Amazon Fire TV (2017) review: Small, fast, and primed for the future

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  • Editors' rating
    8.0 Excellent
  • $69.99

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Compact design
  • Alexa integration

Cons

  • No volume controls for TV

Amazon's newest Fire TV is a combination of the Fire TV Stick from a few years ago and the standard set-top box. It's small, yet powerful, and not all that expensive.Naturally, it works with Amazon's Prime Video service, something its competitors - especially Apple - are clamoring to have access to.

Just how does this stack up against Apple, Google, or even Roku's product offerings? Reallywell, it turns out.

Design

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Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

I considered skipping the design section of this review, because, well, you're likely never to see the new Fire TV after installing it. If you've seen any set-top streaming box, they're typically black, square, and an inch or two tall. Take that basic design, shrink it down into a footprint of 2.6 x 2.6 x 0.6-inches with a short cable attached and that's the new Fire TV.

Protruding from one corner of the square design is a short HDMI cable, just long enough for the Fire TV to dangle from the back of your TV.

The opposite corner is where the optional Ethernet adapter and/or power cable connects to the device.

With everything connected, you'll rarely see the Fire TV, if at all. Also included in the box is an Alexa Voice Remote.

Performance

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Initial setup was a breeze. Connect Fire TV to my Wi-Fi network, followed by logging into my Amazon account, and that's it.

Amazon's Fire TV app section has grown since the last time I tested one, with apps from Discovery to Netflix readily available. There was only one app my family regularly uses on Apple TV that I couldn't find on Fire TV, and that's the new all-in-one Disney app that was released a couple of weeks ago.

Streamings apps and services are more or less the same, just with different content depending on the source. What really sets platforms like Chromecast or Fire TV apart is the overall performance and integration with the rest of the smart devices in our household. In that regard, the ability to use Alexa on the included remote or a nearby Echo device to begin playing a show (Ex., Alexa, play the new Power Rangers) is impressive and useful.

Google's Chromecast and Home products currently work in the same manner, Amazon's feels a bit more polished. My kids instantly took to the command, opting to use their voices instead of the remote more often. In turn, I was happy because that meant the remote stayed where I left it, and I no longer had to dig in-between couch cushions to find it.

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Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

The only change I would love to see Amazon make to the Fire TV isn't to the TV itself, but to the included remote. As I just mentioned, we lose remotes all the time. It's a daily occurrence. Short of putting an alarm in the remote to aid in finding it, I would love to have volume controls for the TV. Right now, we have to keep tabs on two remotes - the one that shipped with our TV set and the Alexa remote.

Future proof

The new Fire TV is 4K and HDR-10 compatible. I don't own a TV capable of showing off either of those features, but eventually, I will. As such, I can't speak to the performance and quality of streaming at the high end of picture clarity and quality.

That said, for just $70 I'm perfectly OK with spending money on a device that I can't take full advantage of quite yet. In comparison, Apple's latest Apple TV with 4K compatibility starts at $179. A 4K capable Roku starts at the same $70, but I have to give the edge to Fire TV for a better user interface and tighter integration with smart devices.

Speaking of integration, with Alexa and the Fire TV extensions of one another, as more companies add and refine Alexa skills, the Fire TV grows with it. Amazon has arguably the best personal smart speaker/personal assistant platform for smart home users.

A good deal

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Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

A lot of us, yours truly included, rely on Amazon for a wide range of things delivered to our front door; from dog food to toiletries to random electronics. Some of us have even taken to further integrating and welcoming Alexa into our living rooms. The new Fire TV is a logical next step, especially with its small design, hidden behind a TV, easy to use remote, and Alexa integration with Echos around your home.

At just $70, it's a more expensive than the Fire TV Stick, but the new Fire TV is primed for the future.

As the Alexa ecosystem continues to grow and 4K content becomes readily available, so does the capability of this $70 device.

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Where To Buy

Amazon Fire TV (2017)

Part Number: 53-006252

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