Amazon Fire Stick review: Just another streaming dongle
- Responsive menus / interface
- Slow to load things
- Limited to Amazon content
The Amazon Fire Stick is, all things considered a pretty simple product - and one that handily sets out at what it aims to do. However, the inherent limitations on the device (and the content library of Amazon Prime Video itself) make recommending it without reservation a difficult ask.
In case you hadn’t heard the news, online shopping juggernaut Amazon has now set its sights on the Australian consumers. Their plan of attack? One that lands on multiple fronts. If you’re a buyer, they want you to be buying from them. If you’re a reseller, they want you to be in business with them.
And if you’re a fan of streaming video services like Netflix and Stan, Amazon definitely want you buying into their Amazon Prime Video streaming platform. While you can watch shows like American Gods, Transparent and The Tick using the Prime Video app or website, Amazon are still pushing their Fire Stick as the fastest way to jump into the latest episode of The Grand Tour.
Does it live up to that promise? Yes. More-or-less. That’s the short version. However, the question of whether or not you should buy a Fire Stick is another matter entirely.
The Amazon Fire Stick is a Micro USB-powered dongle that plugs into your TV via HDMI port. Once setup, it allows you to access and watch content on Amazon’s Prime Video platform. It comes bundled with a HDMI extender and a power cable.
It’s powered by a MediaTek Quad-core ARM 1.3 GHz CPU, Mali450 MP4 GPU, 1GB of RAM and 8GB of on-board storage.
In form and function, the Amazon Fire Stick is a pretty near-match for Google’s similar ChromeCast stick. You simply plug it in and it’ll boot up as an easy access portal to Amazon’s Prime Video streaming service. However, the biggest difference between the two is that the Fire Stick actually comes with a separate remote control.
In the US and other markets, this remote actually comes with a built-in microphone capable of leveraging Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant. However, for now, Australians are stuck with a more conventional but still pretty simplistic controller. The pause, play, fast-forward, back, menu and options are all pretty easy to find and intuitive to use.
If anything, the biggest bugbear I have with the design of the Fire Stick is that, much like Google’s ChromeCast, you’ll still have to wire the Amazon Fire Stick up to a powerpoint. This isn’t a complex process by any means but it does still mean you’ll be running another set of wires between your TV and its power source. Obviously, this is a bit unavoidable but it still detracts from the elegance factor that makes the Fire Stick an appealing product in the first place.
Setup & Performance
As described above, setup for the Fire Stick is quick and easy. You just plug it, connect it to the internet, download a software update and log in to your Amazon Prime Account. All told, the process took us less than five minutes with minimal hassle. What’s more, Amazon actually bundle the Fire Stick with a small HDMI extension cable, which is handy if the dongle itself can’t quite make the fit into the back of your TV for whatever reason.
Once you’re good and ready to go (and assuming you have an appropriately fast internet connection), you’ll be able to navigate Amazon Prime Video via more-or-less the same interface as if you were doing so using the dedicated app. There’s just one less step involved. That said, the experience does feel slightly different owing to the Fire Stick’s remote control.
Navigating menus feels responsive and quick. More-so than both the Foxtel Now box and the new Telstra TV. However, the Fire Stick interface does become a little more sluggish once you actually lock in a choice. Whenever we selected a movie or series on the Fire Stick’s home screen, there will always be a several second pause before the device transitioned us to the next screen or loaded up the content for viewing. This phenomenon isn’t a necessarily an outright deal-breaker, but it is a definite irk.
When it comes to the app library on the Fire Stick - it's a clear weakness. It does support the adding of new apps and, with a bit of work, you can get Netflix or Hayu set up on the Fire Stick. However, as for Australian catch-up TV services, there aren't any to be found here. There's no iView. No TenPlay, 9Now or No SBS OnDemand. There is Youtube. However, a notification on the device notes that this support will be dropped from the 1st of Jan 2018.
Compared to both the Telstra TV and Foxtel Now, the software side of the Fire Stick feels very limited.
The Bottom Line
The Amazon Fire Stick is, all things considered, a pretty simple product - even if it is one that handily achieves what it sets to do. However, the inherent limitations of the device (and the content library of Amazon Prime Video itself) make recommending it without reservation a difficult ask.
At $69, it is slightly cheaper than the ChromeCast. However, unlike the ChromeCast, you can pretty much only access Amazon Prime Video on it. Unless that happens to be the streaming service you use the most, this means that the Fire Stick just isn’t going to cut it for most people.
For most, it’ll be just another dongle.
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