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Amazon Fire TV review: simple, fast, 4K and the best TV streaming

Amazon’s new Fire TV, the company’s 4K UHD-capable follow up to its successful streaming media box, beefs up specs but cuts a few small corners in the process.

The Fire TV is a simple black box with shiny sides, a matt top and an embossed Amazon logo. It’s nonintrusive, can be hidden behind other devices and doesn’t have a fan, which makes it silent.

The remote doesn’t need line-of-sight to the box and is simple to use, with play control buttons, a home button, back button, menu button and a directional pad with a select button.

The top of the remote has a microphone button for voice search and a small hole for speaking into.

The remote is mostly solid, but it’s made of a cheaper feeling plastic than the previous Fire TV and its directional buttons creak slightly. It just doesn’t feel quite as well built as the previous generation.

Setting it up

Amazon Fire sitting on audio equipment
Plug in the cables at the back, hook it up to your TV and hit a button on the remote to start setup. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

On the back of the device is an HDMI port for plugging into your TV, a power port for the included power adapter – no powering via USB here – an ethernet port, a USB port and a microSD card slot for adding more storage.

Hook up the power adapter, plug it into your TV via HDMI (cable not included) and press a button on the remote to begin setup.

Those that don’t have a spare ethernet cable for their router can connect via Wi-Fi by tapping in their password using the remote. If the Fire TV was bought directly from Amazon it will come pre-configured with your Amazon account, which is a nice touch.

It won’t work without an Amazon account, and I’m not quite sure why you would buy it if you were not an Amazon Prime or Amazon Instant video subscriber.

The Fire TV has one of the best setup introductory help videos I have seen on a device, which helpfully guides the user through using its various features. Within five minutes you will have all the information you need. Those that are still having problems can phone Amazon technical support and have them remotely control the Fire TV.

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Wi-Fi signal strength and speed were good in my testing, but a cable is still best, particularly for 4K video, which is the biggest selling point of the new Fire TV and requires an internet connection of at least 15Mbps.

One other wrinkle is that 4K content can only be played via an HDMI port supporting the HDCP 2.2 digital rights management or higher. Some early 4K televisions do not support HDCP 2.2 and may not work.

Easy to use

Amazon Fire 4K remote in front of display
The remote is simple with dedicated play controls and familiar directional controls. The home button takes you back to the main selection screen at any time. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

Using it is simple thanks to the slick, menu with large content pictures and previews. Select the content or app downloaded from the Amazon app store with the direction buttons and hit the select button. If you have ever used a TV guide it will be familiar.

Amazon content is listed in two camps: that included with a Prime subscription, of which most good stuff is and indicated with the Prime sash icon, and that which is not and can be bought or rented for around 99p an episode.

Users can also conduct voice searches by holding the microphone button down on the remote and speaking into it. The feature works very well, but can only search Amazon content, not within apps such as Netflix.

The Fire TV has access to Amazon’s virtual assistant Alexa in the US, but not in the UK.

Speaking of apps, the selection of streaming services available on the Fire TV in the UK is second only to the Roku, with favourites such as BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, Demand 5, YouTube, Netflix and BBC Sport all present. Notable exceptions are Sky’s Now TV and Spotify (Spotify Connect is available for the 1st generation Fire TV and Fire TV Stick, but not the new Fire TV).

Music bought through Amazon can also be played using the Music app, or if you have a Prime subscription you can stream around 1 million tracks as part of it. The audio quality is very good, too.

Those with photos on Amazon’s Cloud drive can access them on the big screen, which is handy for subjecting family and friends to your holiday snaps. Owners of Amazon’s Fire tablets can also mirror their screens to the TV, which works very similarly to Google’s Cast or Apple’s Airplay.

App support

Beyond media or music streaming apps, the Fire TV can play games downloaded from the Amazon app store. There’s quite a large selection including Minecraft, Sonic, Tetris, Dead Trigger 2, Lego Star Wars, Goat Simulator and Crossy Road. It won’t replace a dedicated console, but for a spot of light gaming it works well; better with the optional £40 wireless games controller, but most games can just about be controlled using the remote.

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Amazon Fire TV box and remote
The nature of the wireless remote means the box doesn’t need to be visible and can be hidden behind other things. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

Streaming video

UHD video is the Fire TV’s newest feature, and is arguably one of the best ways to get 4K content onto a TV, given that all of Amazon’s original content will be available in 4K and you have access to Netflix’s 4K content library as well.

I didn’t have a 4K TV at home with which to thoroughly test it, so cannot attest to its streaming quality in all situations, but I did try it out with a 4K TV in a 15 minute demonstration and it performed well. HD video quality was excellent with Dolby Digital Plus sound for Amazon content and starts very fast indeed if viewing successive TV episodes thanks to Amazon’s predictive pre-caching of content.

Video quality within the Netflix app was equally good, but a bug meant that only stereo sound was available. Amazon said it is working on a fix.

The BBC’s iPlayer video quality was disappointing, however, particularly compared to that offered by Amazon and Netflix. It is likely an issue with the iPlayer app being primarily designed for a tablet or smartphone.

Amazon’s X-ray information service is excellent allowing instant lookups of actors, information about the film or TV show and trivia. Pressing the up button from any paused section will show you who is on screen without taking you away from the video.


The Amazon Fire TV costs £80 and will be released on 3 November.

It has few competitors capable of streaming 4K video available in the UK. The Roku 4 is capable of 4K video streaming costing at least £100, but has not been released in the UK yet. For those without a 4K television, Google’s Chromecast costs £30 and the Roku 2 costs £70.


The Amazon Fire TV has a powerful combination of user-friendly features, excellent streaming service support and relatively low cost. It’s one of the easiest to setup and use, and the starting explainer video is excellent.

It really only makes sense if you subscribe to Amazon’s Prime service costing £79 a year or buy video content through Amazon’s digital store, but with access to Netflix, UK catchup services and a solid collection of apps and games it makes for a compelling mix.

The lack of Alexa support in the UK is disappointing and so is the reduction in build quality, but these are minor niggles for a streaming box.

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Most smart TVs already have access to much of what the Fire TV can do, but if yours doesn’t, or it’s as useless as many are, the new Amazon box is excellent if you’re a Prime subscriber.

Pros: the best access to 4K content at the moment, slick interface, easy to use and set up, great voice search, good service support, apps and games, wireless remote

Cons: creaky button on remote, needs £79 per year Prime subscription to get the best out of it, no HDMI or ethernet cable in the box, not compatible with all 4K TVs


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