Quick Review: Amazon Fire TV Stick

amazonfirestick2From the outside, Amazon’s new fire TV stick looks cutting edge. Its sleek matte black design, and beautiful curves make it the most attractive smart-TV stick out there. Inside, things are very different. The Fire Stick’s experience bears more resemblance to the original smart TVs of 2010 than to modern devices like Google’s Chromecast or Apple’s Apple TV.  Apps are hidden away in menus. Even content for Amazon’s Prime program is a few taps away from the home screen. There’s no universal search, so in order to find what you’re looking for, you will have to go menu-hunting.

Given that the Fire TV Stick’s only purpose is to provide easy access to content, it’s remarkably difficult to actually access anything. Google’s Chromecast allows you to find shows, movies and music right in each service’s app and website, like Netflix.com or the Pandora iPhone app. With the tap of a button, you can then “cast” shows to your TV, and control things like the volume from your computer or smartphone.

Navigating through the Fire TV Stick is decidely more complicated. Moving through menus requires the use of either an included remote, or a free smartphone app. Both look as sleek as the Fire Stick itself–, but neither is ideal for typing or navigating. On the remote, typing requires use the remote’s click wheel to navigate to each individual letter on an on-screen keyboard.

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Without auto-complete, typing the name of something like “Singing In The Rain” could take 2-3 minutes, and that’s unacceptable for those looking for some quick entertainment. Even worse, I tried the same task on a smart TV remote from four years ago, and navigating was easier! In contrast, the  same task takes under 30 seconds with the Chromecast. I particularly love being able to search for shows on Hulu.com and send them right to my Chromecast.

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Chromecast and Apple TV also have one killer feature which Amazon could not/did not replicate: Mirroring. Mirroring allows you to send a website from your web browser to your TV. This is great for giving presentations, family slideshows, or watching videos from sites that don’t release a Chromecast-specific app. Personally, I use mirroring to send workout videos from the Golf Channel’s website to my TV as I work out. Google isn’t alone in offering mirroring. Apple’s Apple TV offers a more advanced mirroring, allowing you to send your screen wireleslly from your Mac, iPhone, or iPad to your TV.

The Summary/Conclusion

The Fire TV Stick is far from unusable. For Amazon Prime members, it is a decent use of $40. It makes accessing Prime TV, movies, and music from your TV very simple. It’s more of an “I can do anything better than you” situation. The Apple TV and the Chromecast are just dramatically better, and in the case of the Chromecast, better for a lower price.

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Michael Sitver

Michael Sitver is a technology insider who has been blogging about technology since 2011. Along the way, he's interviewed founders of innovative startups, and executives from fortune 500 companies, and he's tried dozens or hundreds of gadgets. Michael has also contributed to works featured in Newsday, The San Francisco Chronicle, and the associated press. Michael also occasionally consults, and writes for Seeking Alpha and Yahoo News.

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