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Amazon Fire TV Review: Perfect for Media Streaming Virgins

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The much rumored media streamer from Amazon has finally arrived. On the outside, the Fire TV has been designed with minimalist lines in a compact black box that measures just 4.5″ x 4.5″ x 0.7” and weighs a little under 10 oz. The app line-up for the Fire TV at launch is pretty impressive too. It includes NetFlix, HuluPlus, iHeartRadio Pandora, Showtime Anytime, Vevo, Vimeo, Crackle, YouTube, and Plex. Unfortunately, some of our favorite apps are currently missing from the catalog such as Spotify, HBO GO and the Time Warner Cable app.

When it comes to the user interface, Amazon has done a superb job with the Fire TV. It’s clean, modern, and intuitive to use. As a matter of fact, it’s much more intuitive to use than the current incarnation of Google TV and it’s also cleaner to use than Apple TV. When it comes to special features, Voice Search is a stand out feature on the Fire TV. Sure, Samsung’s Smart TV, Google TV and other platforms offer voice commands, but it’s still nice to see this kind of tech available at such an affordable price point. Even better is the fact that it works really well. Just speak the name of an actor, director, genre, movie, or TV show into the remote, and results will appear. It’s that simple. We like that there is no need to use a voice command like “search”. Unfortunately, Voice Search only works with Hulu and Amazon Prime at the moment, but more partners are coming. The results will also automatically default to Amazon’s catalog. So if a show isn’t available from Amazon, the system will bring the search result up in Hulu.

Voice Search
Voice Search

Performance wise, you’re getting a lot of value for the money with the Fire TV. The system’s hardware offers a lot more power than the likes of what you’ll find inside the Apple TV, Roku and Chromecast. That power shines through the most when it comes to the gaming experience on the Fire TV. As a matter of fact, the gaming experience on the Fire TV is bigger than we anticipated it would be. To that effect, games look great and play smoothly. The current game lineup is impressive too with big games like Sonic CD, NBA 2k14, Riptide GP2, Asphalt 8, Minecraft Pocket Edition and Sev Zero already available. Games like Sev Zero and Riptide are particularly quite graphically intense, but the Fire TV is able to handle them with aplomb. And there are more big games on their way – such as Crazy Taxi and Grand Theft Auto – but these games will require the Fire’s Game controller.

That said, you can play many of the games with the directional controller on the remote, and while we were a bit skeptical about using the remote to play games, the experience isn’t all that bad. That said, if you’re serious about playing games on the Fire TV, you’ll really want to get the Fire TV’s game controller. Overall, despite the fact that other media streamers – such as Roku, do offer games, the FireTV is packing a bigger punch when it comes to its gaming experience.

Some other welcome features of the Fire TV is the ASAP feature that predicts what movies and TV episodes you’ll want to watch and gets them ready to stream instantly. The system builds its recommendations off of what you have watched previously. The Fire TV also offers a Second screen experience if you own a Kindle Fire. That means that you can resume where you left off on your Kindle Fire, and there are also some games that offer a second screen in-game experience. When it comes to Photos, the system automatically connects to your Amazon Cloud Drive to pull down photos and videos. Of course you can also use the Fire TV to play a slideshow from an album stored on Amazon Cloud Drive. Photos stored on the Amazon Cloud Drive can also be used to create a screensaver, which is quite neat for moments when you’re leaving your TV on in the background and not actually using it. Finally, speaking of Amazon Cloud Player, Amazon will soon let you use it to upload your whole music collection for playback and streaming on the Fire TV.

Verdict

Amazon has done an excellent job creating a media streamer with a beautiful easy to use modern user interface and a strong feature set. But there is no doubt about it, the competition in this space is really heating up, especially with rumors of a much needed Google TV revamp on the way. However, if you can look past some of the missing apps, and you’re not locked into the Google or Apple eco-system, than the Fire TV is a compelling buy. And if you are invested in the Amazon eco-system, a heavy Amazon Prime user, or if you’re looking for a streamer that also offers a near console-like experience on a budget – than you’ll be really happy with the Fire TV.

Amazon’s Fire TV retails for $99 and the kit comes with a remote control. The game controller accessory is sold separately for $39 and will ship on April 24th.

Update April 17th, 2014: Amazon has announced that Hulu Plus, Crackle, and SHOWTIME ANYTIME are joining VEVO in integrating their full catalogs into Fire TV’s unified voice search

Buy it!

The Good: Super simple set up, the system runs super smoothly, intuitive remote control and user interface, great gaming experience – especially at this price point, voice search works well, nice minimalist hardware design, Kindle Fire TV owners can take advantage of the second screen experience, offers parental controls, nice app line-up at launch, neat X-Ray for Music feature plays lyrics back line by line as a song plays

The Bad: Controller sold separately, missing apps like Spotify – HBO GO and the Time Warner Cable app, the system puts Amazon services first before others, Voice capability is limited to just searching – and not navigating the device.