A New Category of Review!!
A year ago I introduced a category to my fledgling blog called “First Impressions”. The purpose of those posts was to do a quick review of the features of a new device/service/app that I’d only used for a week or so. The first device I did “First Impressions” of was the Amazon Fire TV. After a year of blogging it’s time for a new category that I’m calling “Where It Stands”.
So many technology reviews are written in the whirlwind of a product’s release. And judgement is often passed based on a brief encounter with the technology (be it a phone, tablet, streaming box, application, or any other tech that is targeted for the masses). If you google reviews for the product, the vast majority of the time you will find reviews that are old. Reviews that were written within a week of the release date (much like my First Impressions reviews). This new category is intended to re-visit something I reviewed early on, in order to see “where it stands” after 6-12 months of use. Often tech that looks bad initially improves through software updates. Sometime tech that looks great at launch doesn’t hold up over time. I couldn’t think of a better product to use for my first “where it stands” review than the Amazon Fire TV. So let’s get to it.
AMAZON FIRE TV (STREAMING MEDIA BOX)
Original Review Date: 8/15/14
Time used between Original Review and Where it Stands: 1 year, 22 days
Right from the beginning I loved the Fire TV. I found the user interface very intuitive. The voice command to search for movies or actors worked smoothly. Gaming proved to be a great fit for the streamer. Partnered with a USB Xbox controller, I was quickly playing racing games, and even Minecraft Pocket Edition on the big screen. The Fire TV quickly became my go-to streamer, in a house full of many other options (Apple TV, Roku, Chromecast).
The device certainly steers users to amazon content. Voice search only searches amazon’s offerings. Prime videos are not separated as clearly as they could be, so you have to pay close attention to that little “prime” ribbon on the free content (assuming you are a Prime Member). But amazon is a company selling content, and so I made my peace with that element, knowing it would never be as simple to view any video for free the way it is on Netflix. Thankfully, Netflix is an app on the Fire TV, so I’m covered!
The Tech in Action
My primary use for the Fire TV is Netflix and Hulu. The interface for both apps is great. The screens are much easier to navigate through than the current Apple TV. For the first few months I also spent much of my time playing games. I sang the praises of “Asphalt 8” in my first impressions review. That game is great, but you quickly run out of space with internal memory, so having an extra flash drive for additional storage is a must (there’s a single USB for that purpose). I found a fun social game called “Fribbage”. This game uses the Fire TV as the “game board” but it also uses smartphones for each participant. I used both Android and Apple phones with no issue. The game provides a phrase with a blank space, and then everyone types something to fill it on their smartphones. The game mixes up those with the true answer, and everyone votes, again using the smartphone to input your choice. It was a very fun game, and while we didn’t play it a lot, that has more to do with how seldom we entertain than the gameplay value. So gaming remains solid on the Fire TV, from Minecraft to Minions Rush, and more complicated games like Leo’s Challenge and Mickey’s Castle of Illusion. Grab a Bluetooth controller or plug a USB controller in and you’re good to go!
Currently one of the main apps we use of the Fire TV is HBO Now, which just became available after a period of
exclusivity on the Apple TV. We used the Apple TV version since it released and I am so happy to have the improved interface of the Fire TV. Hands down, amazon has better screens to navigate.
Where it Stands
As of today, Amazon Fire TV is the champion of the streaming boxes, in my opinion. Roku may have more channels, but amazon has a slicker experience. Apple TV may have more clout, but currently that box is several years old. Apple plans to announce a new Apple TV September 9th, so we’ll see what changes come to that device. Most guesses are that the new Apple TV will support apps, gaming, and voice search. All things that the Amazon Fire TV does already.
The Fire TV was refreshed via software update in April 2015, offering enhanced features like Bluetooth headphone support (keep Game of Thrones from your children’s ears), enhanced USB support, and improvements to WIFI connections. There are no rumors of a new product launching soon, but currently the device is out of stock with amazon. The company states that it is due to “high demand” for the streamer, but often supply lines dry up just before a new product launch. So stay tuned for news of a new Fire TV; I’ll be all over that! If gaming isn’t your cup of tea, the Amazon Fire TV Stick is currently available for $39. That’s $60 less than the larger streaming box, and offers everything except the gaming aspect. So that’s certainly a good option.
Chord cutters are on the rise. HBO and Showtime now offer monthly subscriptions for apps on streamers. It’s only a matter of time before media streamers truly go mainstream. And the Amazon Fire TV is a great choice, if you’re considering taking the leap.
For now, the Fire TV scores a CUP HALF FULL.