“Amazon’s Fire TV Stick 4K offers killer features at a great price.”
- Speedy operation
- HDR10+ and Dolby Vision support
- Top-notch voice control
- Basic TV controls on remote
- Alexa keeps getting better
- Somewhat awkward design
- Voice search still needs work
While set-top boxes aren’t going away anytime soon, streaming sticks (aka dongles) increasingly offer some of the best value and performance in streaming land. Case in point: Roku’s fabulous Streaming Stick Plus ($60) is easily one of our favorite streamers available, packing 4K HDR, a speedy processor, and a handy, point-anywhere remote, all running on Roku’s intuitive operating system.
Not to be outdone, Amazon released its own loaded streaming stick, the Fire TV Stick 4K. While the name may not be inspired, the Fire TV Stick 4K promises everything the Streaming Stick Plus does while adding Alexa voice integration and even Dolby Vision and HDR10+, all for just $50. While we encountered a few hiccups along the way, Amazon’s latest streaming stick offers impressive value — especially if Alexa is your jam.
(Editor’s note: This review has been updated to add information about new support for YouTube following Amazon and Google’s truce, as well as a score upgrade for kinks worked out and impressive overall value.)
Right off the bat, you’ll notice the Fire TV Stick 4K is chunky – big enough that it blocked other HDMI ports when we plugged it into a TCL 6-series, a Sony X900F, and a Samsung Q7F. What’s more, a side-mounted micro-USB power port makes for yet another blocking obstacle.
You won’t have to worry about the fit if you use an HDMI extender, one of which is thankfully included in the package and even provides improved Wi-Fi reception, according to Amazon. Still, it makes us wonder why Amazon even designs its cheapest streamer as a stick at all if it’s destined to become a de facto dongle, hanging even more awkwardly than 2017’s Fire TV.
Along with the extender, accessories include a USB power cable and wall adapter for versatile power connection, a new and improved Alexa voice remote complete with a volume rocker and power key for basic TV control, and batteries for the remote.
Setting up the Fire TV Stick 4K is a relatively simple affair, though we did run into a few hiccups on the software side. After plugging the stick in (with extender, of course), the system walks you speedily through system setup, including quickly connecting the remote to both the Fire TV device and our TV.
Support for every HDR format should future proof it quite nicely.
The system immediately required a software update (not unexpected for a brand-new device sent to us for review ahead of formal launch) which took about five minutes, and — after quickly connecting our Amazon account — we had some issues getting apps to download or open. The Netflix app simply wouldn’t open at all. We chalked the issue up to our occasionally squirrelly office router, but it wasn’t the only place we ran into some network trouble (more on that below). After backing out of the Netflix app and re-engaging, we got it working and all other apps followed suit.
One major setting change you may need to make right away is the Fire TV Stick’s high-dynamic range (HDR) setting. We love the fact that the device offers support for every current HDR format, including HDR10, HDR10+, HLG and Dolby Vision for enhanced contrast and color performance with supported content. However, an odd default setting created major picture problems within some HD content for us, specifically with Netflix videos. Colors were sapped and playback dim, as the system tried to initiate HDR contrast and color parameters over SDR video.
If this is the case for your device, you can easily fix it by digging into the video settings. Go into Settings>Display & Sounds>Display, then scroll down to Dynamic Range Settings and switch from Always HDR to Adaptive. This should allow all HDR content and SDR content to display correctly.
We’ve made no bones about the fact that we prefer Roku’s agnostic interface approach to those of Amazon and Apple, which tend to push their own content first. In the Fire TV Stick 4K’s case, the home screen will likely bombard you with ads for Amazon originals like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (which, to be fair, is pretty “marvelous”) each time you hit the home screen.
Quickly controlling video via voice control is extremely handy.
Otherwise, it’s simple and speedy to load up just about all the streaming apps you want — now including native YouTube thanks to Amazon and Google finally ending their feud.
Like Roku’s mobile app, the available Fire TV Remote app for iOS and Android serves up helpful features, including digital remote keys and a digital keyboard so you don’t have to hunt and peck when signing into apps.
The navigation bar at the top makes it simple to choose your favorites or drop into the settings to manage apps, control audio and video parameters, and other preferences, with handy icons to help you find your query.
The new remote sports all the command keys you’d expect for basic navigation, including the Fire TV’s signature navigation dial and home keys. As mentioned above, you’ll also find a power key for your TV and a volume rocker for audio control over TVs as well as some audio systems like soundbars and A/V receivers. There’s even a little LED on the top next to the microphone key when engaging voice commands.
Speaking of voice commands, alongside The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Amazon (of course) serves up the fantastic Miss Alexa, who packs new plenty of controls for the Fire TV Stick, such as the ability to switch HDMI inputs on some TVs, and even control playback within multiple apps, including Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video, Showtime, and others — something Roku can’t do without the aid of a Google Assistant device. The stick is not on par with the Fire TV Cube in this department, which can control your entire home theater, but it’s pretty impressive.
If you’re invested in the Alexa ecosystem, things get even more convenient
You can use Alexa for play/pause, but more useful commands include functions like “fast forward 3 minutes” or “rewind 30 seconds,” so you can easily control video within your favorite apps. If you’re invested in the Alexa ecosystem, things get even more convenient, as you can perform these functions hands-free with other Alexa devices like the Echo and Echo Dot.
Voice search is quite speedy and, unlike earlier Amazon devices, it often serves up content from your signed-in subscriptions before offering it for sale. One thing voice search doesn’t do so well is performing broader content searches, like Comedy Movies, for instance, but even the mighty Roku can have some trouble in that department.
That said, the ability to quickly navigate within a show or movie is extremely helpful, not to mention having access to Alexa’s other smart-home talents.
While our model suffered from some first-week jitters, it evened out over time and now works just as we’d expect a popular streamer from a major company like Amazon. That is, pretty dang well.
Other Media Streamers
Initial hiccups aside, we absolutely love the sheer level of control the device offers, pairing the point-anywhere remote with TV controls, Alexa, and Amazon-enabled speakers, along with more in-app control functions than any stick we’ve reviewed yet; it’s the easiest way we know of to command your system at its price point.
Amazon claims the stick’s new 1.7GHz processor is 80% faster than its predecessor, and it does offer impressively speedy navigation, though load times will, of course, vary by network speed and connection.
Once we got everything working properly, we were equally impressed with the picture and sound quality. The device’s support for Dolby Vision, HDR10 and HDR10+ should future proof it quite nicely, and on the audio side, Dolby Atmos support essentially adds up to the best available sound and picture you can get in a stick. Not bad for $50.
Amazon’s new Fire TV Stick is loaded to the gills with features, and while we had a few initial hiccups in operation, it offers some of the best value for your money — especially if you’re partial to Amazon’s handy Alexa ecosystem.
Is there a better alternative?
That said, if you’re dead set on Dolby Vision (meaning you’ve got a Dolby Vision-capable TV), and/or Alexa voice control, the Fire TV Stick 4K is a better fit.
How long will it last?
With regular updates, excellent HDR compatibility, and Dolby Atmos support, the Fire TV Stick 4K is poised to last long into the future.
Should you buy it?
Yes, especially if you’re down with Alexa. Amazon’s Fire TV Stick 4K is loaded with features, standing as one of the best streaming devices you can get for your money.
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