Few limitations but excellent value for money
By Achint on November 5, 2018
I was looking for replacing my Roku LT streaming box which was released 100 years ago (in electronics years.) I couldn't resist when Amazon threw the trade-in offer at my face with $25 off for a Fire TV, and 2.99 cash value.
The new Fire TV retains the same form factor from the old Fire TV but has packed in some new features such as faster processor, power, volume, and mute buttons for TV, and support for newer 4K media standards such as Dolby Vision HDR, HDR10, HDR10+, and Dolby Atmos surround sound.
I was really surprised that how convenient the Alexa voice command feature is. Especially even with my thick accent, Alexa was able to understand what I was saying. Though apps have to support integration with Alexa (e.g. it couldn't open a website with voice command, maybe I was not giving a specific enough command) but all I need to play videos on Netflix or Amazon prime, and Alexa handles it beautifully.
Alexa voice commands work even if the TV is switched off. Though it takes a while for Alexa to switch the TV on but the fact that it works is simply amazing.
The User-interface is quite responsive. However, I found the user interface to be cluttered with information that I did not want on my home screen. The home screen can be improved a lot in order to present the content that I want and not what Amazon wants to advertise.
I also had issues with WiFi. During the setup process, the Fire TV prompted that it was not connected to WiFi. But on trying again it worked fine. Also, after some time the Fire TV could not reach the internet and displayed the message that "Home screen is currently unavailable." I had to power off the Fire TV and power it back up again to make it work.
All in all I love this new Fire TV. It is fast, responsive and has lots of features that I found useful in my daily operation.
THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW BEFORE BUYING A FIRE TV
1. In order to be able to stream content at 4K, you would need to have a good broadband connection. Amazon recommends having a broadband connection of at least 15 Mbps. So if you have a dial-up or are on an economical internet plan, then you might not be able to stream in 4K.
2. As a result of an ongoing tussle between Amazon and Google, Google's apps are not available on Fire TV. Youtube app is not officially supported on Fire TV. There is a Youtube app for Fire TV but that simply opens Youtube in the web-browser. Google Play movies are also not supported on Fire TV as well.
3. The 4K content is limited and cost more e.g. Netflix charges more for their 4K subscription plan. Most of the movies that you can buy in 4K would be costlier than their SD/HD counterparts. As of writing this review the only Google Play movies and Apple iTunes would upgrade the purchased content to 4K for free. Neither of these two is available on Fire TV. I hope Amazon video follows the same suit and upgrades the purchased content to 4K for free.
4. Ethernet adapter has to be bought separately. Wi-fi is great but can be unreliable, especially if there are too many wi-fi devices causing interference. If you need wired ethernet then you would have to buy an ethernet adapter separately that plugs into the mini-USB port, unlike Fire TV cube that already comes with an ethernet port.
5. Fire TV stick does not support an external sd card. Though Fire TV stick has an internal memory of 8GB, it can fill up pretty quickly. It would have been nice to be able to connect an external storage media, but at this price, it would be asking too much. Although you can buy an OTG hub and use VLC to play the media from the USB drives (I have explained this further in the tips section below)
SOME TIPS FOR NEW FIRE TV USERS
1. If you hold down the home button, then a new menu pops up which gives you three options to go to apps directly, sleep the Fire TV, or go to setting. I find this shortcut really useful for navigating to apps directly.
2. When I setup the fire TV I realized that the picture was rather dull as compared to the picture in my Samsung Smart TV app (e.g. the same movie in Netflix app would seem more vibrant than on Fire TV.) I found that changing the "Dynamic Range Settings" to "Adaptive" made the picture look more vibrant. You can navigate to this setting by going to Settings > Display & Sounds > Dynamic Range Settings. My Fire TV was set to "Always HDR" and I changed it to "Adaptive"
3. If you have kids and prefer to listen to TV quietly then you should play with two audio settings "Volume Leveler" and "Dialogue Enhancer" (which are OFF by default.) These settings are found in Settings > Display & Sounds > Audio > Advanced Audio.
4. You can play external media (videos) from USB drive using an OTG (On-The-Go) hub which has USB drive support. I got an OTG hub [[ASIN:B078MNW25Q Micro USB LAN Ethernet Adapter with RJ45 3 USB Hub Compatible TV Stick Streaming Device]] that has ethernet and USB ports. With this Hub, I can launch the VLC app [[ASIN:B00U65KQMQ VLC App for Fire TV]] and it can browse and play the media on the USB drives attached to the hub. You can also directly connect the Fire TV to the laptop and copy over the files to the Fire TV stick, but with 8Gb of storage space there might not be enough space on the Fire TV (since that space would be shared by the Fire TV OS, utilities and apps as well)
1. Supports 60 Hz refresh rates for 4K at 60Hz, 1080p, and 720p
2. Internal storage : 8GB
3. RAM: 1.5GB DDR4
4. Processor: Quad Core 1.7GHz
5. OS: Fire OS 6, which is based on Android 7.1 (Nougat)
6. Wi-Fi: Dual-band, dual-antenna Wi-Fi supports 2x2 MIMO 802.11a/b/g/n/ac
7. Ethernet: 10/100Mbs (though the ethernet adapter needs to be purchased separately)
8. Bluetooth : 5.0
9. Ports: HDMI output, Micro USB 2.0 for power or optional Amazon Ethernet Adapter
Upon plugging in the Fire TV for the first time the setup process will do the following:
1. Selecting the language
2. Configure Wireless internet's configuration.
3. Once that is done Fire TV installs and downloads the latest software. Software download did not take much time but the installation took 3 minutes.
4. Fire TV then sets up the remote to control the TV. It asks you to control the volume of TV using Fire TV's remote.
5. After that, you can connect the Fire TV to your account. If you purchased the Fire TV from Amazon, then it is already connected to your account.
6. You can set up parental controls after connecting the Fire TV to your account.
7. After this, a brief video of Fire TV's features is shown.
8. After the video interface of Fire TV is shown.
The next time I turned on the Fire TV, it straight away goes to Fire TV's interface
WHAT'S NEW IN THIS FIRE TV
This latest Fire TV model has added lots of new functionalities as compared to
1. The processor has been upgraded from 1.5GHz to 1.7GHz quad-core processor. This is better than Fire TV cube's processor as well, but Fire TV cube has 16 GB of internal memory while Fire TV stick has 8 GB only.
2. This new Fire TV supports streaming in 4K, Dolby Vision HDR, HDR10, HDR10+, and Dolby Atmos surround sound.
3. The remote has received a fair amount of new features such as IR transmitter that can be used to control other devices as well. The dedicated buttons for power, volume, and mute can be used to control the TV directly, instead of having to lug around the TV's remote separately.
4. Fire TV's remote also has the Alexa button using which you can give voice commands to the Fire TV.
WHAT IS DOLBY ATMOS
Dolby Atmos was is a technology that was introduced to provide a more immersive sound experience. This involved adding more speakers (up to 64) around and above the listener and using 128 audio channels. This sound format is usually best experienced in theatres, however, you could purchase sound systems that support Dolby ATMOS experience on 7 to 24 speakers (although more than 12 speakers might not provide any benefit.) So although the FIre TV will support transmitting the audio in Dolby ATMOS format, you would need receivers (probably 11.2 or 7.2 channel receivers) and speaker setup to be able to enjoy this feature.
There is Dolby content available on Netflix and iTunes. On Prime Video the Dolby ATMOS content limited to only some of their original content.
The user interface of Fire TV is very similar to Prime video's interface with rows of tiles in various categories. This is basically Prie Video interface with an extra row for the apps and recently used apps. The home screen of Fire TV contains the "Your apps and channels" and below that there are rows of sponsored content and recommendations that you would see on prime video app.
I personally found the home screen of Fire TV to be cluttered with tiles and information that I did not want. If you are coming from Roku where you find your channels displayed prominently, you might feel a little disappointed. There is one row of my apps and channels, while there are rows after rows of recommended content that I did not pin on my home screen. I have not been able to customize the home screen as of yet.
I personally found searching for new apps on Fire TV to be really cumbersome as well. I have to navigate through several menus hoping to find a useful app. It would probably be easier to go to Amazon's website, search for an app there and install it from there.
USING TV CONTROLS FROM FIRE TV's REMOTE
Once the Fire TV's remote was set up to control the TV, I could easily control the volume of TV and turn the TV on or off. There was no lag and it works simply every time. I did not need a line of sight between the remote and the TV for it to work.
In order to use the Alexa commands you simply hold down the voice button on remote, say the command while holding down the button, and release the button. The even works when TV is switched.
WHY BUY A STREAMING STICK WHEN I HAVE A SMART TV
Even though I have a smart tv which in theory should provide mostly the same functionality as the streaming stick, I found my smart TV's experience to be extremely inferior to these streaming solution. The Samsung smart TV I have is plagued with slow and unresponsive apps. The apps crash often. Sometimes the TV itself freezes to the point that I cannot use the remote to turn the TV off. Often when I turn the TV on it would not launch any add until it loads up an advertisement.
It shouldn't be surprising that the overall user experience is not enjoyable on Smart TV mainly because the software is not the primary focus of TV manufacturers. However, the streaming sticks dedicate the hardware and software for a single purpose only and that is to provide a pleasant viewing experience for the user. Therefore they update their software more often and try to be on top of resolving issues in their product.
Also, the number of apps/channels for my Samsung TV are not as much as are available on the streaming devices.
FIRE TV VS ROKU TV/CHROMECAST
While looking for a replacing my ailing Roku LT for some time now. The Roku LT couldn't handle all weight of shiny new apps. I was looking for something around $50 and all the devices fit the bill we Roku Streaming stick+, Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV.
Roku streaming stick+ does provide very similar functionality as Fire TV such as 4K support, UHD support, Voice controls on Remote. Both of them also lack some functionalities that would have wanted such as Micro SD card, ethernet port. Though Fire TV does have volume and power controls for TV on the remote, which is a big plus for me. However, considering the discount I was getting for trade-in, Fire TV stick was the obvious choice for me. In addition to that since Fire TV is based on Android, there are some apps available on Fire TV which are not available for Roku such as VLC, Kodi, VPN service.
Chromecast is also based on Android and you can install apps on it as well, but chromecast is for casting from another device. This means that I would always need a device (such as laptop, tablet or Mobile) to start the stream. This in itself was a deal breaker for me for buying chromecast.
WOULD THIS PLAY ALL MEDIA IN 4K
If you are playing HD content then the Fire TV will upscale the content to 4K (this means that it will try to fit the HD content to a 4K screen by trying to add the missing details.) Although if you have a 4K TV then most probably the TV is capable of doing that as well. You might want to disable the upscaling of Fire TV and see if your TV can do a better job at it.
DO I NEED TO HAVE A 4K TV TO USE THIS
You don't need to have a 4K TV to be able to use Fire TV. If you have an old TV/monitor which can display in HD only, even then you can play HD content simply fine on Fire TV. In fact as of now, 4K streaming content is relatively hard to come by, so it's very likely that you won't miss out on much.
SHOULD I BUY THE ETHERNET PORT ADAPTER FOR FIRE TV STICK
Generally, the word of wisdom is that ethernet is more reliable and faster than wi-fi. However, the ethernet adapter will connect to the micro-USB port and supports only 10/100 ethernet (which means that it supports working at 10 Mbps and 100 Mbps.) The Wifi can also provide bandwidth much more than this. If the ethernet on Fire TV had been 10/100/1000 which means it can go up to 1Gbps (making it Gigabit port) then ethernet would have been a much better option. Also, consider the internet plan you have. If you have an internet plan for say 40Mbps, so Fire TV stick will never reach 100Mbps anyways.
The only reason you would want to use an ethernet adapter is if your wifi router is far away from the Fire TV and there is interference in the WiFi signal. I would suggest to connect to WiFi test and perform a speed test using the browser on the Fire TV by going to any of the speed test websites. If the speed test reports good enough speed and you don't encounter bad wi-fi service then there is no need to have an ethernet adapter.