Folks these days are spoiled for choice when it comes to finding a device to run streaming entertainment on their televisions. Between smart televisions, Chromecasts, Rokus and Apple TV boxes there are plenty of options. Here at Engadget we’ve never done a deep dive into Amazon’s 4K-capable Fire TV Stick, so we asked our readers to judge the device. What did they like? What didn’t work for them? And would they recommend the digital media player to other users? Here’s what they had to say about Amazon’s diminutive offering.
Though the 3.4-inch long Fire TV Stick is smaller than its remote, it’s capable of controlling everything from the television set to smart home devices. Users were mixed about the Stick’s physical design, with Waclark57 calling it “easy to use,” adding that it “plugs right into the HDMI port so it’s out of sight.” However, others were less satisfied. Sean had difficulty fitting the stick into his Sony Bravia set, as well as his Epson projector “because the black box edge near the HDMI is too thick and gets in the way of any recessed edges; the whole thing is too long to fit sideways into many rear HDMI slots.” Dotnetgator felt the form factor was “awkward in that it seems like the required power input is an afterthought, grafted onto the side, and requires a special dongle if you opt for a wired connection.” Manny admitted that though it was a bit of a nitpick, he’d really prefer a USB input on the stick.
One of the standout features of the Fire TV Stick is the Alexa-enabled remote control. Many users mentioned it specifically in their reviews as why they chose the Amazon device over other streaming options. Marc enjoyed the control’s simplicity and intuitive nature, as did Mike who approved of its minimalist design “with few buttons.” Rh24 felt that “having that one tiny remote serve 90% of my remote controlling needs is a game changer” and that the convenience made up for any drawbacks. MJay said they “even use voice for searches from time to time, which is something I’ve never done with any other remote.” Jim felt differently, with the one thing he wished “Amazon would improve on is the build quality of the remote.”
Multiple users cited the available apps as a reason they chose the Fire TV Stick. Timmyp123 was pleased that the device ran “full Android and runs Kodi natively. Also with apps like YouTube and DailyMotion you don’t even need TV.” Manny liked that the stick “plays everything from Netflix, Prime, YouTube, fiber cable and my 3rd party software (eg. Kodi).” Waclark57 said their “main reason for choosing Fire Stick was, being a Prime subscriber it gives me access to Prime video … and supports the apps I use (Netflix, Hulu) and I can get HBO/Showtime as ‘channels’ on my Prime sub.”
One area readers felt Amazon could improve on was the Fire TV’s user interface. Mike called the landing screen messy, saying he saw “lots of ads promoting shows” but wished he “could make it land only on favorite apps.” Rh24 agreed, chiming in to say that they “can’t stand the Amazon slanted content and terrible horizontal app list access. Honestly, the UI is terrible.” Manny also said the main page was also on his list of nitpicks because “it’s kind of busy but is customizable.”
Additionally, Mike was aggravated by the screen saver mode, as it “can only max out at 20 minutes” and also felt “Airplay/Chromecast isn’t very easy. These are all functions I think Amazon could fix easily or someone else will hack.” Kaapow had issues with the “horrible” navigation: “When you open Pandora, for example, and go back to the home page the music is still playing -- which might be a default but... there should be a ‘close app’ option and it’s not there. It’s common sense for most apps to have that option. Instead I have to go back to the Pandora page, log out or completely close the Fire stick to escape Pandora.”
However, others were less critical. Marc called the remote and OS intuitive, and pointed out that “there are numerous video tutorials on how to customize and enhance the Fire Stick experience. It’s simple for neophytes.” Manny said that he’s “set up many family and friends on this and it is the only one they don’t call me back to get help, even when it comes to installing third party software.” And MJay, who has also owned or used both Roku and Chromecast, said they prefer the Fire Stick for its ease of use.
Kaapow wasn’t the only user to have issues operating and using the Fire Stick; Gldoorii “can’t get through one movie without it dropping connection several times. This is the only device in my home that constantly drops ... and I’m not alone. Googling this issue shows it’s widespread.” Gldoorii wound up selling their Fire TV Sticks because of this problem. And Donna found that “every 10-14 days or so I have to empty the cache on a particular channel or it just won’t load up.” She also had problems installing a cable channel and kept getting an error message (despite being a subscriber), and often got no results when using Alexa to search a film or actor’s name. Dotnetgator was frustrated when using the Stick as an Alexa device control, saying that “using it to control home automation devices is inconsistent and features like ‘turn off lights in this room’ won’t work like they do with ‘proper’ Alexa devices.”
The inexpensive price point featured heavily in the ‘pro’ column for the Fire TV Stick: At $50, its competition is the lower-end Roku devices and the Chromecast. Marc felt the Fire TV Stick offered the best value, while Manny said it couldn’t be beat for price/feature content, “especially when half price on Amazon days.” Kaapow was the only user who wasn’t pleased about the price point: “I bought my Fire Stick for $15 when it was on sale last year. Seemed like a great price! In short you get what you pay for.”
When it came time to make a side-by-side comparison between the Fire TV Stick and its competitors, users largely came down on the side of the Amazon device. Jim said he likes his Fire Stick better than his Roku because “Fire TV has more apps than the Roku and, unlike Roku which rarely gets its apps updated, Fire TV updates periodically. We can also use VPN on Fire TV, which we can’t do on Roku.” Though Marc owns a Roku TV, he prefers his 4K Fire Stick instead, due to the Fire Stick’s ability to side-load apps. Nomad07 uses their Roku “way more than my Fire TV, Apple TV, Nvidia Shield TV or Google Chromecast.” Manny said that of the many different services he’s used over the years, including Android TV, Chromecastand Apple TV, the Fire TV stick is “by far the easiest.” Timmyp123 asserted “if you bought an Apple TV, Roku, Chromecast, etc over this then you made the wrong choice, plain and simple.”
Despite the stated snags and bugs, most users seemed satisfied with their purchase. Twenty users have reviewed or scored the Fire TV so far and it has an average rating of 75. Most had positive things to say about it, pointing to the price and simplicity of the device as its major advantages. Gldoorii gave a backhanded compliment, stating the Fire TV Stick was “an amazing product, when it works.” Waclark57 was more straightforward, saying they haven’t had any issues with it (though they don’t use the voice control feature). And Manny professed the stick to be an upgrade over the regular version, saying “nothing touches this even when compared at full price.”