I have always wanted to own a media player such as the Apple TV. But I could never carve out the budget for one (Apple TV retails in India for Rs 13,700). Thanks to the Google Chromecast though, I never felt the need to buy an additional media player to stream content on my dumb TV, since that relies on your smartphone to do the heavy lifting. Enter the Rs 3,999 Amazon Fire TV Stick – an affordable media player as such, but with limited capabilities compared to some of the high-end options available.
Launched in India last month, the media player is aimed at helping Amazon amplify its massive push into the video streaming arena, which has a slew of existing services such as Netflix, Hooq and Hotstar, among others. Since its launch, there has been a lot of chatter around the product and the growing OTT and streaming markets in India, which is rapidly becoming a data-focused country. I have been using the Amazon Fire TV Stick for last month or so, and here’s my review of the device.
Design & Specifications
The Amazon Fire TV Stick looks like a beefed-up version of a typical Internet dongle, quite reminiscent to the first-generation Google Chromecast. Besides the dongle, the box also includes the Fire TV voice remote, USB cable (for power), power adapter, two AAA batteries and an HDMI extender cable. ALSO READ: Airtel Internet TV will make your TV smarter, but should you upgrade right away?
In terms of dimensions, the dongle measures 85.9 mm x 30.0 mm x 12.6 mm and weighs 32g. The device runs on Amazon’s proprietary Fire OS, which is based on Android. It is powered by a 1.3GHz MediaTek quad-core SoC along with 1GB of RAM. The device comes with 8GB of on-board storage.
For connectivity, the Fire TV stick supports Bluetooth 4.1 and Dual-band, dual-antenna Wi-Fi supporting 2×2 MIMO 802.11a/b/g/n/ac. The dongle supports up to 1080p at 60fps output resolution. It also supports Dolby Audio, 5.1 surround sound, two-channel stereo, and HDMI audio pass-through up to 7.1, which is impressive for a Rs 3,999 device.
How to set up
Setting up the Amazon Fire TV stick is fairly easy and very similar to the setup process on the Google Chromecast. To get started, you need to have a TV with at least HD resolution, and a Wi-Fi connection, with speed recommended at over 4MBPS for easy streaming. Now, plug the dongle into the HDMI port of your TV. Just like the Chromecast, the Fire TV Stick needs an active power connection, so you need to connect the one end of the USB cable to the Fire TV stick and the other to either the power adapter or a spare USB socket on the TV itself. ALSO READ: Google Chromecast Audio, new Chromecast: Hands-on and first impressions
After having switched on the device and set it to the correct input on your TV, you need to follow the instructions on the screen to connect to the local Wi-Fi network. After that the home screen will ask you to enter your Amazon Prime credentials. If you are already a member, you can input your data whereas new users can sign up from the screen as well. In the meantime, insert the batteries into the remote, and get started with the navigation.
The remote comes with a joystick-like pad allowing you to navigate from one corner to another. The main highlight of the remote is the voice support. To give a command, you need to press the voice button on the remote and speak. ALSO READ: How to setup Amazon Fire TV stick
Experience: UI, apps, navigation and more
Once you have setup the device and logged in, a wide range of content in tile format is spread out on the home screen. While Amazon gives its own platform priority on screen, it also does not shy away from touting the catalog of apps it offers. The Amazon Fire TV stick comes with support for more than 3,000 apps. However, the main focus is on the likes of Netflix, YouTube, Gaana and Airtel Movies, among others. There are also some games that can be played with the remote, including Flappy Bird.
Considering the large number of apps available, Amazon has done a fine job at taking the minimalist approach to the UI. It’s pretty and neat, and more importantly quite easy to get started with. Shuffling from one app to another can be done with absolute ease. And there’s a screensaver mode that gets activated when on standby. The mode shows you some stunning photos curated by Amazon, though this reminds me a lot of Google Chromecast’s wallpapers and is indeed inspired heavily by Google. That said, these beautiful wallpapers fully utilize the high-definition display on your TV.
While I am fairly impressed with the neat UI, the performance of the stick in general stands out. Apps load very quickly with nonexistent lag. Another great thing about the Fire TV stick is smooth playback. For an example, I have a 16Mbps Airtel connection but usually have an erratic experience when I am browsing or streaming content on my phone. The Fire TV stick, however, delivers an almost buffer-free experience – something that kept me hooked on to the device.
During my first impressions of the device, I had expressed my apprehensions on the dismal 8GB of storage. Turns out, I didn’t need more than that, with about five or six apps that I regularly used, including Hotstar, YouTube, Netflix, Flappy Bird, and some news services. There are a lot more apps out there, which seem pretty interesting as well, but a streaming device is unlikely to need more than basic streaming apps and services.
Although I had a bit of trouble with Hotstar, Netflix and the other apps I used worked smoothly on the device. YouTube too works fluidly, but since it requires you to manually search for new content, using the remote to enter text is cumbersome. Predictive searches do help, but it’s still not the best experience.
The experience with the remote has been pretty unique. Apart from looking good, it also fits really well in your palm and gets you going with absolutely no hassle. The voice command support works pretty well and surprisingly even understands the Indian accent without much trouble. It also gets Indian language inputs accurately, understanding Hindi movie names with ease.
That being said, the Amazon Fire TV stick is not without its flaws and imperfections. One of the biggest issues is the lack of universal search. At the moment, the Fire TV stick shows suggestions from Amazon Prime Video only, but it would have been much better if I could just simply search for content in one place rather than opening each app and searching individually.
Also, I’d have preferred a volume control and a switch-off button on the remote, both of which are non-existent. Additionally, high-resolution support for up to 4K or HDR content could have helped the Amazon Fire TV Stick really stand out. However, the price point and merits of the device do help in my overlooking these shortcomings.
I think it’s unfair to compare the Amazon Fire TV stick to the Google Chromecast. Even though both the devices stream content, they are very different when it comes to the purpose. The Fire TV stick is more of a media player at a competitively low cost, whereas the Google Chromecast is more of a screen-mirroring device. I have been a loyal to the Google Chromecast for a long time, and with the likes of Netflix and Hotstar adding support for it, I have never needed a separate media player and have been able to leverage the capability of my smartphone effectively.
After having used Amazon Fire TV stick for roughly a month, I hardly ever felt the need to use the Chromecast. The sheer fluidity of the performance and the interface of the Fire TV stick is impressive. Of course, it’s not a high-end media player like the Apple TV, but does a very good job at satiating your binge-watching thirsts. To be honest, I have started to watch content on TV more often now than before. If you are looking for a new media player at a very tight budget, I will recommend you buy the Amazon Fire TV Stick. Moreover, the bundled offers such as free 100GB high-speed data from Airtel broadband or Airtel 4G Home Wi-Fi sweeten the deal.