable, a power adapter, an HDMI extender for those tight spaces behind the TV, the remote, and a pair of batteries for the remote.

I spent about 30 minutes plugging it all together, running through the Fire TV setup, and installing and activating several apps—Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Disney+, Apple TV+, and so on—that we use regularly. All of that was straightforward, and Amazon has a handy little wizard for configuring the remote to control your TV’s volume and power, so you can use this tiny device as your only TV interface if you want.

We do want. My primary concerns here were that the Fire TV Stick 4K provide everything that was good about the Roku—the excellent and non-tiny remote, the mostly simple UI, plus access to all the content we want—while maybe even fixing a few of the downsides. That’s the performance, a recent issue, and I’ve always been bothered by the ham-handed advertising that’s all over the Roku UI.

The Fire TV Stick 4K delivers on all that was good about Roku: The remote is excellent and obvious, and it has all the buttons and functionality that the Apple TV remote, a crime against humanity, lacks. And the performance is excellent.

The Amazon-centric placement of on-screen elements that I recall from past Fire TV usage seems to have been tamed somewhat. You will have to deal with a top promo area of Amazon shows and content. But it’s just two down clicks to get to your row of most-recently-used apps. So the content we want to get to is no farther away than it was on Roku.

There are some ads in there, mostly for Amazon content. But because the Fire TV user interface is denser, it’s kind of lost in the mix, and we will rarely ever venture past the top of the interface anyway. I like it better than the Roku UI, which is dated, slow, and ad-heavy, and I wasn’t expecting that.

I like the Fire TV Stick 4K so much, in fact, that I’m going to skip Roku’s half-off offer for the Roku Ultra this week. I think we’ve found our new TV interface, which is fun. But this also sets up some questions for the future, too: Do we complement this device with some Echo speakers for a stereo or 2.1 home theater setup? Maybe. The speaker I’d want, the Echo Studio, is expensive at $199.99, and I’d want two, of course. And an Echo Sub would add another $109.99. Is it worth spending over $500 for such a thing?

Probably not. And the Echo Studio, which is new and in short supply, won’t benefit from any sale pricing this holiday season, I bet. But there’s always next year.

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Comments (28)

28 responses to “Hands-On: Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K”

  1. untitled1

    I just went the opposite route -- after years of using the Fire TV stick and then Fire TV, I switched to the Roku Ultra. The decisive feature for me was the ability to plug headphones into the remote. And while I agree that the Amazon remote is much better than the Apple TV, I find the Roku remote to be better still, both from a tactile perspective and in terms of reliability. So far I haven't had any of the performance issues you were seeing with your Roku.

  2. dbrueck

    I have a Gen 1 Cube and now a Gen 2 as well....note that the Ethernet connection tops out at 100 MB...my WiFi is much faster so don't use Ethernet....you may have to search a little to corroborate as it is not easy to find on Amazon's site (need to check "Customer Questions and Answers")...other sites report the same (Reddit, Troypoint, etc.)...I checked my connection with two Fire TV speed connection Apps and both confirmed for my setup the above is true, unless I am missing something?

  3. panjjj

    Note, Paul, that if you pair two studios ( or one for that matter) to the fire cube or stick you can only do so on WiFi, not supported on Ethernet. At least that was my experience with the second generation cube. Sound is great and I see no need to add the sub but did not like giving up Ethernet to the cube.

  4. akcanuck

    I keep waiting for Roku to update the interface. It is ancient. I have been using a Fire TV cube since the official YouTube and YouTube TV apps came out. I wish the interface was a little more customizable though.

  5. duncanator

    Thanks for the review! We just purchased three of these and the Amazon Recast too since I just received a notice that my Windows Media Center guide listing will no longer be updated come January. Some of my family members had, until now, insisted that I keep Media Center running since it was working so well. I can finally shut that machine down and remove the xbox 360 media center extenders!

  6. spullum

    My father got me one of these. They are wonderful. The PS4 is our video streaming biz of choice because of convenience/where we usually are, but the Fire stick earned a connection to my TV.

    If there was a way to AirPlay to these (it sounds like there might be but haven’t investigated), we would have no need for the old Apple TV or a new one.

    Thanks for the review :)

  7. mike2thel73

    The ads on Roku don't bother me. Paul and a few who post here are making it seem like Roku is acting like Google's little brother. That's just so far from the truth.

    Anyways, I do agree with Paul that the Roku interface is outdated. I will go even further than that and criticize roku's insistence on using traditional batteries for their remote instead of built in re-chargeable lithium-ion. Also no support for Bluetooth (b4 anyone brings this up, no using a Bluetooth adapter to plug into the remote is so 2011). Storage capacity is a joke, yes they have micro SD card slots but they won't work with any sd cards that have been made for the last 5 years. The ones that Roku sells are only 2gb and use an old standard and charge you the same price as buying a 16 or 32gb in stores.

    With all that said, CONTENT IS KING. I can't think of any major well-known service/app that is not available on Roku. The same can't be said for Android TV or Fire TV.

    Up until recently there was no YouTube app on fire tv.....for years. And even though right now Google and amazon have worked it out, who's to say they won't have a disagreement next week, next month, next year and just pull the app until another agreement is reached. And that right there is the problem because instead of Google & amazon acting like grown ups they use their customers like children in a divorce dispute. I've been an Amazon prime customer for years but I still don't fully trust amazon when it comes to their devices. YouTube availability is a must for me.

    • Paul Thurrott

      In reply to Mike2thel73:

      Paul is not making it seem like Roku is Google's little brother.

      Paul is only noting that the ads in Roku suck. I'd pay to remove them if I could.

      • avidfan451

        In reply to paul-thurrott:

        Because if we were actually comparing based on who’s tracking you more, I’m certain that Amazon would be in the running way before Roku is. So, glad it’s about the ads themselves. Which — long-term Roku owner here, too — indeed *suck*.

        I was wondering why the Roku Stick+ wasn’t considered, but then remembered Dolby Vision isn’t in the spec list. Sounds like the Fire Stick might be worth a look for my family, too...

        • Paul Thurrott

          My comment about ads had nothing to do with tracking. What I meant was that the ads are obnoxious on Roku and get in the way.
          • avidfan451

            In reply to paul-thurrott:

            I gathered that from your reply above, so sorry if that wasn’t clear in mine. I agree that the ads on Roku suck. I don’t agree that they “get in the way” any more than ads on other platforms, but to each their own. Your overview has me seriously considering the Fire TV Stick, especially at the current price...

    • the escalation

      With all that said, CONTENT IS KING. I can't think of any major well-known service/app that is not available on Roku. The same can't be said for Android TV or Fire TV.

      YouTube Kids. Of course it's not available on Fire TV either, and most would argue that it's not a "major well-known service," but currently it's only on Apple TV, Chromecast, and Android TV, AFAIK.

  8. idgilbert

    I am also a recent convert to the Fire TV Stick and find the interface quick, easy and reliable. We are a Google Assistant house but it's handy to be able to summon Alexa on the Fire TV remote for a quick content search instead of the cumbersome text input method via the on screen keyboard.

    Paul, there's one other big benefit. Before your next house swap load up the Express VPN app on the stick and take it with you on vacation. I've been enjoying all of my local US content with ease while located in Spain with zero issues.

  9. mikiem

    "... but you can purchase an external Ethernet adapter for the Fire TV Stick 4K for only $14.99."

    When we got our older FireTV those adapters were backordered -- found that instead could use a cheap ($3-$4 on Amazon) USB hub / Ethernet adapter combo, FWIW.

    IMHO the FireTV gives a better picture than our Roku Ultra, but what kills the deal with the Fire TV is there's no Spectrum app. With the Roku it's also MUCH easier to access our movies via Movies Anywhere, Vudu, Fandango etc.

  10. spacecamel

    Have you looked at the Apple Tv app to see your iTunes purchases?

  11. harmjr

    I just jumped into Roku. I got an older TV with out any remote and found the Roku could do it all. However I was surprised it has Comcast Xfinity app so I can use my Cable TV on this device. So the Roku is going to save me $10 a mo since I wont need to rent that other cable box. I am really digging the Roku especially the remote having a audio port for listening to when someone else is in the room.

  12. yoshi

    I bought one of these back in the Spring for the same price. Myself and my family like it so much that we ditched the Apple TV completely for it. The remote is fantastic, as I also hated the Apple TV remote. And now that Apple has an app on Fire TV, it's an even better device.

    I can't imagine why anyone would want to spend $180 on Apple's own streaming device now.

    • BrianEricFord

      In reply to yoshi:

      I use the Apple TV for the same reason I assume MOST people who own one use it: It’s part of the Apple ecosystem and if you buy into that everything works together very well in a package that includes virtually every streaming solution I need or want.

      (And that’s especially true with Apple Arcade and now Xbox controller support.)

      I don’t mind the included remote but everything we have is looped into a Caavo universal remote (including the Apple TV) so there’s almost never a need to fish the official remote out of the drawer of discarded remotes.

      • avidfan451

        In reply to BrianEricFord:

        Ditto here, except using a Logitech universal remote. Apple TV remote stays plugged into the USB port on my Tivo Mini, because — logically — Apple decided to remove USB on the later models. ??‍♂️

    • Paul Thurrott

      In reply to yoshi:

      The only thing you don't get (yet, hopefully) on the Apple TV+ app on other platforms is the iTunes Extras stuff. I do kind of miss that. But yeah, for the most part, I never want to go near Apple TV again.

  13. skolvikings

    I made this switch from Roku to Fire TV a couple years ago with no regrets. My only complaint is sometimes an app acts up. But unlike the Roku, where the only recourse for a glitching app was to reboot the entire device, the Fire TV as an Android device allows you to force quit the offending app and relaunch it.

  14. cal1p3r

    Roku does not support Dolby Vision, which is a deal breaker for me. In contrast, the Fire TV stick only just supported the YouTube TV app so compatibility will remain an issue with it and other streaming services.

  15. spacein_vader

    Surely you don't need to use Amazon's own speakers with it, any soundbar/2.1 system should do the trick no?

    My only issue with the Roku was the ads, but then I installed a pi-hole and blocked the ad and tracking domains, problem solved!

  16. Patrick3D

    If you ever start to use the voice control built-in to the remote I recommend getting some rechargeable batteries. I've got 2 Fire remotes and both can eat through batteries in as little as a month. I currently average 3 months between charges.