Amazon Fire TV Stick Review: The Little Stick That Could

By on November 20, 2014

Overall Grade

9 /10


  • - Super competitively priced
  • - Surprisingly responsive and stable
  • - Voice search on mobile app
  • - Over 200 video games at launch


  • - Awkward power adapter
  • -Some sluggishness on third party apps

The arrival of Amazon’s shiny new streaming toy, the Fire TV Stick ($39), came at a convenient time for me. My 3rd Gen Apple TV (2012) had suddenly gone on the fritz (stuck on activation after an update — there are plenty of threads on the Google).

unboxingSo maybe I was just looking for a media player pick-me-up or the Fire TV Stick was really just that good, because I had a great time using the Fire TV Stick.

It’s not like Amazon reinvented the wheel or anything. The Fire TV Stick is a streaming media player. There are millions of those out there. It’s a thumb-drive form factor just like last year’s Google Chromecast (7/10) and the Roku Streaming Stick (8/10), which I reviewed earlier this summer.

Not only is the Fire TV Stick on par with both of those devices, it exceeds them in some areas. Let’s see why.


Starting Out

The Fire TV Stick comes in a slick, minimalist eco-friendly slipcover box—pretty much what you expect these days from high-profile tech companies.

hdmi-inputA couple things stood out about the stick itself: one, the placement of the microUSB port is odd. It’s not at the end of the stick but on the side which could cause issues with other cables depending on how the HDMI ports on your TV are aligned. An HDMI extender cable is included for such situations.

Two, the power adapter is square-shaped with the prongs centered on the underside, which means plugging it in makes for an awkward fit with other plugs on a power strip.

Beyond those minor design issues, the Fire TV Stick looks like your standard media streaming dongle, measuring 3.3 inches x 1.0 inches x 0.5 inches.

Fire TV plugOn the inside, however, it’s more robust than its nearest competitors. It’s got a dual-core processor, 8GB storage, 1GB memory and dual-band Wi-Fi compared to the single-core processor, 2GB storage, 512MB memory and single-band Wi-Fi on the Chromecast and single-core processor, 256MB storage, 512MB memory and single-band Wi-Fi on the Roku Streaming Stick.

After you connect to your Wi-Fi network, you will be prompted to download the latest software, which took about 5 to 7 minutes. (Oddly, I had to rejoin the network after the update.) Like other Kindle products, the Fire TV Stick is already registered under your Amazon user account.

To get you started, Amazon gives you an animated Fire TV Stick introduction which lays out all the features and functions of the product. It’s a good touch that shows Amazon has thought about the details.


Like other media players, you’ll want your computer or phone with you to activate certain apps (like the Hulu Plus or PBS app) after you’ve installed them.

Speed and Navigation

On paper, the Fire TV Stick outshines its rivals. In practice, it’s very zippy—maybe not in the same league as the full-sized players out there, but often smoother than the Roku stick. I found the remote control surprisingly responsive, and scrolling through the tile-based menus, after getting used to the remote, was mostly painless.

HD video playback was instant and flawless on Amazon’s video app with zero buffering. There was, however, some video buffering on HD video playback when I sampled the YouTube app, and the Hulu Plus app seemed more sluggish than the version on the Roku stick. Hopefully, that will improve soon with a software update.

There’s no HBO Go app at launch which Chromecast and the Roku Stick both have. Otherwise, all major third-party services are represented, including Netflix, Hulu Plus, Showtime, Pandora, Disney Channel, WatchESPN and Twitch.

The layout of the menus is not surprisingly centered around Amazon’s Instant Video service, and there’s access to Prime Music as well the Amazon Cloud Drive where you can view your pictures and videos. The tile layout and app menus are reminiscent of both Xbox One and Roku.

I liked one cool feature in Prime Music where on-screen lyrics were highlighted as the song played. It’s available on some tracks, but not all.

on-screen lyrics

If you poke around settings, you’ll see that there’s a sleep button, which is a nice feature that the Roku doesn’t have. You can also fine-tune privacy settings like app collection data, manage your app storage space, turn on developer options and watch help videos.

Voice Search and Games

The full-sized Fire TV ($99) that launched earlier this year was promoted heavily for its great voice search feature by the inimitable Gary Busey. The Fire TV Stick doesn’t have this feature built-in, but a separate voice remote is available for $29.

That’s a bummer, but fear not, voice search fans! You can use voice search on the Fire TV Remote App (Stick Only Edition), which is totally free and currently available on Android (through Amazon’s App Store). It will be available for iOS, but there’s no ETA at this time.

I downloaded the app and found it very simple and easy to use. For voice search, you just drag down and hold the mic button, say the words, and let go of the button. Voice search was very quick and responsive. Navigating with the app was also very easy and fast.

I think the biggest advantage the Fire TV Stick has over its competitors is the emphasis on (Android-based) games. There are over 200 games at launch, many of which are free or 99 cents. Admittedly, some of these games look lame.

While you can play plenty of the games with the included remote, some do require the $40 Bluetooth Game Controller. These games include Terraria, Virtua Tennis. Reaper and Sonic the Hedghog.


Bargain Price

In October, we saw Amazon offer Prime customers the Fire TV Stick at an introductory bargain-basement price of $19 for pre-orders. Even at $39 retail, the Fire TV Stick is competitively priced with the $35 Google Chromecast and $50 Roku Streaming Stick and arguably offers more.

Amazon said the Fire TV Stick is its “fastest-selling Amazon device ever,” and it will be a very hot—and hard to find—item this holiday season. Shipping times have been pushed back to January 15, 2015, a full two months from the time of this review.

That’s a long time to wait when the Roku Streaming Stick and Chromecast are both readily available. Practically speaking, you can’t really go wrong with the similar Roku Streaming Stick. But if you decide to wait it out, you won’t be disappointed.

About Joe Warner

I'm the senior editor of The CheckOut. I am an aficionado of shiny gadgets and classic Hollywood movies and can also tell you the names of the late '80s Swedish Davis Cup team members.


  1. Mike

    December 18, 2014 at 12:50 am

    Thanks for the reviews….

    Shmeagle, how do you suppose equipments that are sitting in warehouses for months to receive the new updates???

  2. Shmeagle

    November 25, 2014 at 7:29 am

    I got the fire TV stick yesterday and here are my impressions of it:
    The box gets 1 point by itself. It is really nicely designed. I know, I know, you just get rid of it, but it is a thing of beauty. The installation was fairly simple, though the writer here is correct that the power input is in an awkward position and, in my case at least, nearly interferes with another HDMI connection. The login and wi-fi setup is fairly straight forward, although it did a complete software update that took nearly 15 minutes, and then I had to reconnect to my wi-fi and log in again. I’ve never understood how manufacturers send out a new hardware and software that immediately requires upgrades. (hi Microsoft)

    The remote is really cool and it helps make the user interface completely fool-proof. The wheel-like left nav menu will take you through the major items and the media selection is very easy if repeated (you will find the same movie or TV series under many different menu items). If you have Uverse and are used to the onDemand menu, you will find this very similar. Content such as Holuplus, Netflix, NFL channel etc require a download and potentially a login. You can also remove them altogether. Have not watched a movie, but the NFL channel had a constant lag which may be due to my internet speed.

    Based on my Amazon login, it immediately gave me access to all the music I have ever bought from them. Besides that there is Pandora and Amazon music and others that I have not tried out yet.

    As for the cons, I don’t have many, but the one I have is a big one to me. So this is essentially a device to help Amazon sell you more content, whether buying or renting. I know there are free movies available through Amazon Prime, and I have watched a few, however I couldn’t find one menu item that stated “Free Movies” for instance, or even an option that let’s you browse by download price. You essentially have to click on any movie or TV show to see what the costs are for buying or downloading. Essentially this device doesn’t make it any easier for you to access what you’ve already paid for through your Prime subscription, it simply makes it a lot easier to purchase new stuff. This is a major disappointment. My TV is already connected to my computer and I can pull up all the content I need. I just thought this device would relieve you of the hassle of dealing with the keyboard and mouse and browsing the Amazon site. Well, yes and no.

    The free content I could find does include Sopranos, which I’ve never seen, plus a lot of shows I don’t get a chance to watch such as Nova and Smithsonian channel. Accessing those from the remote, is a plus, having to pay to see season two of Games of Throne….arrrrrgh.

    On top of that I thought some of the cheaper or basic subscription such as Huluplus would be included…Xnay… That was just an expectation, so I can’t really ding Amazon for it.

    Overall, is it worth $20 if you already have Prime, definitely. $40? Only if you don’t or can’t connect your TV to a computer.

    • Joe Warner

      November 26, 2014 at 2:21 pm

      Thanks for your early impressions, Shmeagle. I also agree with a lot of what you said here. The lag on some of the third-party apps is a concern especially since this is a faster stick than either the Roku or Chromecast. I don’t think it was just internet speed.

      Roku Stick had those problems early on, and they fixed them. I hope the same happens for the Fire TV stick.

  3. Velvet Hubler

    November 23, 2014 at 9:16 am

    How cool is that Amazon Fire TV Stick I need to get one!

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