Streaming device manufacturers like Amazon, Google and Roku are faced with a problem these days: how do you innovate in a market where customers are already getting everything they want, more or less?
In comes the new Fire TV Stick 4K Max: It’s an upgraded (or rather, updated) version of Amazon’s Fire TV Stick 4K: It’s got a more powerful CPU, WiFi 6 support, more RAM… which basically means it’s faster than the original Firestick 4K. A bit.
Is that enough for a new “Max” model? Should Firestick 4K owners upgrade? And which Fire TV Stick should you get if you’re just starting out (there are now FOUR separate Firesticks!). That’s what I’ll try to answer in this in-depth UK review of the 4K Max.
Quick Look – Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max
What is it: Amazon’s newest 4K/HDR streaming stick, with a very wide variety of apps and streaming services and an Alexa-based voice remote
Interface / Usage
Value for Money
- Very fast and powerful (Compared to other Firesticks)
- Most of the major UK streaming apps supported
- Excellent 4K/HDR picture quality
- Dolby Vision, HDR10+, HLG and Dolby Atmos support
- The new Fire TV interface is cluttered and confusing
- Auto-playing noisy ads
- Feels like a minor upgrade
Features and Specs
- Size: 108 x 30 x 14 mm
- Video: Ultra HD 4K / HDR, HDR10+, HLG, Dolby Vision, AV1
- Audio: Up to Dolby Atmos
- Processor: Quad-core 1.8GHz MT 8696
- Storage: 8GB
- 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 power and optional Ethernet adapter)
- Extra Features: Alexa Voice remote with TV volume controls, WiFi 6 support (requires WiFi 6 router)
It’s the best Fire TV Stick from Amazon, with excellent picture quality, very speedy operation (though its interface is an acquired taste), and the Fire TV’s vast app support. It’s only a minor upgrade from the original 4K 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 For?
The original Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K came out way back in 2018 – that’s a long time in tech years, and yet – it is still one of the best portable streaming devices out there.
The first question many people ask me these days, is whether you even need a streaming stick, when most TVs are now “Smart” and come with their own streaming apps.
It’s a valid question, but there are several 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, the TV manufacturer is an expert 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.
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.
But let’s get back to the speed: standalone streaming devices are often miles ahead of Smart TVs in terms of speed. So with that being a major selling point, it’s also the major thing the new Fire TV 4K Max stick brings to the table.
The 4K Max is the most powerful Amazon streaming stick, with a Quad-core 1.8GHz processor (compared to 1.7GHz on the original 4K Firestick). There’s also more RAM – 2GB, compared to 1.5GB.
This translates to a super-fast 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 powerful 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.
Plus, this being the Fire TV, 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).
So, you can’t really go wrong with the 4K Max. But is Amazon’s Fire TV ecosystem the best one out there? And should you upgrade if you already have another stick? Let’s dig in deeper.
Setting Up The Fire TV Stick 4K Max
In the box, you’ll find everything you need to start using the 4K Max: the Alexa voice remote (it comes with the 2021 remote version, which has four app shortcut buttons), a power adapter and mini-USB cable, 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.
At 108 x 30 x 14 mm, The 4K Max stick looks identical to the original 4K stick, though both are a bit chunkier than the HD-only version of the Fire TV Stick.
The power adapter and Mini-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 to a power socket, as it needs more power than many TVs can provide.
When you first turn the 4K Max on, you will 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 Fire TV 4K Max is the first Firestick to support WiFi 6 – a faster and more stable wireless internet standard. The catch is that your router also has to support WiFi 6 – and most routers provided by ISPs in the UK do not support WiFi 6 at this point.
The thing is – while WiFi 6 might be good for future-proofing the 4K Max, it’s kind of unneeded in this case. 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) – regular WiFi should be perfectly fine, even for Ultra HD (4k) streams.
In any case, the Firestick 4K Max’ WiFi is backwards compatible with regular WiFi, so no issues there.
Moving forward, you will be asked to log in to your Amazon account. If you buy the Fire TV on Amazon, for yourself, it can come with your account already set up on the device.
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 I connected my account, the 4K Max started downloading and installing software updates. That… took a while – almost 10 minutes, to be exact – and that’s on a device that was only released a few weeks ago.
It’s a one-time thing, and future updates would probably be minor and take less time – but you might as well go and make yourself a cuppa while the 4K Max is updating itself.
Next, you will have the option of setting up the TV buttons on the Firestick’s remote (volume up/down, mute and TV on/off).
Thankfully, it doesn’t even need to know your TV’s manufacturer or model – the 4K Max does this magically, simply by pointing the remote at your TV, and letting the on-screen prompts know whether the volume buttons are working.
Finally, 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 then – right before the main menu finally came up – I got an ad. An offer to join Amazon’s Kids+ programme:
It might be useful for some, but that ad was a sign of things to come in the Fire TV’s interface…
Using The Amazon Fire TV 4K Max
As mentioned, the first thing you’ll notice (especially if you’re coming from a Smart TV), is how fast everything is.
I haven’t had a major problem with the standard Fire TV’s speed. And the original Fire TV 4K was also fast enough. But it’s only when you move UP, that you notice that things can get even better – which they do here.
Apps only took seconds to load (though there’s a bit of a trick here – as according to AFTVNews, the Firestick is preloading Netflix in the background, to make it load even faster), and 4K films never stuttered.
The powerful processor also brings with it a neat “Live View” Picture-in-Picture feature – it means you can watch video streams from smart devices you own – such as Amazon’s Ring Video Doorbell or security cameras – in a window, without interrupting your TV viewing.
As expected, the picture quality on the 4K Max 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). And in terms of sound, it supports Dolby Atmos, which is probably the most popular high-end format these days.
What you get from these video and audio formats depends on your TV and soundbar, of course – but the Fire TV 4K Max gives your audio-visual equipment the best starting point for perfect picture and sound quality.
The Fire TV Interface
After several years with the same interface, the Fire TV’s UI was overhauled last year. The 4K Max already comes with this new interface (as do all of the newer Fire TV devices).
If you’re familiar with the older Fire TV interface, the changes won’t be major – the look is a bit different, there are new content recommendations and a few sections (like the Find/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 look quite familiar, with rows of thumbnails that represent TV programmes, movies and apps.
The Fire TV now fully supports user profiles – not just for Prime Video (as it did before) – but for the whole device and its operating system.
This means that 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 has a new Main Menu, right at the centre, that gives you fast access to the most important sections:
- Home – which brings you back to the main screen
- Find – which is the new search screen
- Live – a new section that consolidates apps and Prime Video channels that offer live broadcasts. It’s a nice idea – but very limited in the UK for now, because most of the live UK channels aren’t directly supported yet (except for Channel 5, as of this writing).
- App List: Quick access to your most-used apps (and you can already see IMDb TV there – the new free streaming service from Amazon).
Beneath the main menu bar, you will find content recommendations, “Continue Watching” and additional content categories.
Fire TV Apps
The Amazon Fire TV line has been around for years, so you’ll find a huge selection of apps to install.
From popular UK TV catch-up services like BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4 and others, to US streaming giants like Netflix, Apple TV+ and Disney+, as well as local streaming services like NOW and BritBox.
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.
At this point, the Fire TV probably has the widest streaming apps support (with fierce competition from Roku).
And unlike the Roku devices, the Amazon Fire TV supports VPN apps – which are useful for privacy, as well as for things like watching American streaming services in the UK.
That being said, as with previous models, the Fire TV’s 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 front and centre, 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 very confusing.
So you might see a TV show you’re interested in – and then discover it’s part of a service you’re not even subscribed to.
All in all, the new interface does a decent job of showing you varied content from all over – but most of us aren’t subscribed to ALL the streaming services in the UK, and it all becomes very confusing very fast.
Furthermore, as if the interface isn’t cluttered enough – it’s also riddled with banner ads – either to other Amazon services, 3rd party streaming devices or movies.
And when you glance over one of those banners with your remote – it starts auto-playing a video ad – with the sound on (you can turn auto-play off for content thumbnails – but not for adverts). I can’t tell you how many times I was rattled late at night with an auto-playing advert…
Personally, I mostly find myself browsing the new interface only when I want to watch something that I know is part of Prime Video. Otherwise, I simply jump straight into the app I’m looking for – be it Netflix, Disney+, etc.
But even finding those apps (if they’re not in your short favourites list) can be cumbersome. Thankfully, the voice search works well – so I often find myself using it to find the app I want to load.
Using The Alexa Voice Remote
The Alexa Voice Remote that comes with the 4K Max 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.
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.
There’s also a “Live TV” button that sends you directly to the Fire TV’s not-so-useful-for-now ‘Live’ tab, which provides a limited TV guide that’s made up of supported apps that have live broadcasts – such as Channel 5 or Amazon’s own sports broadcasts.
And at the bottom, there are four shortcuts buttons – you can’t change those buttons (as Amazon presumably gets paid for them) – so they’re only useful if you’re a customer of those four services.
The remote is fairly easy to use, and the navigation circle is easy to master (though it’s NOT a touch-pad). The “Home” button will always take you back to the Fire TV’s main screen, and the Back button is similar to the one on Android devices, and is useful for going back a step.
Having Amazon’s voice assistant, Alexa, be part of the Fire TV Stick is a nice touch. Unlike an Echo device, however (or the costly Fire TV Cube) you can’t just start talking – you need to press the remote’s Voice button first (and keep it pressed while you’re talking).
Then, you can “tell” the Fire TV things like “Play The Expanse“, and the device will start playing the next episode you have queued up on Prime Video. You can ask to “Search for movies with Tom Holland”, and you’ll get a selection on the screen.
If a movie is available on more than one of your apps – both on Prime Video and on Netflix, for example – you’ll get to choose which app to open it in.
And as you’re watching, you can say things like “Rewind 20 seconds”, or even jump to a certain point in the film.
You’ll quickly notice that, again, the best Alexa integration is with Amazon’s Prime Video service. It DOES work with some of the other video apps, but it’s not always perfect. Still, it’s nifty to say “Play music by ABBA on YouTube”, and have it load the YouTube app with the correct search results.
The Fire TV 4K Max also has some (limited) Alexa functionality. Just like an Echo, you can ask it trivia questions, you can ask for the weather, and you can control compatible “Smart Home” devices (such as a WiFi smart plug).
It’s not as hands-free as an Echo (since you need to hold the Alexa button), and it’s sometimes annoying to find out a certain Alexa function isn’t supported – but it’s a useful feature if you don’t have an Echo device.
And, thanks to the 4K Max’ powerful processor, Alexa is also quite swift, and you get your answers faster than you did on older Fire TV sticks.
If you DO have an Amazon Echo device, you can pair it with the Fire TV, and then truly control it hands-free, by telling the Echo device to turn on the TV, Firestick, and run Netflix, for example.
Fire TV 4K Max VS Fire TV 4K
We have a dedicated page the compares the specs of the four Fire TV Stick models – but its closest relative is of course the original Fire TV 4K.
The 4K Max isn’t a major upgrade: it’s mostly about speed and power (and WiFi 6, which has limited reach for now).
Is the 4K Max faster to use than the older 4K? Yes. Is it a major difference, something that will warrant an upgrade from the 4K to 4K Max, for existing users? No.
But if you’re in the market for a new one, it’s a tougher question. Normally, the 4K Max only costs £5 more than the regular 4K – so for a fiver, it’s a no brainer.
But those £5 are not very accurate – as the original Fire TV 4K is almost constantly on sale, and you can often find it for £10 or even £20 less than its regular price.
So I’ll say this – if you need a 4K device and you want to pay as little as possible, wait for a Fire TV 4K sale, and grab the cheaper version. It’ll be good enough.
But if you don’t mind paying a bit more – the 4K Max does provide a smoother experience, and it’s a bit more future-proof, as perhaps future OS upgrades WOULD require the Max’ faster processor.
Plus, if Amazon’s cloud gaming service – Luna – ever comes to the UK, it will likely work better on the more powerful 4K Max.
The Bottom Line – Is The Fire TV Stick 4K For Me?
The Fire TV 4K Max is an excellent streamer – there’s no question about that. 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. 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 – especially if all you want is to watch some Netflix here and there.
If you DO want the best, 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 app – you should check out The Roku streaming devices.
But if you want something a bit more complex, that tries to aggregate content from a variety of streaming apps, and tries to recommend stuff it things you’re going to like – then the Fire TV 4K is the better choice for you.
All in all – you can’t go wrong with the 4K Max – especially if you’re trying to become an “advanced” streaming TV user.
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.