Amazon Fire TV review: the set-top that tries to do everything
The Fire TV should be impressive -- it's faster and better equipped than most of the other media streamers out there, and does it all at a decent price. Right now though, features like gaming, voice search and ASAP are barely helping it keep pace with the competition. Maybe with a few more apps (HBO Go, Vudu), some great games and an extra layer of polish it could push ahead.
- Fast performance
- Impressive list of apps, even at launch
- Voice search is convenient, fast and accurate
- Voice search doesn't work within apps
- Onscreen keyboard is offensively bad
- Inconsistent gaming experience
- Carousel UI doesn't work as well on Fire TV as it does on tablets
- Many apps and games are buggy ports from other platforms
Here's the thing about Amazon: We can't figure the company out half the time. Few things embody that quite as well as the Fire TV. The company is adamant that the set-top box is not a gaming console, but it's invested heavily in original game development for it and even produced a shockingly good gamepad accessory. Still, video games are just a "bonus." One of the pillars of the streaming-media box is supposed to be openness, but there's no denying that other services like Netflix are treated like second-class citizens here. They're invited to the party; they just better not outshine the host.
The Fire TV may be the next step for Amazon as it tries to build its own ecosystem, but it's also yet another entry in the crowded streaming-media market. And the big question is: Do we need another? We've got TV set-tops for cable, satellite and fiber (at one time joined by a disc player for movies and maybe a game system or two). The next-gen game consoles do double duty as entertainment hubs, and there's no shortage of cheap boxes designed specifically to stream Netflix, HBO Go and Pandora. Add in smart TVs and the rise of pint-sized dongles, and the question of what to watch becomes how to watch. The Fire TV is trying to muscle out competitors with its $99 price and a strong focus on performance, search and openness. Now that we've spent a few days living with one, we can judge whether it's just another option among many, or truly a standout that finally fixes problems the others have so far ignored.