Why I Love the Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick

Amazon Fire TV

I recently purchased the Amazon Fire ($99) to see for myself if we need yet another set-top box to compete with Roku, Apple TV, and Chromecast. After playing with it for a while, I’m impressed!

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What You Get

The Amazon Fire TV comes in the now-standard Apple-esque elegant packaging, complete with plastic films that you peel off to reveal virgin surfaces untouched by human hands. The unit is slightly bigger than an Apple TV and has sharp corners, rather than rounded, reminding me of the monolith in “2001: A Space Odyssey”.

Included in the package is a remote control, batteries, and quick start guide. As with the other mainstream set-top boxes, you need to supply the HDMI cable. Amazon Fire TV Package

Setting Up

To set up, load the batteries into the remote, then plug in the power adapter to the main unit. Connect the HDMI cable to your TV (there is no provision for composite video, so if you have an older TV without HDMI, you can’t use Amazon Fire; you have to get a Roku). If you don’t have Wi-Fi, you can attach an Ethernet cable for Internet access.

When I turned on my TV and selected the proper HDMI input, I saw the Fire was up and running. Using the direction keys, I selected my Wi-Fi network and entered my Wi-Fi password. This part is a little cumbersome, but common to all set-top boxes when using Wi-Fi and is unavoidable. Amazon Fire TV letter picker Now for the amazing part: Amazon had pre-programmed the unit with my Amazon account information, so at this point, my existing Amazon content magically appeared!  No need to log into Amazon!  With my other boxes, I had to enter usernames and passwords, or run back and forth between my computer and TV to enter codes. All of that hassle is GONE with Amazon Fire!

One slight downside of this is security. If your Amazon Fire accidentally gets delivered to the wrong address, they will have free reign of your account and can watch as many movies as they want on your dime, so watch the tracking information carefully after it is delivered.

But, it is totally worth it. My elderly parents, for example, are not tech-savvy, and I guarantee would not make it through the password process of other boxes. While this little convenience might seem like a minor detail to many of us, for others it’s the difference between getting the unit to work and having an expensive paperweight on their hands.

Also, beware giving Amazon Fire as a gift. The recipient might not get the unit pre-programmed for them (obviously, if you have it shipped to you and give it to them in person, it won’t be pre-programmed with their account info; it will have yours). There is a way to change the account of course, but they’ll have to go through the password entry process.

After starting up, there is a short introductory video which might be helpful to some folks: Amazon Fire TV intro video So, by far, the Amazon Fire has the easiest setup of any set top box I’ve tried!!! Score one for Amazon Fire!

Navigation

Navigation is easy, and pretty similar to navigation on Apple TV and Roku. You simply use the remote to move around and select options. The response is really snappy. The remote is well-designed and feels good. Amazon Fire TV home screen I immediately found all of the Amazon content that I had previously purchased, ready to view. It only takes a few seconds to start viewing, once you click an icon. The only slightly confusing part was that TV shows that I purchased were somewhat “mixed in” with other episodes from that season that I hadn’t purchased yet. Clearly, this is intended to make it easy (perhaps too easy) to purchase more shows. A little clearer delineation between purchased and non-purchased shows would be nice. But, this is a small complaint. This unit is as close to “plug-and-play” as I’ve seen. Of all of the set-top boxes, this unit got me watching content the quickest.

Channels

There are all of the standard pay channels that you would expect, including Netflix, Hulu Plus, and so forth.  However, there is no iTunes of course.  You need Apple TV for that.

I like free stuff, so I was thrilled to see a YouTube app. You can use it without logging in, but you’ll get a much better experience if you do log in. If you want to do so, the app will give you a code, then you have to run to your computer and enter it into YouTube, then return to your TV (this running around is the very thing that Amazon avoids with their service). But, it’s worth it. You’ll have access to your viewing history, favorites, YouTube channels, and so forth.

Other free channels include Crackle (for old movies), VEVO for videos, and Pandora for music. There is a Watch ESPN app, but it requires a cable TV or other subscription membership, which sort of defeats the purpose. I deleted it.

Voice Search

You might have seen the ads demonstrating Amazon Fire’s voice search feature. This is really handy because it’s so cumbersome to enter anything using on-screen keyboards (i.e., that matrix of letters that you scroll around entering one letter at a time). The voice search feature works great, but only gives you Amazon search results. It would have been awesome if it worked in all apps – YouTube voice search would have been amazing! But, if you have Amazon Prime, or like to rent and buy from Amazon, this is a nice feature which works well.

The only thing that tripped me up initially was that I pressed and released the button before talking. You have to press and hold the button while you talk. No big deal once I learned how to use it.

The Games

I am not an avid gamer but for the purposes of this review, I purchased the optional game controller for $39.99. It looks klunky but is surprisingly comfortable.

Amazon Fire Game Controller

I tried out three games: a casino game pack, Tetris, and a first-person shooter.

The graphics and sound were pretty impressive for such an inexpensive box. However, for me, each of the games required way too much setup, i.e., making characters, reading instructions, etc. I wish it was like an old-school arcade where you just drop in a coin and start playing. Maybe that’s just me.

Amazon Fire TV game Overall, I don’t think the games will be a very compelling feature for most users. If you’re a gamer, you’re going to have a Playstation or Xbox. If you’re just a casual gamer like me, the games don’t give instant gratification and require too much setup and learning, even for simple games like Tetris or Blackjack! For what it’s worth, the controller seemed fine, but I hardly used it because I lacked the patience to get very far in most of the games I tried.

Streaming From Other Devices

To my great surprise, I discovered that I was able to “cast” from my iPad running the YouTube app to my Amazon Fire TV (i.e., I could mirror the YouTube video on my TV).  I suspect that apps that are compatible with Chromecast will be able to cast on Amazon Fire TV.  To be clear, though, you can only mirror certain apps.  I was not able to find a way to mirror the contents of my iPad’s browser onto the Amazon Fire TV.

Also, I was not able to cast from my Chrome browser on my laptop to my Amazon Fire TV, unfortunately.

For streaming content from your computer to your TV, there is the Plex app for $4.99.  For streaming from your Android or iOS phone, there is the free Air Buddy app.  I’ll review these services in a future article.

Overall

The games notwithstanding, I think this is an outstanding box for viewing your Amazon library and content from other services. For ease of setup and ease of use, this beats Roku, Apple TV and Chromecast due to the pre-setup of Amazon services, and the voice search.

Amazon Fire TV Stick

Amazon has a low-cost version of the Fire TV called the Amazon Fire TV Stick.  Like the Google Chromecast, it’s a small unit that plugs directly into your TV’s HDMI input.  List is $39 but there are deals.

The two main things you lose with the Stick are voice control (although there is an iPhone/Android app that accomplishes that on your phone), and some processing power, resulting in slightly slower navigation and so forth.  You also can’t run some of the higher-end games.

The Stick great if you plan to use it in a hotel or while traveling. Otherwise, go with the regular Fire TV so you get the remote with voice control.

Should You Buy It?

If you already have an Apple TV, Roku, or Chromecast, and you’re happy with it, no need to get an Amazon Fire TV.  If you don’t, here’s a quick rundown of the four major set-top boxes:

  • If you have an older TV without HDMI, then get a Roku. It is the only one of the bunch that has composite video output.
  • If you are an Apple fan, and have a lot of Apple devices and iTunes content, go for Apple TV. Integration with Apple devices is very good: for example, mirroring from your iPad to your TV.
  • If you are tech-savvy, and have a laptop that is fairly powerful, and want to watch almost anything that you can get in your browser on your TV screen, then Chromecast is for you. The cool thing is that you don’t need “apps”. Your browser window gets “cast” onto your TV screen. Note that Chromecast can require some tinkering, so it’s not for technophobes.
  • For everyone else, I would recommend Amazon Fire TV or Roku. Amazon Fire is slightly easier to set up if you have Amazon, but Roku has far more channels and content.

Where to Get It

Click the link below to get Amazon Fire TV or Amazon Fire TV Stick on Amazon.com:

What was your experience with Amazon Fire like? Please leave a comment below. – Brian

  • Ronald Myers

    Do you need a cable provider for Fire Stick . Because I have Sling TV and Ruko but when you want to watch a show on Ruko they say that you will need a cable provider.

    • Hi Ronald,

      Just like on Roku, some of the apps on Fire Stick do require a cable TV login in order to work.

      But there are many other apps that don’t require cable provider. Some are free (like Crackle and YouTube), while some require subscription (like Hulu and Netflix).

      Best,
      Brian

  • Bobby

    Currently on sale http://amzn.to/2slqrHc

  • Jaredius

    Acorn TV fans beware! In order to get the Acorn TV app and access to content you must be an Amazon Prime subscriber or become one. You cannot just install Acorn TV like you can with Roku. This can be a huge negative for those of us that want Acorn TV but do not want Amazon Prime.

    • Hi Jaredius,

      Thanks for the head’s up!

      Brian

  • Tracee R

    Does the fire stick allow you to watch live tv? or do you need to still have cable to do that? I’m concerned about not being able to watch local news of CNN live?

    • Hi Tracee,

      No, none of these types of set-top boxes or sticks will let you watch live TV. These are for watching pre-recorded shows from the Internet using services like Hulu, Netflix, YouTube, etc.

      If you have stations in your area, and you have a modern TV, your best bet for free live TV is to use an antenna. Check the Station Finder:
      http://disablemycable.com/station-finder/

      Best,
      Brian

    • Jaredius

      Yes, live TV is available through the SlingTV app and a $20/mo subscription. I love it! I get all my Tigers games, History, TBS and more.

  • Turnercrew

    How do you get around apps that require you to sign in with a cable provider? It defeats the purpose of us using the amazon stick to replace cable

    • Hi Turnercrew,

      Unfortunately, there’s no way around that. Some content you might have to pay for a-la-carte. It’s still worth it if the total cost is less than what you would pay for cable.

      Plus, there are free apps like YouTube.

      Best,
      Brian

    • Jaredius

      SlingTV for $20/mo

  • greybeardprof

    I am sick of dealing with the crappy service from Comcast. I am hooked on DVRs, and am looking for the best alternative. I see so many options, I am overwhelmed. So, something like the ChannelMaster DVR combined with a Roku or Amazon Fire? I have pretty good wireless, so that shouldn’t be an issue. Would I also need a computer. My TVs are only a few years old and pretty high end and support a lot of options. Please help.

    • Hi greybeardprof,

      A few things…

      If there are stations in your area, I would recommend getting an antenna to get the networks and local stations for free. Enter your zip code into the Station Finder to see how many channels you can get: http://disablemycable.com/station-finder/

      Note that DVRs like the Channel Master DVR+ only record from an antenna, not from Roku or Amazon Fire. If you have multiple TVs, I would actually recommend Tablo, but you must have a Roku or other set-top box to go with it: http://disablemycable.com/dvr/

      My top pick for set-top box is a Roku, or you can attach your computer to your TV to get much of the same content (but it’s a bit less convenient): http://disablemycable.com/computer/

      Best wishes,
      Brian

      • greybeardprof

        Brian,

        Looks like I could watch all of the PBS shows I would ever want over the air, other than that, I have few options, so an antenna based system doesn’t seem optimal. I guess my main question is whether the Fire, Chrome, etc. in combination with the Roku provide me with a DVR type experience. I don’t care if I have to wait a day or two before I can access a show, or if I must pay a nominal fee – I am just sick of $100+ every month for wretched customer service. But if I don’t have the ability to fast-forward / pause / etc, I will still hold my nose and deal. Thanks for all your help.

        • Hi greybeardprof,

          What you can do to see if these devices will work for you is try to find the shows you want on Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, iTunes, Hulu, etc. If they are on these services, then you will be able to watch them using these set-top devices (with a fee).

          The reason why I like broadcast TV is that it’s totally free.

          Thanks,
          Brian

  • Mamag30

    I’m new to this world. We are dropping cable and getting the Amazon Firestick. I read the article but still not sure if I can use the firestick as a means for streaming online content from a website (nbc.com or something like that that airs their shows for free). I have never mirrored before. We have a computer but it can’t be connected to our computer without us buying additional adaptors to make it work. My question is, is there a way to get Internet content steamed (other than the apps that come programmed with the firestick) from the firestick to my tv? With the Chromestick I see you have a Chrome browser…does Firestick have something like this or are we going to have to figure out how to connect our computer to the tv?

    • Hi Mamag30,

      I’ll have to look into your question and get back to you on this!

      Thanks,
      Brian

    • Hi Mamag30,

      I didn’t find anything online on how to cast your computer to your Fire Stick. You can can an Android device though.

      Anyone else know of a way?

      Brian

      • Turnercrew

        Do you mean like air play? If so, we use an app on the firestick called airplay/dlna receiver (pro)

        • Hi Turnercrew,

          Wow, thanks for letting us know about this app!

          Brian

  • Keren

    I just got myself a streaming box, its called Stroom box. It actually works amazingly. I am able to watch any movie I want, and TV show and they are all commercial free. I have the fire stick but it wasn’t helping me with lowering my cable bill bc I still had to pay for a Netflix account, plus my HBO go. With my stroom box I was able to cancel my Netflix and just keep basic cable as I didn’t need any fancy channel bc it was all available on the box, stroombox.com i believe that was the website. Its def another alternate to look into

  • Sam

    This may seem like a silly question, but can you use the Amazon Fire Stick if you have cable? Or is it something to use only when no longer have cable?

    • Hi Sam,

      Not a silly question. Yes, you can use the Amazon Fire Stick if you have cable, as long as your TV has a spare HDMI input available (most TV’s have multiple inputs).

      Thanks,
      Brian

  • jbrazell

    We just purchased a Sharp smart tv. We haven’t hooked it up yet and don’t know how it works. We are in our 60’s, so are a little challenged on what to do. We have DISH satellite, but it is much too expensive, as we have one of the bigger packages. Can you tell me what all we can do with just our smart t.v. and what we need to add to get local channels for news. Also, we would like to be able to get national news channels. I know this t.v. can get YouTube, Netflix, HuluPlus, Vudu, etc. Do I need to get Amazon Fire, Roku or what? Do I need a recorder of some sort? I have two t.v.’s. The other t.v. is not a smart t.v.

    Thanks,
    Jan

    • Hi jbrazell,

      Once connected to the Internet (usually by Wi-Fi), your smart TV will enable you to subscribe to the services you mentioned and watch shows and movies. It is NOT a direct replacement for real-time TV like you had on cable.

      You do NOT need to get an Amazon Fire or Roku. Your smart TV already has most of that functionality. If you like that functionality, you can get those boxes for your other TVs to make them “smart”.

      For local news, I would suggest using an antenna if there are stations in your area. Enter your zip into the Station Finder to find out:
      http://disablemycable.com/station_finder.php

      Thanks,
      Brian

      • jbrazell

        What if I want to record something? What should I get or do about that?

      • Tammy

        Hi Brian,
        Thanks so much for all the information you provide on your site, which I’ve been reading for a couple hours and am now here!

        We’ve been contemplating weather to buy the Amazon Fire TV or not…the question above mentions the Sharp brand smart t.v. … Your answer made it all come together for me because we have a Sharp smart t.v. and never really checked out all the stuff that’s already in our t.v. and all it already offers… I feel so silly and felt the urge to share that silly revelation with you…LOL

        • Hi Tammy,

          Thank you for sharing! I’m glad my site was useful to you!

          Yeah, definitely check out the smart TV features on your TV… You may not need to buy anything else!

          Brian

  • Amanda

    Does Fire TV Stick require laptop or tablet, or “mirroring”? Or can you just plug it in and browse via television set?

    • Hi Amanda,

      Sorry I didn’t make that clearer. No, the Fire TV Stick does not require a laptop or other device. It works by itself. Just plug in and browse via the TV.

      Thanks,
      Brian

  • Sodacyn

    I am mostly interested in getting local channels via any free or really cheap source. I live in rural area where an outdoor antennae is not an option. Local channels streaming from my computer to my TV would be great, although I do have a TV that has a wireless receiver. please if anyone knows what is best to just get local channels I would so appreciate your advice. Thanks

    • Hi Sodacyn,

      Hmmm.. I don’t know of a lot of great options for local channels when there are no broadcast channels available. Anyone else have any ideas?

      Brian

  • Autumn

    We Got Amazon Fire TV a few months ago and just started using in the last month when our contract with cable ended. We are still finding new things to watch. As we are both in our 50’s so it was great when our youngest son came in and took over the remote and showed us even more cool stuff :) I didn’t know about crackle so now I’ll check it out as well :) This really is a plug n play device as I did the setup myself and it was just as you described! Very happy with this purchase and we’re saving $60 each month by ditching cable :)

    • Hi Autumn!

      Thanks for sharing your story and congratulations on dropping cable! I’m so glad you like the Amazon Fire TV!

      Yeah, I like Crackle too. And you can find a surprising amount of stuff on YouTube.

      Brian

  • Paul E.

    Hi I am interested in the Fire TV stick since my wife already has an Amazon Prime, but I already have Apple TV connected to my TV. Can I still plug the Fire Stick in and have it work?

    • Hi Paul,

      Most TVs have more than one HDMI input (which is what the Apple TV and Fire Stick require). Check your TV to be sure.

      Thanks,
      Brian

  • J

    Brian, Thanks so much for the information. It has been a lot of fun reading about the different ways to save money. I am going to check into the Amazon Fire. I didn’t know it was available, but now I do. Great job.

    • Hi J, I’m so glad this site was useful to you! Let me know what you think of the Amazon Fire, if you get it. – Brian

  • P

    Hello, I am interested in the Amazon Fire TV option and wondered if I need a box for every TV in the house or just one? We live in a rural area and only have a limited number of internet providers also. Does the AFT require a certain level of internet? As you can see, I am technically challenged and appreciate your review and any guidance!

    • P,

      Great questions! Yes, you would need a separate box in every room, because the remote control will only work when the unit is in the same room.

      Regarding minimum Internet speed, I was able to find this quote from the Amazon forums:

      “We support a minimum connection speed of 450 Kbits/sec but recommend a connection speed of 1.5 Mbits/sec or higher to get the most out of your online Amazon Instant Videos experience. We’re unable to deliver these high-quality videos online via dial-up and other slow connections.”

      If you can watch videos on your computer, you should be okay with Amazon Fire TV.

      Hope this helps,
      Brian

  • J

    Hi, I’m paying over $85 dollars for Internet and cable TV services. I’m tired of expending money. I’m recently got a new internet and cable provider but I’m not satisfied with the service. I like the internet service but I’m still paying too much for the cable TV. I have a LG Blu-ray player I can watch my show in Hulu but I want the local channel in the regular TV. What recommendation you give me to get rid of the cable? But my wife and Love to watch show I regular TV like ABC, PBS for the kids etc.

  • eric

    With or Kuban I program in or paste up the free TV network station similar to your remote page?

  • nljackson65

    I don’t know how I missed the fact that Amazon offered Fire TV. I heard about all the rest. But, I am a big fan of Amazon. I’m going to do some checking on this. Thanks for the informative and thorough review!

    • Thanks for your comment!

      Yeah, the Amazon Fire TV is a relatively new device. I really like it.

      Thanks,
      Brian