Amazon Fire TV stick: test, review and priceCategory: Tests / Reviews
[b]Nowadays there are a multitude of streaming products that can be connected to a TV or projector and the choice is not always easy. I started looking for the ideal solution to add some intelligence to my projector and Amazon's HDMI Fire TV will be the first solution I will test. I also plan to test other products and I will make a comparison to help you choose the solution that suits you best.[b][b]
Amazon Fire TV stick price[b]The Fire TV Stick is sold at Amazon at about 40€ but it is sometimes possible to get it at a lower price. This was the case for the Prime Days 2019 where the stick was sold at 24.99€. That's when I bought it.[b][b]
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A stick? What for??[b]The Fire TV Stick looks very much like a large USB key that ends with a male HDMI connector. The stick can be connected to any TV or projector with an HDMI port. What's the point? The stick runs under a simplified version of Android, it is basicallyy a mini computer that allows you to run applications on your TV or projector. For about forty euros, your TV turns into a smart TV.[b][b]Once connected to your TV or projector, you will be able to use applications such as Netflix or Amazon Prime Video without any other devices to connect. The advantage of a stick is that it is discreet, easy to use and generally less expensive than a TV box solution.[b][b]
Unpacking[b]The Fire Stick TV is packed in a large orange box containing the stick, a Bluetooth remote control, two batteries, an HDMI/micro HDMI adapter, a power cable, a wall socket and two booklets. The stick is a little larger than a USB key but it's small enough to stay out of the way. The remote control is simplified to the maximum, it has only 6 buttons and a navigation area. [b][b]The set is carefully packaged and has a premium feeling. The Amazon brand is omnipresent everywhere.[b][b][b][b]
Connected to a projector[b][b][b]Installing the stick is very easy, just plug it into an HDMI port of your projector. Then connect the stick to a power source via the supplied adapter. The stick is powered by a simple USB connector, you could use a smartphone charger to power the stick. I also bought the wired network adapter to get the best throughput, this adapter also uses the microUSB port of the stick and comes between the stick and the power supply.[b][b]Once installed, the whole thing is not very attractive because the stick protrudes quite strongly from the projector and the addition of the power supply and the cable adapter does not make things any easier. Fortunately the HDMI ports are at the back and in most cases the stick is therefor not visible.[b][b]
Connected to a TV[b]Installing on a TV is the same as installing on another device, but if you have installed your TV near a wall, you may need to create space between the wall and your TV to pass the stick. Some TVs have HDMI ports oriented to the side but others will require you to install the stick perpendicular to the TV. [b][b]The power cable is quite short but since it is a USB power cable, you will not have any trouble buying a longer one if necessary.[b][b]
Configuration[b][b][b]Note: all the pictures that follow come from my projector and were taken with a Samsung Galaxy S10+[b][b]To be able to use the stick, you must configure it. The configuration procedure is very simple, you just need to follow the instructions on the screen and use the remote control to complete the installation. The installation is very simple but it is very long. After choosing the language, the stick will download the latest software update and it takes time even if you are connected by cable. [b][b]The software update takes between 5 and 10 minutes but it doesn't stop there because after the installation, the Fire TV Stick will need time to optimize the storage. This second step takes more than 10 minutes during which you can't do nothing except having a coffee break. It's really very, very long, I've never had to wait that long to install such a device before.[b][b]After installation, you must log in with your Amazon account. If you don't have any you'll have to create one. The on-screen keyboard is quite easy to use, but for those who are used to an azerty/qwerty keyboard, it will take time getting used to the alphabetical display.[b][b]The whole setup is quite long and once finished, you will have to wait a little longer because you will have to go through some videos showing what you can do with the Fire TV stick (just in case you bought it by accident without knowing what it does). Ok, why not but this video presents a version of the stick that is not available in Europe and everything is in English.[b][b][b][b]
Remote control[b][b][b]The Fire TV Stick's remote control is very simple and easy to use. As it is not backlit, you will need to remember the main features by touching the remote. Apart from the large navigation button, you need to remember 6 buttons but in the end you will probably use only two (going back to the home screen and going one step back).[b][b]The remote control is powered by 2 AAA batteries supplied with the stick. I would have preferred a rechargeable battery but I imagine that the choice is above all an economic choice.[b][b]
Operating system[b][b][b]Fire TV runs on Android but Amazon has added a graphic overlay specially designed for the use on TVs or projectors. The interface is a little similar to the one from Netflix.[b][b]Amazon's interface is divided into 3 screens accessible from a navigation at the top of the screen. Let's start with the home screen. The interface is very easy to use, it is richly coloured and you can enjoy a 1080p resolution ensuring impeccable readability. I even find that the readability is better than the Android version running on my projector, it looks sharper.[b][b]The home screen is divided into categories, it first shows the applications installed on the stick and initially there aren't many, you have Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Music and Silk the Amazon web browser. Some of these applications are installed directly on the stick, others are stored in the cloud (a small cloud icon is displayed). Below your applications, Amazon presents a large number of applications by category. These applications are the most popular by category and there are many of them. [b][b]The FireTV stick is a product designed for the American market when it comes to applications. The interface gives access to a large amount of installable applications but unfortunately few applications are really relevant for the European market. The famous ones like Netflix, YouTube, Twitch or Plex are there but I miss IMDB, Kodi and some other applications I'm used to using.[b][b][b][b][b][b]On the category screen, there is an image wall summarizing all available categories. As with the home screen, the interface gives an impression of opulence because each category gives access to a large number of applications but as I wrote above, most of those applications are not adapted to the European market. All this is obviously subjective, I guess it will make some people happy. [b][b]The last screen is more sober, it gives access to the stick parameters. I will come back to this menu later because it will be very useful in some cases.[b][b][b]Applications Amazon[b][b]The FireTV stick does not have access to Google's Play Store, so you must use Amazon to install applications. How to do this? You have to go to the Amazon site (.fr,.com, ...) that you usually use, you look for applications as you would look for any product, you add it to your cart by choosing the FireTV stick as the delivery place. If you do not see the FireTV stick appear when you add it to the shopping cart, it means that it has not been attached to your account. In this case, you must go to the settings of your stick, unassociate the stick from your account and re-associate it.[b][b]Once you have added the applications from the Amazon site, you must then synchronize your stick to see them appear. To do this, go to the "settings" menu and choose "my account", you will find the possibility to synchronize your account.[b][b]The process is a little curious but Amazon probably wants to keep control over the experience of its product. This control has a consequence, if you do not live in a country where Amazon is available. I am in Belgium and I have to go through Amazon France to do my shopping. Many of the applications are not available for Belgium, you simply won't be able to install them. I contacted Amazon about this and they confirmed that the applications were geo-blocked. This kind of detail is not explained in the product description, but it seems to me to be quite important! Fortunately, there is a way to avoid this, but it is not necessarily easy for an uninformed user.[b][b][b]Other applications (side-loading)[b][b]For those like me who will be frustrated by the lack of certain applications, there is a solution, it is side-loading. This technique consists of installing unofficial applications on a device. To do this, you must first go to the FireTV Stick settings. Choose "My FireTV" and then "Options for developers". In this case, applications from unknown sources must be allowed.[b][b][b][b]Unfortunately, the process does not end there. You must now download the applications and to be able to do so, you must download another application from the Amazon store. The application is called "Downloader", it is a browser that allows you to save unofficial applications on your stick. The Downloader application will appear on your main menu, you just have to launch it from there.[b][b][b][b]With Downloader, you can browse to any address on the Internet and download applications. You can go to the Play Store and download applications but I couldn't because when I chose the device for downloading, the FireTV Stick was at the bottom of a list of devices and with the remote control it is not possible to scroll through a list. The alternative to the Play Store is Aptoide.com. This site contains thousands of official applications that can be downloaded freely, so be sure to read the notices before downloading the notices as you may well download a version modified by a third party.[b][b][b]Other method for side-loading[b][b]The browser installation method will work for a number of applications but for most official Play Store applications, you will need to use another much easier method but you need an Android phone for this.[b][b]1. Go to the Play Store and download the App2Fire application[b]2. Go to the last tab of the application where you can search for a device on the network[b]3. Click on Network to display the list of devices connected to your network (your phone must be connected via wifi on your network)[b]4. If you don't know the address of your stick, go to the Stick in the "settings" menu then "my fireTV" then "network" and find the IP address of your stick[b]5. After selecting your stick on your smartphone, return to the first screen[b]6. You will see a list of all the installed applications, just click on the application you want to install to transfer it to your stick[b][b]The process is quite simple but you will soon see that the applications you copy to your stick are not designed to be used on a stick at all. Sometimes the screen is too big, or too small or you won't be able to click on anything at all.[b][b][b][b]Install Kodi on FireTV stick[b][b][b][b]Kodi is a very popular application for home cinema lovers, it allows you to play videos or music locally or in streaming. The application is complete enough not to need any other applications. Unfortunately Kodi is not available in the Amazon store, so you have to use side-loading to do this. So you have to start Downloader, go to Kodi.tv, go to the download section, choose Android, choose the 32-bit version. [b][b][b]Limitations[b][b]Fire TV stick is designed to be used with a remote, many Android apps are designed to be used with a touch screen. Even if you can download most of the apps, many of them will be very difficult to use. The Fire TV stick doesn't have a huge storage capacity which means that you'll have to make choices, installing tons of applications will simply not be possible.[b][b]
Performance[b]The FireTV stick is not a performance champion, it does not react instantly when you press the remote control. When you click on your remote control, it will always take a short time to complete your request (less than a second). It's not a huge problem, but if you're used to faster systems, it might get a little annoying. The basic version of the stick is equipped with a Mediatek mediatek MT8127D CPU, this CPU delivers an entry-level performance that is generally lower than the performance of traditional Android boxes. Fortunately the stick is not designed to use the CPU intensively because for video you need a good GPU.[b][b]The stick is equipped with a Mali450 MP4 GPU that allows it to shoot 1080p videos without problems. This type of GPU is used in entry-level devices. As I wrote above, the FireTV Stick is not a high performance machine but it has been designed to carry the minimum necessary to provide sufficient video performance. For games, it is better to move to another solution.[b][b]
Local streaming with Kodi[b]Kodi and Plex are certainly the most frequently used applications for streaming or playing movies/series locally. I've been using Kodi for years, I was already using it at the time of the first Xbox, the application was called XBMC. As explained above, it is possible to install Kodi on the stick, the application works very well. Those who are used to using Kodi on other machines will probably notice the small delays when switching from one screen to another, but it's not very annoying. The experience is generally smooth and you can play 1080p videos without any problems.[b][b]Here is a small demonstration with the trailer of Top Gun Maverick[b][b][b]
Streaming Amazon Prime Video[b]Prime Video is Amazon's video streaming service. To use Video Reward you must be a Reward customer at Amazon and to be a Reward customer you must pay 49€ per year. The video streaming platform is one of the advantages of the Prime account, but it is not the only one. With Prime customers benefit from free and faster delivery, unlimited storage space for photos and a host of other advantages.[b][b]I didn't choose to be Prime to be able to use Prime Video, I took the subscription to be able to use the unlimited cloud for my photos. On Prime Video there are films, series and documentaries a bit like on Netflix but the catalogue is more limited. Some exclusives are available such as Grand Tour, Man in the High Castle, American Gods, Good Omens, ... Amazon is investing more and more in exclusive series, they will produce a series based on the Lord of the Rings. The Prime Video catalogue is not as rich as Netflix's, but it is improving.[b][b]In terms of interface, nothing to complain about, Prime Video is very simple to use and has all the basic functionalities of a streaming service. In addition to streaming it is possible to change the audio language, subtitles and get the list of characters on the screen to find other videos where they are present. I made a short video showing the interface and streaming with Grand Tour.[b][b][b][b]
Gaming[b]It is possible to play with the FireTV stick but this is not its primary purpose. FireTV is not very powerful and playing with a remote control is not practical. There is a controller for FireTV but it will not change the fact that the stick is not powerful enough to offer a real gaming experience.[b][b][b][b]
Conclusion[b]The FireTV Stick is a very well designed product for a very specific use. If you need a device that can stream in 1080p with the ability to play videos on your hard drive, the stick is perfect for you. At the price level where it is sold (20-50 € according to the promotions), the Amazon stick offers an unbeatable quality/price ratio. I bought it for 25€ during the Prime Days, at this price you will not find anything equivalent, even in China.[b][b]If you are a more demanding user and want to use applications in addition to streaming, the stick will show its limits. Amazon's application catalog is limited and if you live in a country not covered by Amazon, the offer will be even more limited. It is always possible to add side loading applications but it is not really fun and most of the time, the applications are not suitable for remote control use. For this kind of use, I recommend a classic Android box instead.[b][b]It is also possible to surf the Internet with Silk the Amazon browser or Firefox but the experience is frankly not extraordinary. You can easily visit pages but this will be limited to occasional use because browsers are not very efficient and the remote control is not designed for this type of use.[b][b]The strong points:[b]- simple and effective experience[b]- 1080p streaming without jerking[b]- Netflix compatibility, Prime Video,.... [b]- access to Prime Video[b]- possibility of side-loading[b][b]The weak points:[b]- poor (or not interesting) application catalogue[b]- a little latency when loading and changing screens[b]- not designed for games[b]- not practical for surfing the Internet[b]