Two years after the launch of its top-tier streaming stick, the 4K Max, Amazon is back with an updated second-generation version. It’s a bit faster, a bit more powerful, the WiFi is a bit stronger… you get the drift.
Don’t get me wrong – the Fire TV Stick 4K Max is still the best streaming stick Amazon produces (the Fire TV Cube notwithstanding, as it’s much more expensive), and with the 2nd Generation 2023 version, the best got slightly better.
But is a new 2.0Ghz CPU, WiFi 6E support and bigger storage (16GB over 8GB) enough to justify an upgrade? There are also a few new software tricks (primarily the somewhat questionable Ambient Experience – see more on that below), but all in all, this is very much an update rather than an upgrade.
Which is exactly what I said two years ago about the original Max – when compared to the original Fire Stick 4K. So, have streaming sticks reached their peak? Let’s dig into the new 4K Max…
Quick Look – Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max (2nd Gen)
What is it: The 2023 version of Amazon’s top-tier 4K/HDR streaming stick, with a very wide variety of apps and streaming services and an Alexa-based voice remote. Price when reviewed: £69.99.
Interface / Usage
Value for Money
- Even more fast and powerful than before
- Most of the major UK streaming apps supported
- Excellent 4K/HDR picture quality
- Dolby Vision, HDR10+, HLG and Dolby Atmos support
- Fire TV interface still feels cluttered and confusing
- Full of ads, sponsored content and Prime Video promotions
- New ‘Ambient Experience’ feels like the right idea on the wrong device
Features and Specs
- Size: 108 x 30 x 14 mm mm
- Video: Ultra HD 4K / HDR, HDR10+, HLG, Dolby Vision, AV1
- Audio: Up to Dolby Atmos
- Processor: Quad-core 2GHz MT8696T (GPU 850MHz)
- Storage: 16GB
- Apps: Netflix, Prime Video, Disney+, NOW, Apple TV, BBC iPlayer, ITVX, Channel4, My5, YouTube, Paramount+ and thousands more
- Connections: HDMI, Micro-USB (For power and optional Ethernet adapter)
- WiFi: Wi-Fi 6E tri-band: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/ax (2.4 GHz, 5 GHz and 6 GHz)
- Extra Features: Alexa Voice remote with TV volume controls, ‘Ambient Experience’ with on-screen widgets
It’s the best Fire TV Stick from Amazon, with excellent picture quality, very speedy operation and the Fire TV’s vast app support. The interface throws everything but the kitchen sink at you – including adverts. All in all, it’s only a minor upgrade from the original 4K Max stick, but if you’re in the market for an Amazon streamer – you might as well get the best one.
Table of Contents
Who Is The Amazon Fire TV 4K Max (2nd Gen) For?
First, there was the Amazon Fire TV box, released more than ten years ago. Then the sticks replaced the boxes. Then, in 2018, the Fire TV 4K Stick came along, and was one of the best portable streaming devices of its time.
Then, in 2021, instead of upgrading the 4K Stick to a new version – Amazon decided to add a fourth flavour – and released the Fire TV 4K Max, which was a slightly more powerful version of the 4K Stick, with a better CPU, improved WiFi support (WiFi 6) – and, of course, a higher price point.
Now, in 2023, Amazon is back with the second generation of the Fire TV Stick 4K Max (along with a second generation 4K Stick – which makes things even more confusing), and it’s the same story all over again – a better CPU, improved WiFi support (WiFi 6E), and a few new software tricks.
If you’re already a seasoned Fire TV user, your first question would probably be – what’s new on the Fire TV Stick 4K Max? So let’s start with that…
Fire TV Max Sticks Comparison
|Feature||Fire TV Stick 4K Max (2nd Gen)||Fire TV Stick 4K Max (1st Gen)|
|Processor||Quad-core, CPU 2.0GHz, GPU 850MHz||Quad-core CPU 1.8GHz, GPU 750MHz|
|Fire TV Ambient Experience||Yes||No|
|Supported Video||Dolby Vision, plus HDR, HDR 10, HDR 10+, HLG||Dolby Vision, plus HDR, HDR 10, HDR 10+, HLG|
|Picture Quality||Supports 4K Ultra HD||Supports 4K Ultra HD|
|Wi-Fi Support||Wi-Fi 6E||Wi-Fi 6|
|Hands-Free with Alexa||No||No|
|Audio Support||Dolby Atmos||Dolby Atmos|
|Storage||16 GB||8 GB|
|Remote Included||Alexa Voice Remote Enhanced||Alexa Voice Remote|
|Alexa Home Theatre||Yes||Yes|
|OS||FireOS 8||Fire OS 7|
As you can see from the chart – there isn’t a world of difference between the 1st gen and the 2nd gen – not on paper, and not in real life (and I’ve been using it for a few weeks now).
So if you’re looking for reasons to upgrade from the first Max to the new Max – you won’t find many.
It’s still the best Fire TV Stick, though. But do you even need a streaming stick these days?
With almost every TV being ‘Smart’ now (and even Amazon has its own share of Fire TV television sets), it’s a valid question.
But there are still reasons a stand-alone streaming device like the Amazon Fire TV Stick is better than a Smart TV: for one, TV interfaces are often very slow and annoying to use.
After all, TV manufacturers are experts in building TVs – not in designing streaming software and app menus.
Furthermore, when the TV gets old, its manufacturer often abandons its software – and you will no longer get app updates, with newer streaming services missing from your TV (we saw a great example of this when many devices lost access to ITV Hub and ITVX).
So yes, that MAY happen with a streaming stick as well (though it’s not as common) – but it’s so much easier to get a new, cheap stick – than to replace your whole TV.
And, as mentioned, it’s also about speed: anyone who tried to use a low-cost Smart TV knows how slow and excruciating it can be to find that Netflix app and run it. And then try to switch over to Disney+, or install a new app.
The 4K Max 2nd Gen is the most powerful Amazon streaming stick, with a Quad-core 2GHz processor and 2GB of RAM.
This translates to a super-swift interface. When you move between menus and thumbnails on the 4K Max, things are so swift, it feels like you’re using a brand new smartphone, and not like a clunky TV interface.
Apps are also very quick to load, and it’s all a joy to use – at least in terms of how fast and responsive everything is.
Now, is it faster than the previous 4K Max? Technically yes, but in real-life usage, you won’t really notice it. It was fast before, and it’s fast now.
You will notice the difference, however, between the Max (either 1st or 2nd gen) and a slow Smart TV, or even Amazon’s own Fire TV Stick Lite.
And lastly, with this being a Fire TV device, you’ll find an app for almost every streaming service out there, as well as other media players, utilities and even games (see our list of recommended Fire TV Apps here) – which is not something you can say about most Smart TVs that don’t use the Fire TV OS or Roku OS.
Setting Up The Fire TV Stick 4K Max (2nd Gen)
The Fire TV stick itself now has a new, more rounded design.
In the box, you’ll find everything you need to start using the 4K Max 2nd Gen: The power adapter, a Micro-USB cable (yes, we’re still with Micro-USB), an HDMI Extender (in case there’s not enough room behind your TV to connect the stick directly), batteries for the remote and the stick itself.
The 4K Max 2nd Gen comes with the Alexa “enhanced” voice remote, which now has 3 app shortcut buttons, and a button that opens the ‘Apps’ screen.
The new remote also includes a dedicated Channels Up/Down button, aimed at Live TV – but with the Live TV experience on the Fire TV being so limited in the UK (for now, at least), you won’t get much use out of that button.
The remote also has a new “Recent” button that lets you go easily to the last app / channel you were watching, and a “Settings” shortcut button.
As before, the remote also has dedicated TV buttons, so you can use the Fire TV remote to control the volume (as well as turn the TV on and off along with the Fire TV).
And of course, there’s the blue ‘Alexa’ button, which lets you use Amazon’s excellent voice assistant – you can use it to search for content (“Show me movies with Tom Cruise”), ask questions (“How’s the weather?” – which will show you the forecast on your TV’s screen), and control your Smart Home devices.
The power adapter and Micro-USB-to-USB cable are used to power the device via a wall socket. Some streaming sticks can get enough power from your TV’s USB port (if you have one) – but in this case, Amazon recommends you connect the 4K Max 2nd Gen to a power socket, as it needs more power than most TVs can provide.
When you first turn the Max on, you’ll need to connect it to the internet. The simplest option is to use WiFi. Alternatively, you can use an Ethernet cable to connect the stick directly to your router – but for that, you would need to buy the optional Fire TV Ethernet adapter.
The previous Fire TV 4K Max was the first Firestick to support WiFi 6 – a faster and more stable wireless internet standard. The 2nd Gen Max is the first Firestick to support WiFi 6E, which is – you guessed it – a faster and more stable wireless internet standard.
The catch is – again – that your router also has to support WiFi 6E – and most routers provided by ISPs in the UK do not even support WiFi 6 at this point, let alone WiFi 6E.
Furthermore, as I’ve said before about WiFi 6 – it’s kind of unneeded in most cases (for a Fire TV device), and that’s doubly true for WiFi 6E.
Unless you have a very problematic WiFi situation at home (such as a lot of high-bandwidth devices and thick walls between the device and the router) – older WiFi should be perfectly fine, even for Ultra HD (4k) streams.
That being said, future-proofing a device is never a bad idea – but it’s certainly not the sole reason to upgrade for most people, at least for now.
For the next step of the installation, you will be asked to log in to your Amazon account. Remember that while you don’t have to be an Amazon Prime subscriber in order to use the Fire TV Stick – you DO need to have an Amazon account.
After some lengthy software updates, you will have the option of setting up the TV buttons on the Firestick’s remote (volume up/down, mute and TV on/off).
As for the initial apps, if you’ve ever had another Fire TV model, you will be offered the option of downloading all your previously installed apps.
Otherwise, you can choose some “starter” apps to download (and BBC iPlayer is right there as a prominent suggestion, perhaps as an answer to the calls to make it more prominent on streaming devices).
Using The Amazon Fire TV 4K Max 2nd Gen
Remember what I said about Smart TVs and the speed difference? That’s the first thing you’ll notice if you’re coming from a Smart TV or from a much older streaming stick.
Everything is swift, and streaming apps load up within a few seconds. And when you browse between the various tiles, every button press reacts instantly, and you don’t feel as if you’re using a computer from 20 years ago.
Is the new 4K Max noticeably better than the first model or the original 4K Stick? In daily use, not so much. Although formal speed tests might show a slight improvement in how quickly apps open- maybe a couple of seconds faster – it’s not a difference you’re likely to detect in regular use.
As before, the picture quality on the 4K Max 2nd Gen is excellent. It supports all the major HDR and video formats (including HLG, which is used by the BBC, and AV1 which is used by YouTube).
These days, picture quality really depends on your TV and your streaming service provider/broadband, but the Fire TV Max certainly doesn’t stand in the way if everything else in your setup is high-quality.
In terms of sound, it supports Dolby Atmos, which is probably the most popular high-end format these days.
The Fire TV Interface
In 2020, Amazon updated the Fire TV interface – and it hasn’t changed too much since then.
I can’t say I know anyone who is an avid fan of the Fire TV interface – as it’s certainly not one of the device’s strong points.
That being said, if you’re new to the Fire TV ecosystem, but you’ve used streaming apps (like Netflix or Prime Video) in the past – then the basic interface would look quite familiar, with rows of thumbnails that represent TV programmes, movies and apps – so basic usage is rather intuitive.
The Fire TV fully supports user profiles – not just for a specific streaming service, but for the entire device.
So every person in your house can set a different profile – and get personalized recommendations, watchlists and a watch history that fits their personal tastes.
The top part of the home screen is where you’ll see content recommendations (often from Amazon’s services), along with sponsored messages and content.
The middle section of the interface holds the Main Menu, with a search function, the home screen, and a “Live” tab which is still, years after its launch, pretty barren in the UK, with support for ITV’s live channels, a few FAST (ad-supported) streaming channels, and… that’s about it (even Channel 5, which used to support this, disappeared for some reason).
To the right, you’ll see a few “Favourite” apps you can set up – for those you access regularly.
Now, look closely under that main menu on my screenshot. Do you see something about cat food? Yes, that’s a banner ad. And yes, you’re going to see quite a few banners, adverts, sponsored content and all sorts of promotional material on your paid-for streaming device from Amazon.
This has long been the case with the Fire TV devices (and Roku is not free from this either) – but it seems things are getting worse, with adverts and promotions taking up vast amounts of space. It can be quite frustrating to purchase a device only to have a significant portion of its interface taken up by ads.
Beneath the main menu (and the ad) is where things get somewhat confusing. Instead of showing you the most used apps, for example – you start getting a mishmash of peculiar content recommendations, Prime Video / Freevee (both owned by Amazon) promotions, sponsored content, and more.
Furthermore, content from services you’re subscribed to is mixed with content from services you would need to pay more for.
As before, Amazon’s own Prime Video content takes centre stage (even if you don’t have a Prime subscription), and app icons are scattered all over the place (good luck finding a streaming service you haven’t used for a while – or, confusingly, even some you did).
Like other leading streaming devices, the Fire TV wants to be your one-stop-shop for choosing what to watch. Therefore, you can search for a show within the Fire TV interface – and then, if you pick it from within Fire TV, it will load the appropriate app and start playing it directly.
Furthermore, it will now create a row with shows you’ve recently watched – from a variety of streaming apps – so you can jump back in without having to remember which service/app that show was on.
That’s very nice and well in theory – but doesn’t work all that well in practice – mainly because your watch status doesn’t sync between many of the apps and the Fire TV.
So, for example, I’m on episode 4 of Our Flag Means Death on BBC iPlayer. And happily, the Fire TV shows me that show on the “Recently Watched” row.
But when I choose Our Flag Means Death on that row, it loads up BBC iPlayer… with Episode 1 of the show. But I’m on Episode 4!
The same goes for Justified: Primeval City, which I was watching on Disney+. It’s cute to have it show up on the Recently Watched show – but it’s totally unhelpful to have Disney+ load up with Episode 1, even though I’m now on Episode 5.
Until the Fire TV can manage to sync your watch status from the various services – and not just the names of the shows – this feature is almost useless.
All in all, I always say that if you compare the Fire TV’s interface to Google TV’s Chromecast interface, or even Sky’s Glass / Stream interface (not to mention Roku, which has a very streamlined, even conservative interface that mostly just shows apps) – then the the Fire TV feels like a streaming interface that blew up, with all icons, apps, adverts and recommendations just scattered randomly on your screen.
One plus, however, is the excellent voice control (you activate Alexa by pressing the blue button on the remote) – with it, you can simply skip a lot of the interface’s woes, and simply TELL the device what it is you want to do or watch.
Instead of searching for the Netflix tile – simply say “Alexa, open Netflix”, or even tell it to play a specific show directly.
The Fire TV Apps
The Amazon Fire TV line has been around for years, so you’ll find a huge selection of apps to install (see my Fire TV App recommendations here).
From popular UK catch-up services like BBC iPlayer, ITVX, Channel 4 and others, to American streaming giants like Netflix, Apple TV+, Paramount+ and Disney+, as well as local streaming services like Sky’s NOW.
You’ll also find some of the popular music apps like Spotify, Amazon Music and Deezer, and there’s also the Plex app, which you can use to stream videos and music from a local desktop computer.
Also, the Amazon Fire TV also supports VPN apps – which are useful for privacy, as well as for things like watching American streaming services in the UK.
The Fire TV Ambient Experience
The Fire TV Ambient Experience, which was first introduced on Amazon’s Omni Fire TV QLED series, is a feature that aims to transform your television into more than just a screen for watching shows and movies.
The Fire TV 4K Max 2nd Gen is the first stick to support this (though this feels like a software ‘bonus’ – I can’t see why this can’t be added to the new 4K non-Max Firestick).
With Ambient Experience, when not in use, your TV can display a variety of high-quality artworks (more than 2,000 gallery-quality photos), essentially turning it into an in-home art gallery.
Beyond artwork, the Ambient Experience also provides glance-able information such as calendars and reminders, in the form of widgets.
You can use these widgets to check the weather, leave Sticky Notes for family members and even control smart home devices like cameras, lights, or a Ring doorbell directly from the TV screen.
The feature is activated by asking Alexa or holding down the “Home” or “Alexa” buttons on the remote when the TV is not in use.
So yes, basically this is a glorified screen saver with widgets. But is it any good?
First, with this potentially showing up on your main TV, you need to be careful with what you let it show. It can be somewhat embarrassing to have Aunt Edna come and visit, only for your Fire TV to show your calendar right there on the TV, where it says “Annoying Edna Visit, 10:30am”, or “Proctologist Appointment, 3:45pm”.
But what’s worse, is that even though this aims to mimic Amazon’s Echo Show screens, with useful information and widgets – there are currently two major software issues.
First, when the Ambient Experience kicks in – it takes you out of the show you were watching.
So you press Pause to go bring some popcorn from the kitchen, then after 5 minutes Ambient Experience loads up automatically (you can control the length of time) – and when you try to exit it, you’re often back to the main menu of the streaming app you were in, instead of the Pause screen (or even worse – it sometimes takes you out of the app completely, and back to Fire TV main menu).
The even bigger annoyance is that the Fire TV has a ‘Low Power Mode’ that aims to save power. If you don’t use the Fire TV for a set amount of time – it will go into that low-power mode, and stop broadcasting anything to your TV – and that includes the Ambient Experience.
So, for the moment at least, you can’t leave those widgets and artwork on the screen for more than 20 minutes or so – as the Fire TV simply turns itself off, and there’s no way (for now at least) to control or cancel that low-power mode.
The bottom line? I only rarely see the Ambient Experience screen. And even if you turn it on manually – it will STILL turn itself off after a set (and short) amount of time.
So while this was a great idea for an Echo Show device, that has an always-on screen, it currently doesn’t work as well on a Fire TV stick that’s connected to a 3rd party TV.
The Bottom Line – Is The Fire TV Stick 4K Max 2nd Gen Good?
I’ve said it in 2021, and I’ll say it again – the Fire TV 4K Max is an excellent streaming device, and the new 2nd generation is even (a bit) better.
It’s fast, it supports almost every streaming app in existence, and it comes with Amazon’s useful voice assistant built-in.
Is it better than a Smart TV? Yes, in many cases. But if you have a fairly new Smart TV, and the interface is decent, you don’t HAVE to run off and buy a streaming stick.
And there’s certainly no reason to upgrade if you already have the previous Fire TV 4K Max.
However, if you DO want to buy the best streaming stick, the last question you need to ask yourself is about the interface: if you want something very simple and straightforward that just leads you to your favourite streaming apps – you might be better off with the Roku streaming devices (although their 4K streaming stick is not AS powerful as the Fire TV 4K Max).
But if you want something a bit more complex, that tries to recommend content, lets you “tinker” with things, and supports a somewhat wider variety of apps (especially Smart Home apps, browsers and VPN) – then the Fire TV line is a better fit. And let’s not forget Alexa, which is still the personal voice assistant to beat.
The last bit is whether to buy the Max or the 4K stick – well, that depends on the price. Normally, the Max is just £10 more than the 4K stick, and for £10, I would just go with “the best”.
However, if you find a deal on the new 4K stick, which is frequently discounted, and the price gap widens, it might be worth saving the extra money. In everyday use, you’re unlikely to notice substantial differences between the two models.
Note: The Fire TV 4K Max was supplied by the manufacturer for this review. As always, this did not influence my unbiased opinion of the product.