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Amazon FireTV Review

Posted: , by Brian K.

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Interface and Experience


Amazon has stuck with a simple interface that is intuitive to use. On the left is a vertical menu of categories, with a visual grid of content on the right. You can use the d-pad to scroll through your content, or voice search can be used to find content by title, actor, director or genre. Amazon advertises it as “voice search that actually works” and in our time with the FireTV we have to say it is pretty darn good. It often asks if we said “A” or “B”, but one of the options has always been right and its usually choice “A”. The drawback here is that voice search can only find content offered by Amazon or Hulu for now.

The impressive hardware specs make for an incredibly fluid experience whether you are navigating with the remote or searching for something by voice. Lag is virtually non-existent. The FireTV is running Mojito, the latest version of Amazon’s Android-based Fire OS. HTML has been integrated into the framework which makes it easy for both web and Android developers to port and create content. Amazon’s ASAP service also helps with speed. There is no doubt Amazon is collecting data on what you’re watching, and they use that to pre-load what they think you’ll watch next. This allows for almost instant load times on videos. Of course this only works with Amazon content, they won’t be queuing the next episode of House of Cards up for you on Netflix.



Media Content


As you might expect Amazon’s services are front and center. Their catalogue of videos tops 200,000, many of which are available to stream for free for Prime members. Any movie, TV show or song you’ve purchased with your account in the past will be available, and of course Amazon has made it easy to rent or buy content directly from the FireTV. The downloadable apps are all from Amazon’s AppStore as well, which means any content purchased on Google Play must be purchased again (if available.)

As with their Fire tablets, Amazon has a FreeTime option on the FireTV designed for kids. This lets parents set up to 4 profiles for their kids and allows them to restrict inappropriate content. There will also be a FreeTime Unlimited subscription service giving access to content from Nickelodeon, PBS Kids and more. Prices start at $2.99 monthly, but as the FreeTime feature is not available just yet we weren’t able to try it out.

It’s not just Amazon content you’ll find though, some of the biggest names have apps available for the FireTV including Netflix, Hulu Plus, WatchESPN, Pandora and many more. Showtime Anywhere is on board, but at this time HBO Go is conspicuously absent. Amazon is not issuing design guidelines, so while apps may be similar to, say, their Apple TV counterparts, they are far from as polished as the Xbox versions.

In addition to streaming services, there are a few ways to push local content to your Amazon FireTV. The first, and probably easiest, is to use Amazon’s Cloud Drive service. Each user gets 5GB free, and upgrades are available for a monthly fee. User-generated photos and videos backed up to the cloud sync nearly instantly to your FireTV.

Kindle Fire HDX owners enjoy some exclusive options. First, the display can be mirrored on your FireTV, allowing you to share pictures, videos and whatever else is on your tablet. The second feature is the ability to “fling” content to your FireTV from your Fire HDX, allowing you to continue to use your tablet while the content plays on the big screen. This, of course, is what Google does with Chromecast. Another feature for HDX owners is X-Ray, which will let you get information on your tablet from IMDb based on the content you’re watching. Again, this is similar to what Google does with their movie and TV Info Cards.

You don’t need to be tied into Amazon’s ecosystem to get local content onto your FireTV, however. Launch partners like Plex allow you to pull media from all of your devices and access them on your FireTV. If you’re technologically inclined you can enable ADB debugging and sideload apps to the FireTV, allowing you to get something like XBMC up and running. This opens up a world of possibilities, but that’s largely beyond the scope of this review so we’ll move on.


Gaming


Amazon FireTV Review
All that hardware makes for a very smooth media experience, but really wouldn’t be needed if Amazon didn’t offer gaming on the FireTV. Amazon doesn’t pretend these are console-quality games, but the experience more than just a bullet point on the FireTV’s spec sheet. Gameplay is smooth even on graphically intensive games thanks to the dedicated GPU and plenty of RAM. Games like Asphalt 8 and Amazon’s in-house Sev Zero go beyond what we would call casual gaming, but there are plenty of casual titles for kids and the family as well.

The optional Game Controller looks like it could be a third-party Xbox controller thanks to the similar button layout and nearly identical design. The controller is not quite as comfortable as its Microsoft counterpart, but it still fits in the hand nicely. In addition to the gaming controls it offers all the buttons of the regular remote with the exception of voice search. It adds a button for direct access to Amazon’s GameCircle where you can track your game achievements.

While the experience goes well beyond what anyone else offers, there are two big issues we’ve found. First, there is only 8GB of onboard storage, and only around 5.5GB of that is available to the user. After installing Sev Zero, Asphalt 8, Sonic CD and Netflix we were already down to under 2.5GB free. Currently the USB port can’t be used for any external storage, but Amazon’s VP hinted that may change in the future. The second issue is that Amazon’s promised “cheap” games follow the freemium model. This is not a unique issue to FireTV, but be aware that that low price Amazon touts really doesn’t tell the whole story.

5 Comments
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posted on 07 Apr 2014, 08:05 1

1. ryan5609 (Posts: 99; Member since: 01 Nov 2011)


Waited awhile to see exactly what this thing would be capable of. Though I am impressed, the lack of Google Play services, HBO GO and the price (it is a fair price, but $65 more than a Chromecast) turned me off. I went with a Chromecast instead. The gaming feature is nice, but I have a new PS4 and have no need for a cheap secondary console.

posted on 07 Apr 2014, 10:58

2. bestmvno (Posts: 175; Member since: 07 Mar 2014)


In what way does it support DD+? The roku 3 allows passing of DD+ signals to a DD+ capable receiver so I'm not sure the Fire is the only box to support DD+.

posted on 07 Apr 2014, 11:48

3. UglyFrank (Posts: 580; Member since: 23 Jan 2014)


Would've expected an S800 since that is what they use in their tablets.

posted on 07 Apr 2014, 20:45

4. downphoenix (Posts: 2415; Member since: 19 Jun 2010)


It is half the price of the tablets, so that probably has something to do with it.

I wish there was more Chromecast app support, because I am thinking that something like this or the Roku feels needed even though I already have a Chromecast, due to its lack of apps that support it.

posted on 12 Apr 2014, 12:03

5. alinuxer (Posts: 1; Member since: 12 Apr 2014)


I had a chromecast and I did get the Amazon Fire TV, the Fire TV is way easier to use and setup to get American channels such as US Netflix , Hulu Plus and the likes ... see thevpn.guru/unblock-american-channels-amazon-fire-​tv

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