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Amazon Fire Stick Review: A Mostly Good Affair

This competitor to Google's Chromecast aces the hardware, but the interface needs improvement.

03/05/2017 7:42 PM IST | Updated 03/05/2017 7:42 PM IST
Beck Diefenbach / Reuters

When Amazon Prime was launched in India last year, an urgent question was how to bring it to the TV screen. It didn't have Chromecast support, a smart TV app or an Apple TV app. The answer appeared a few days ago in the form of the Amazon Fire TV Stick that was launched in India for ₹3,999. Here is my review of the Fire Stick after having used it for 10 days.

Hardware and design

Amazon Fire TV stick looks similar to the first gen Chromecast. A dongle with HDMI port at one end goes into the TV and the power is supplied by the microUSB cable and adapter that come with the Fire Stick. Another piece of hardware which comes with the package is the remote.

As we pointed out earlier in the Chromecast 2 and Firestick comparison, this is a big advantage for the latter. Not having to control the content with the phone and drain the battery is certainly an uptick.

The stick runs on a Quadcore MediaTek processor with 1 GB RAM and 8 GB internal storage capacity for the apps.

The remote design is simple — on the top is the voice button and under that, there is a D-Pad which can be used to navigate or for gaming. There are two rows with three buttons each beneath that. The first row comprises of 'Back,' 'Home' and 'Menu' buttons, while the second carries 'rewind/previous,' 'play/pause,' 'forward/next' buttons.

One big lacuna is the missing volume button in the remote, something that was dearly missed while using the Fire Stick.

Apps and Interface

When you sign in to your Amazon Fire TV Stick, the home interface will show you the premium shows of your region featured in the Amazon Prime video service. The second row shows recently used apps and recently watched shows. The carousel that follows displays different genres of shows, different apps and even a strip of shows from a partner app.

While the Fire TV Stick's design is simple, it often feels a bit cluttered or not fit for TV. The experience is definitely not as smooth as Apple TV. Some apps, such as YouTube, are not built by the original developers (Google in this case) and they look bad outright. Streaming from some apps, such as Hotstar, makes the aspect ratio wobble.

Included in the package are some fun games, such as Lego Star Wars and Flappy Bird. The stick is compatible with the additional controller. There are also additional apps related to business and productivity among other things.

The usage experience and functionality

Using the Amazon Fire Stick, I certainly enjoyed controlling the content on TV with the remote (though the lack of volume control was frustrating). The Prime content streamed perfectly though I wish I could say the same for the other apps. YouTube and Hotstar apps had their own glitches, though Netflix streamed perfectly.

Amazon has included a voice search in the remote that works quite well. At the moment, users can only perform keyword searches. Fortunately, Amazon has ensured that the backbone behind voice search understands Indian accent. Amazon should work with app developers to make voice search available in apps.

I tried playing a few games on the Fire Stick and I liked the casualness of it. Don't expect serious gaming from this device.

Mirroring is one area where the Amazon Fire Stick lacks substance. You can easily mirror your Android phone but it gets a bit tricky with other devices. For casting your screen or local files you might need to configure apps such as VLC and AllCast.

Overall impressions

The Amazon Fire Stick has plenty going on in its favour in terms of hardware. But there are small misses, such as the lack of volume control and mirroring. It is a great device for consumption from apps, with its remote control. If you don't mirror local files or screen too much, this is the stick that will make your TV smart.

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