The Amazon Fire TV streaming devices are already at the top shelf of streamers in the UK, with a great combination of fast performance, very wide app support and excellent picture and audio quality. So, is there a way to improve things even better?
The Amazon Fire TV Cube (2nd generation) is currently the best Fire TV device out there, and possibly the best streaming device, period. It supports 4K streaming with Dolby Vision and HDR10+, Dolby Atmos sound, a powerful processor, and – a mini Echo/Alexa device built-in, with the ability to control your home entertainment kit with your voice.
Recently, Amazon even added webcam support to the Cube, so you can now make video calls via Zoom, right from your living room.
All these features come at a price, though (literally), and the Fire TV Cube normally costs more than double the price of the Amazon 4K Firestick. So, is it worth the extra pounds, and is it the best fit for everyone? Let’s find out in this review.
Quick Look – Amazon Fire TV Cube (2nd Gen)
What is it: Top of the line 4K streaming device with a very wide variety of apps and streaming services, and Echo/Alexa voice control with built-in microphones and a speaker.
Interface / Usage
Value for Money
- Very fast and powerful (with a hexa-core processor)
- Most of the major streaming apps supported
- Excellent 4K/HDR picture quality
- Dolby Vision, HDR10+, HLG and Dolby Atmos support
- Built-in Alexa functionality can control your entire home entertainment system
- Ethernet port (with the included adapter)
- The new Fire TV user interface is cluttered and confusing
- HDMI cable not included
Features and Specs
- Size: 86.1 x 86.1 x 76.9 mm
- Video Quality: Ultra HD 4K / HDR, HDR10+, HLG, Dolby Vision
- Audio: Dolby Atmos, 7.1 surround sound
- Processor: Hexa-core (Quad-core up to 2.2 GHz + Dual-core up to 1.9 GHz)
- Storage: 16GB
- Apps: Netflix, Prime Video, Disney+, NOW, Apple TV, BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4, Demand 5, YouTube, BritBox and thousands more
- Connections: HDMI, Micro-USB (For Ethernet or webcam), IR Extender
- Extra Features: Microphones and speakers for Alexa – control your devices with your voice
Possibly the fastest streaming device out there (for now), with excellent picture quality, speedy interface and the Fire TV’s vast app support. The addition of Alexa and voice control (without the need to use the remote) is something you get addicted to after a while. The high cost, however, puts a damper on things.
Table of Contents
Who Is The Amazon Fire TV Cube For?
It’s not hard to find a high quality and cheap(ish) streaming device these days – Amazon’s own Fire TV sticks are excellent, I’m a big fan of the Roku streaming devices as well, and of course, most TVs are “Smart” these days, with their own streaming apps.
So why would you need a streaming device that normally costs upwards of £100?
The Fire TV Cube makes a good case for itself: It’s possibly the fastest streaming device I’ve tested (and I never had any issues with the 4K Firestick’s speed – but it turns out things CAN get even slicker), it supports a vast array of streaming apps and services, and it provides excellent picture and sound quality.
But it’s the Alexa voice control capabilities that make the Cube unique and turn it into a complete home entertainment solution that can control your entire setup – from your TV to your soundbar, and even other “Smart” devices you have around the house (such as lamps and security devices/cameras).
The recently added Webcam and Zoom support even turn your TV into a video chatting hub, which is something very few devices do at this time.
All that being said, while the Cube can serve as a fully-fledged Echo/Alexa device (answering questions, setting up timers, controlling other devices), this isn’t a full replacement for a standard Echo device, because of its tiny speaker – especially if you plan to listen to music on your Echo device.
(Note: The Fire TV Cube we’re looking at is the 2nd generation of the Cube – it was released in 2019 (the first one came out in 2016), and it still holds its own and gets frequent updates).
Setting up the Fire TV Cube
In the box, you get the Alexa Voice remote (the older version, at least as of this writing – and not the 2021 remote with the app shortcut buttons), a USB-Ethernet adapter, and an Infrared (IR) extender, which is useful if you place your Cube away from your other devices, and still want to control them via Infrared.
Bizarrely, an HDMI cable is NOT included – a strange oversight for a device at this price range, but then again, if you don’t have one stuck in a drawer somewhere, you can get one for a few pounds these days.
And unlike some streaming devices that can draw power from your TV’s USB, the Cube needs a power socket, so it comes with a power adapter.
The first thing you’ll notice when you take the Cube out of its box, is how small it is – from the photos, you might think you’re getting a huge black box. But no, the Cube is quite small, and its shiny black colour makes it look quite futuristic (though it’s also a fingerprint magnet).
Connecting the Cube to the internet can be done in one of two ways – either via WiFi, or with an Ethernet cable, which is a rarity for streaming devices these days. You do, however, need to use the supplied Micro-USB-Ethernet adapter if you choose to go down that route.
Note that the Cube uses HDMI for all of its video/audio connections – there are no optical or analogue ports.
Next, you will be asked to log in to your Amazon account. If you buy the Cube directly from Amazon, it can come with your account already set up on the device (you don’t need to have a Prime subscription – but you must have an Amazon account to use the Cube).
The Cube will then download and install some software updates – this took more than 10 minutes when I first fired up the device, presumably because it doesn’t come pre-installed with the new Fire TV interface, so it has to download that as an update (but that may change in the future).
And since the Cube aims to control your whole home entertainment setup, it will also ask you questions about your other devices – your TV manufacturer, and your soundbar model (if you have one). You can later add more devices to control, via the Alexa connectivity.
Finally, if you’ve ever had other Fire TV devices, you can choose to install all your previously installed apps – or start from scratch (with a few pre-installed “starter” apps).
Using the Fire TV Cube
If you’re new to streaming devices, and have only used your TV’s “Smart” interface, you will be amazed by the Cube’s speed and how snappy the interface feels.
But even if you’ve used other dedicated streaming devices before – chances are you will still be impressed by the Cube’s speed and power.
The interface reacts instantly to every button press, and more impressively, apps (such as Netflix or Disney+) load up within a second or two.
The New Fire TV Interface
The interface on all Fire TV devices has looked the same for quite a few years until December 2020. At that point, a big change finally arrived, and the Fire TV Cube uses that new interface.
If you’re already familiar with the old Fire TV interface, the changes won’t feel too major – the look is a bit different, there are new content recommendations and a few sections (like the search function) have been improved.
If you’re new to the Fire TV ecosystem, but you’ve used streaming apps (like Netflix or Prime Video) in the past – then things would still like quite familiar, with rows of content thumbnails (movies and TV programmes) as well as apps.
One major new thing you’ll notice right away is that the Fire TV Cube now fully supports user profiles. Prime Video already had them for some time – but now the profiles are built into the Fire TV OS itself.
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 new Fire TV interface also has a new Main Menu, right at the centre, that gives you fast access to the most important sections:
- Library – with content you’ve purchased from Amazon
- Home – which brings you back to the main screen
- Find – the new search screen
- Live – a new section that consolidates apps and Prime Video channels that offer live broadcasts. It’s very limited for now, because most of the live UK channels aren’t directly supported yet.
- App List: Quick access to your most-used apps.
Beneath the main menu bar, you will find content recommendations, “Continue Watching” and additional content categories.
I’m not a big fan of this new interface: the Fire TV always felt a bit cluttered, and things have gotten worse with this new iteration.
Content from services you’re subscribed to is mixed with content from services you would need to pay more for, Amazon’s own Prime Video content takes centre stage (even if you don’t have a Prime subscription), 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).
That being said, with the Cube’s excellent voice control, you can simply skip a lot of the new interface’s woes, and simply TELL the device what it is you want to do or run.
Fire TV Apps
The Amazon Fire TV ecosystem has been around for years now, so you’ll find a very big library of supported apps and streaming services (see our list of recommended Fire TV apps).
From all the major UK TV broadcasters’ apps like BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4 and others, to US streaming giants like Netflix, Apple TV+ and Disney+, as well as UK-centric streaming services like NOW and BritBox.
You’ll also find all the big music streaming services (like Spotify and Amazon Music), and there’s also the Plex app, which you can use to stream videos and music from a local desktop computer or laptop.
At this point in time, the Fire TV probably has the widest range of streaming apps (with fierce competition from Roku).
That being said, as with every Fire TV device, the interface is HEAVILY slanted towards Amazon’s own Prime Video streaming service.
Most of the content categories you’ll see put content from Prime Video at the front, which is great if you ARE a subscriber – but annoying if you’re not.
Furthermore, while the new interface does try to mix in a bit more content recommendations from other services such as Netflix, it’s often impossible to tell, at a glance, where each content box is coming from – which makes things confusing.
All in all, the new interface does make a decent job of showing you varied content from a variety of services – but most of us aren’t subscribed to ALL the streaming services in the UK, and it all becomes very confusing very fast.
Another important (to some) app category is VPNs – and unlike the Roku devices, the Amazon Fire TV Cube DOES support VPN apps – which are useful for privacy, as well as for things like watching American streaming services in the UK.
Controlling The Fire Cube With Alexa
There are two distinct ways to control the Cube – with the remote, or with your voice (or a combination of both).
The Alexa Voice Remote that comes with the cube is a Bluetooth remote (so you don’t need to point it at the device), with a circular navigation button, Home / Back / Options buttons, player controls and TV volume controls.
- Update: Some Fire TV Cube editions now come with the newer Fire TV Remote, which also has the shortcut buttons.
On top, you will find a TV power on/off button, and the Voice button – which you can press to talk to Amazon’s voice assistant – Alexa.
However, unlike other Fire TV devices, the Cube doesn’t even need that button – since the Cube’s 8 microphones are always listening for your commands. Just say “Alexa”, and the Cube is ready for you.
And that’s a major change. Having to press a button on the remote (which you do on other Firesticks) to activate voice control is cumbersome. But when ALL you have to do is talk – this way of controlling the device soon becomes second nature.
You can use Alexa for almost everything the Cube can do: say things like “Alexa, Play The Witcher“, and the device will open Netflix and start playing the show.
If there are several options for a show you asked for – the Cube will show you all the options, and you get to choose by saying “Alexa, select number 3”.
You can also use your voice to control other devices via the Cube – “Alexa, turn on the TV” – and it’ll turn it on or off (assuming your TV is connected via HDMI and supports this functionality).
You can use your voice to turn the volume up or down, skip forward (or back) in a movie, or switch to a different device altogether (one that’s connected to your TV via HDMI).
And with this being an Alexa device, you can do a lot more things that aren’t related to TV – ask to hear (and see on the screen) the weather, ask trivia questions or control smart devices in your home. (So if you have a Ring doorbell, for example, you can see its camera feed on your TV screen).
And importantly, the Cube’s microphones were always able to catch my voice and commands – even when the TV (which is right next to it) was on and LOUDLY playing something.
Is it time to bin the remote? Probably not, as it’s still easier to just grab it and Pause when you need to, or scroll through TV programmes and content thumbnails by pressing the circular button.
But with time, I found myself doing more and more with the voice control commands. I’ll enter the room, turn on the TV, and start watching something on Prime Video – without having to touch the remote even once.
Not everything is perfect, though, especially where it comes to controlling 3rd party apps (as in – not Amazon). For example, when I said “Play Golden Girls“, the Cube did know to open Disney+, but instead of playing the next episode from my watchlist, it played Episode 1 – so it’s still a bit rough around the edges with some apps.
Since the Cube has a tiny speaker, it can’t quite replace a big Echo device (at least if, like me, you use it for playing music). So you might end up with TWO devices in your lounge. In that case, it’s a good idea to change the “wake” word for the Cube, from Alexa to Echo or Computer.
Zoom Video Chats On The Fire TV Cube
Recently, Amazon added webcam support to the Fire TV Cube – and, following that – a Zoom video conferencing app.
With video calls becoming so popular this past year, it’s surprising that so few devices let you do video calls on your TV. Now, thankfully, you can – with the Cube – though it does require some extra configuration, and a supported webcam.
To use the Zoom app, you need to connect a USB webcam directly to the Cube (it needs to support 720p and 30fps – so something like the Logitech C320 should do fine, though the higher the resolution – the better you would look).
As mentioned, the cube has a Micro-USB port, and since most webcams come with a full-size USB port, you would also need a MicroUSB to USB adapter.
Once everything’s connected, you can download the Zoom app, either directly from your Cube or via the Amazon app store.
Once installed, you can start and join Zoom video meetings either by using the remote – or with your voice, by saying “Alexa, join my Zoom meeting”.
Finding the right Zoom meeting to join can get a bit confusing – it depends on how integrated Zoom already is with your other tools. If Zoom is synced to your calendar, you can automatically join Zoom meetings that were already entered into your calendar.
If it’s a meeting you scheduled yourself (with others), it will also already appear on your Zoom screen on the Cube. And you can also use the remote (or voice) to enter the specific credentials or link for a Zoom call.
In my testing, the Zoom functionality was very good – though not perfect, and there are still some kinks here and there.
It’s certainly convenient to sit on your sofa while doing a Zoom call, and it’s especially useful if two or more people are sitting together (the entire family speaking with grandma, for example).
However, when I used my soundbar for the sound, Zoom got confused (perhaps due to the slight sound delay), and the microphone kept picking up the sound from my soundbar – so the people on the other end of the call kept hearing back an echo of themselves.
This was only fixed when I switched to using the Cube as the Zoom speaker (instead of my soundbar), but the Cube’s speaker is small and not very loud. Hopefully, this is something that can be fixed with a future software update.
All in all, this is a step in the right direction, and hopefully more video chat apps will be added to the Cube in the future.
Meanwhile, you can also use Amazon’s own Alexa app for video chatting, or for “dropping in” from another Amazon device/app somewhere in the house, to video chat with a person sitting in the living room (but the person sitting in front of the Cube needs to approve this, to avoid privacy concerns).
Bottom Line: Is The Fire TV Cube worth it?
If money is not an issue (or if the Cube happens to be on sale), this is a no brainer: it’s the best streaming device currently sold in the UK.
The ones “above” it (in terms of pricing), like the Apple TV and NVIDIA Shield, are too expensive for my tastes (and for what they offer). And the ones below it – like the Fire TV 4K and Roku Streaming Stick+ – are excellent streamers, but they don’t offer the full range of features the Cube offers.
If you’re buying your first-ever streaming device, the Cube might be overkill – both in terms of the price, and its features (which might end up being confusing for newbies).
But if you’re looking to upgrade, and if you’re heavily invested in streaming TV, and especially if you’re a fan of Amazon’s ecosystem (with Prime Video and Amazon’s other Echo or Ring devices) – then this is the perfect device to put in the middle of all that.
Note: The Fire TV Cube was supplied by the manufacturer for this review. As always, this did not influence my unbiased opinion of the product.