he Amazon Fire TV line of streamers has been dominating the market since the launch of the first Fire TV box, back in 2014 – and for good reason.
The latest incarnation, the Fire TV Stick 4K, continues to demonstrate why this is such a popular streamer – with most of the major UK streaming apps, a speedy interface, ALEXA voice assistant capabilities, and support for 4K and HDR, it’s the streamer to beat. But is it worth the extra price you pay for 4K, and can a stick compete with the older full-sized streaming boxes?
In this Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K review, I take a look at the pros and cons of this slick device, and whether this is indeed the device for YOU.
Amazon Fire TV 4K - Quick Look
Who Is It For: Anyone looking for a top-of-the-line streaming device, at a very affordable price.
Features And Specs
- Size: 108 mm x 30 mm x 14 mm, 53.6g
- Video Quality: 4K (2160p), Dolby Vision, HDR10+
- Audio: Dolby Atmos, 7.1 surround sound
- Processor: Quad-core 1.7 GHz
- Storage: 8GB
- Apps: Netflix, BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4, Demand 5, Apple TV, YouTube, VPN, Games and thousands of others
- Connections: HDMI, MiniUSB (for Power or Ethernet adapter)
- Extra Features: Control via Alexa voice remote.
An excellent streaming device with exceptional picture and sound quality and a fast, easy to use interface. With most of the leading UK streaming apps, and the Alexa Voice Assistant built into the remote, you will be hard-pressed to find a better streamer at this – or any – price point.
Table of Contents
Who is the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K For?
The latest Amazon Fire TV 4K Stick is a small(ish) stick that connects directly to your TV’s HDMI port – and to the internet. Then, by installing apps (see our list of must-have Firestick apps), you can use it to stream content directly to your TV – from Netflix to Amazon Prime Video and local channels like BBC iPlayer. You can also install an app like Plex, which lets you stream your own content directly from your computer at home.
If you bought a telly in recent years, there’s a good chance it came with “Smart” features. So you might already have a Netflix app and a couple of the others (Amazon Prime Video / YouTube / etc’), and you’re wondering whether there’s any point in getting a dedicated streaming device. Hey, even some of the “traditional” pay-TV companies like Sky and Virgin Media now offer to add Netflix on some of their devices.
If you don’t have a “Smart TV” of any kind, and no other streaming devices – this should be a no brainer (Assuming you watch TV, that is). Even if you plan to keep your Sky/BT/Pay-TV subscription, for now, a good streamer like the Fire TV Stick adds a lot of content possibilities you simply can’t get with your cable/satellite subscription.
But the best use for such a device is to become a “Cord Cutter”, ditch those expensive cable bills, and just watch TV on demand. For that, the Fire TV is excellent, as it gives you a huge selection of content and snappy performance.
Even if you do have a “Smart TV”, however, those devices have a quite a few downsides – especially if you bought your telly a few years ago:
- Smart TVs are often painfully slow
- They’re sometimes buggy and don’t get frequent updates
- When the telly manufacturer wants you to buy a new one, they’ll sometimes abandon their “old” smart interface, and apps will stop working.
- The interface is often clunky and annoying to use
The Fire TV, however, has a very fast interface (thanks to a Quad-core 1.7 GHz processor), it gets updated constantly, and it adds features you won’t get from most TVs – such as the Alexa Voice Assistant.
Keep in mind though that even with a device like the Fire TV, there are no guarantees – as new models are released, you might find your device lagging behind in a few years. Still, it’s easier to upgrade and replace a cheap(ish) streaming stick, than it is to buy a whole new TV.
Setting up the Fire TV Stick 4K
The first thing I noticed when I opened the box, was how big the Fire TV Stick is. From the pictures, you might expect something similar to a USB stick – well, the shape is similar, but the Fire Stick is much heavier and bulkier than a regular USB stick.
At 108 mm x 30 mm x 14 mm and 53.6g, this isn’t really a stick to carry in your shirt pocket. And more to the point, if you have very limited room behind your TV, with cables running amok, you might find it difficult to connect the Fire TV 4K stick directly to your TV’s HDMI port.
Luckily, the box comes with an HDMI extender, which is a small HDMI cable that lets you connect the stick via the cable, instead of directly. The extender is quite short, however, so your stick is then likely to hang down behind your TV.
The box also comes with a power adapter, which you connect to the stick via a mini-USB cable. Yep, you do need to connect the stick to a power socket – the power from your HDMI port isn’t enough. (Though, if you wish, you can also buy a special USB Power Cable which will let you draw power for the Fire TV stick from a free USB port on your TV).
The last item in the box is the Alexa Voice Remote. It’s a Bluetooth remote (so you don’t need to point it at the device), with the Fire TV’s circular navigation button, the Home and Back buttons, and player controls. As with past models, the remote also has a Voice button, which you can press to talk to Amazon’s voice assistant – Alexa (more on that later).
The 4K model’s remote adds a few TV buttons as well (with Infrared capabilities), so you can use it to control your TV’s volume, and ON/OFF switch.
When you first connect the Fire Stick, you will need to connect it to the internet. The simplest option is to use WiFi (the 4K stick has a dual antenna and supports 802.11a/b/g/n/ac). If your TV is far from your broadband router, you might want to consider a WiFi range extender.
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 (and possibly a powerline adapter if your router is on a different floor).
While an Ethernet connection might be more stable, especially for streaming data-heavy 4K content, I saw great success with the WiFi alone. As long as your WiFi signal is strong, it should be enough in most cases.
Next, you will be asked to login to your Amazon account. If you buy the Fire TV on Amazon, for yourself, it’s supposed to come with your account already set up on the device -though that didn’t happen for me, for some reason. Do note that while you don’t have to be an Amazon Prime subscriber in order to use the Fire TV stick – you MUST have an Amazon account.
At this point you will have the option of setting up the TV buttons on the Fire stick’s remote. Devices in the past needed to know your TV model, or “learn” from your existing TV remote by pointing the two at each other – but the Fire TV Stick does this magically, simply by pointing the remote at your TV, and letting the on-screen prompts know whether the volume buttons are working. You will then be able to change the volume on your TV with the Fire TV stick remote, mute the volume, and turn the TV on and off.
Finally, you will be asked to choose some “starter” apps to download, from a list of some common apps – from Netflix to BBC iPlayer and the ITV hub.
Using the Amazon Fire TV 4K Stick
If you’ve ever used a streaming app on a TV device (such as Netflix), you’ll feel right at home with the Fire TV interface: rows and rows of squares that show either TV programmes, movies, or apps.
As with previous models of the Fire TV, Amazon puts their Prime Video content front and centre. While a Prime subscription is not required, having it be so prominent on the Fire TV screen, is a real push from Amazon towards you subscribing. (You’ll notice that once you go into the Prime Video app – and see how similar it actually looks to the Fire TV homescreen).
On the main Home Screen of the Fire TV, you’ll see a list of your most recently used apps/channels, and below that you’ll get rotating rows of recommended content and/or apps.
The nice thing about the Amazon Fire TV is that it’s been around for so long – and is so widely accepted – that you’ll find a huge selection of apps to install, and even games. From popular UK TV catch-up services like BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4 and others, to commercial services like Disney Life and TVPlayer. Two notable exceptions are NOW TV and BritBox – those two are nowhere to be found on Amazon’s app store. (though BritBox is supposed to be added soon).
Up until a few months ago, YouTube was another glaring omission from the Fire TV App store, due to a feud between Google and Amazon. Luckily, the two American giants kissed and made up, and YouTube is back on the Fire TV menu. You can easily login with your regular YouTube account, and watch your favourites – and you can also choose videos on your phone’s YouTube app and “cast” them to the Fire TV’s YouTube app.
And while there’s no direct support for content from the Google Play Store, there’s a workaround – you can purchase Google Play content on your phone/desktop, and then watch it via the YouTube app.
You’ll also find some of the popular music apps like Spotify, Amazon Music and Deezer – but sadly, no Apple Music or Google Play Music. There’s also a Plex app, which you can use to stream videos and music from a local desktop computer.
With an internal storage space of 8GB, you shouldn’t, in most cases, run into any space problems when installing apps – unless you install a large number of games.
Previous models of the Amazon Fire TV stick were notoriously slow, and apparently under-powered – which is one of the reasons I kept my old Fire TV set-top box for so long. But with a 1.7GHz quad-core processor, the Fire TV 4K Stick feels very snappy – apps are quick to load, and navigating the Fire TV’s native screens is practically instantaneous.
Using the remote is fairly easy, and the navigation circle is easy to master (though it’s NOT a touch-pad – it’s just a set of buttons shaped like a circle). 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 phones, and it useful for going back a step when using apps.
The TV volume control buttons are convenient, though they’re a bit oddly placed and require some fumbling in the dark. Additionally, because the remote is so small, the buttons are all close together – and I’ve accidentally pressed the Home button numerous times. It’s quite annoying, in the middle of a suspenseful movie, trying to lower the volume or pause the movie – and accidentally jumping out to the Fire TV’s home screen.
Using The Alexa Voice Remote
Having Amazon’s voice assistant, Alexa, be part of the Fire TV Stick is a new feature. Instead of using the remote to fumble through the interface and search for what you want to watch, you can just SAY it.
Unlike an Echo device, though, you can’t just start talking – you need to press the remote’s Alexa button first (and keep it pressed as you’re talking).
Then, you can “tell” the Fire TV things like “Play Outlander”, and the device will start playing the next episode you have queued up on Prime Video. You ask to “Search for movies with Tom Cruise”, and get all of those that are available on Prime Video.
You’ll quickly notice the best Alexa integration is, again, with Amazon’s Prime Video service. It DOES work with some of the other video apps – like Netflix and YouTube – but it’s not always perfect. Still, it’s nifty to say “Play music by Shawn Mendes on YouTube”, and have it load the YouTube app with the correct search results.
Furthermore, you can use your voice to control playback (“Pause”, “Rewind 30 seconds”, etc’) – though if you’re already holding the remote, you might as well… push the buttons.
The Fire TV also has some (limited) Alexa functionality. Just like an Echo, you can ask it trivia questions, you can ask about the weather, and you can control compatible “Smart Home” devices (such as a WiFi smart plug) if you have them around the house. It’s not as hands-free as an Echo (since you need to hold the Alexa button) – but it’s a useful feature if you don’t have an Echo device.
If you DO have an Amazon Echo device, you can pair it with the Fire TV, and then truly control it hands-free (I know you can just use the remote, but sitting on the couch, saying “Alexa, rewind 30 seconds” and see it get done on the TV screen, still feels like magic).
4K – HDR On The Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K
With 4K being part of the model’s name, you would expect it to work well – and it does. 4K content is still sparse (and is nowhere to be found on UK channels like the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 etc’) – but things are getting better, with 4K content constantly being added to Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and YouTube.
Keep in mind that some older tellies don’t support 4K on ALL their HDMI ports – so check where to connect the Fire TV to, first.
The Fire TV 4K Stick also supports all the current HDR systems – Dolby Vision, HDR and HDR10+, so you’re all set, no matter which TV you have or what content you’re watching.
All in all, the picture and sound quality are superb, especially when you’re watching 4K content, and there’s a good chance it’ll look even better than on your TV’s ‘native’ streaming apps.
Gaming On The Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K
When Amazon launched the Fire TV line, they put a lot of emphasis on its gaming functions. Since then, it seems the gaming capabilities of the device have been downplayed – maybe they realised it can’t really compete with a dedicated gaming machine.
Still, with the 4K version of the stick and the upgraded CPU, casual gaming is certainly on the table. Some games work with the remote, but if you’re planning to play games, you should get a game controller. Unfortunately, as of this writing Amazon don’t even sell their “official” game controller – but you can still find 3rd party game controllers for the Fire TV.
And you can see a list of compatible games here.
The Bottom Line – Is The Fire TV Stick 4K For Me?
The Fire TV 4K Stick is an excellent streamer – probably the best among the current crop of streamers. Whether you need it or not depends, as always, on your needs.
If you have a fairly recent Smart TV, and you’re satisfied with the apps that came with it (and the interface’s speed), then there’s no real reason to buy a dedicated streamer like the Fire TV stick.
But if you don’t have a Smart TV (or the one you have is not up to par), and you’re looking to join the Streaming Revolution – the 4K Stick represents both excellent performance and excellent value for money. Just remember it doesn’t have a NOW TV app.
But other than that – you probably won’t regret your purchase.