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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